Once, my mom told me that men think in columns or lists and that women think like a bowl of spaghetti—just long threads of thought tangled up in other threads of thought, and if you took hold of one end you could get to the other end, but not without getting stuck on a few other thoughts along the way. At the time I said, “That’s silly. I make lists. They have columns.” Then I realized I keep lists but there are about 22 of them. And sometimes the lists overlap each other, but I let it be because it means once that particular redundant task is accomplished, I get to check it off twice and feel accomplished in two categories.
I am all for feminism and believe we should think about men and women as equal human beings. And, at the same time, I find myself in a phase of life where some of my reactions and survival techniques are inherently feminine. I explain my reasoning to my husband and he looks at me as if I have written a formula for rocket science on the window à la “A Beautiful Mind.”
For example, we had company stay with us this weekend, our best friends from college and their three kids. If you’re calculating in bed sheets, which all the women are, that’s a switch on the big big bed (2), sheets for the guest bed (1), the pull-out couch (1), and a cot for the daughter (1). We’re up to five sheets total, so I’ve been up to my shoulders in laundry now that the fun is done. I had to figure this out because we’re leaving for vacation tomorrow and, as such, I’ll have to factor in each of my daughters’ bed sheets (2) and the sheets that will get used by the house sitter (1), so I can be sure that all people are afforded the privilege of sleeping in a clean and comfortable bed. The point of this is, I have to work laundry into all of my other to-dos (both the weekend clean up and the vacation prep), so I have prioritized my tasks accordingly: what can be done in increments of one hour and seven minutes. When I’m running a full load of laundry with tap cold water, each cycle is one hour and seven minutes long. I could stick the first set of sheets into the washer, sit down at my desk, answer three emails, check the bank accounts and finalize some copy for a client in the amount of time it took the sheets to get clean. If I do this for the next five hours and 35 minutes, I should be able to get everything done.
It’s precision. It’s mathematics. It’s columns and lists, just like I said, but the thing about being wife and mother (and working, at that) is that the pasta bowl analogy takes something else into account: everyone else’s thoughts and to-dos. Just as I sat down to type this, one of my kids came to ask for a snack and permission to watch a movie with her sister. In her darling mind, this is a quick request, won’t bug Mom too much, just get in, get out and be on with it. In theory, yes. Except I had to set down my very meticulous thought patterns, the to-dos and what not. I also had to let go of whatever sentence had just been in my head. Request granted, get your snack; I turn back to the computer… and I have to find the ends of my two threads of pasta again. The schedule… fine, I found my way. Whatever sentence I had been writing? That, I’m afraid, has been lost to the void (or, the bottom of the bowl with all the sauce, if we want to be true to the metaphor).
Which brings me to a new thread, although I think all the women will catch the connection. I’d like to wish all the moms out there a very happy back-to-school. In some ways, you’re getting your brains back, you’re twirling forkfuls of pasta and tasting every noodle, all clear and organized with time on your hands. But you’ve also taken on a much bigger helping, with more needs, more schedules, more small fires to put out day and night. I would just like to say: Maybe you’ve been eating your pasta with red sauce because it’s easy and simple, but treat yourself during this time—maybe to a good garlicky alfredo—something you wouldn’t eat just any day. And as long as we’re all still tracking with this comparative essay, this should make sense to everybody.
With that, ladies and gentlemen, my one hour and seven minutes are up. Time to switch out the laundry loads and go make a bed.