Benny and his friend Griffin at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Too Busy to Fail?

You find me on the field of defeat, not victory, and yet I feel all right about that. It’s Tuesday, the second day of my week off. Yes, you read that right, I have a week off, a little five-day gift card of time that I still can’t figure out how to spend.

Yesterday was very successful, except for a squabble between Benny and myself as he rejected jacket after jacket in the morning and we were late as hell and I finally snapped, tossing his spurned hoodie into the waste basket and announcing it would NEVER be worn again. Benny looked shocked and I fished it back out again, feeling not guilty (I don’t seem to have the quick-to-flick guilt switch that most mothers have), but pretty damn stupid.

So we finally left, and I sat Benny down on a little stone step and we talked it over a bit so that we’d feel good again and Benny wouldn’t smack some kid with a paintbrush or do something else at school to release his emotions. And while we were late, we weren’t Tardy, so I didn’t have to go to the office and get a Slip.

Not an auspicious start, I know, but things perked up after a round of shocking self-indulgence: a manicure, pedicure and half a bag of Ruffles. Then I talked to my sister for a mind-bending amount of time. Then I slathered on a layer of Hawaiian Tropic and headed out into the sunshine to eat a donut, buy some used books and drop off dry cleaning.

Muni buses being what they are, this took all afternoon and I barely made it to Benny’s aftercare on time and had to feed him hot dogs and tater tots because I’d forgotten to take the stew out of the freezer. Then we played videogames and I put him to bed.

So I felt I was on a roll here today. I woke up to a fairly clean apartment and Benny and I had a serene morning. I just missed a 37 bus heading back home, so I went to Cole’s Hardware with the grand ambition of buying drapery sash rods to install over our bedroom window. Our blinds do a poor job of blocking out the enormous streetlight outside our apartment building. (Longtime readers of this blog might remember our neighbor Big Foot back in Ann Arbor and his 1,000-megawatt light shining right into our bedroom. The Fates just don’t like me sleeping in a dark bedroom.)

I found find some drapery rods and mountings that were fastened with nails, per the rules on our lease. Just to make a party of it, I went next door and picked up a newspaper and pound of ground beef for tonight since I’d forgotten to take the stew out again. As I was paying, I watched the 37 go by again.

The next one wasn’t coming for 25 minutes (according to NextBus), and the day was turning warm, so I asked the meat guy to hold the beef in his fridge for 15 minutes or so. He agreed enthusiastically, sounding very relieved that I was going to be responsible with the ground beef he’d sold me. I think he was happy it was going to a good home.

Then I tried to make the best of it by going to the café across the street and spending Benny’s inheritance on a cup of lemonade. My drapery rods and I took a sunny table outside. I checked NextBus … 17 minutes … read how our Mayor wants to rename Third Street after Willie Brown … 15 minutes … read the funny pages … 10 minutes … pondered if going to see “The Ghost Writer” would mean tacit approval of Roman Polanski’s criminal activities … about time to go and get the beef … and watched the 37 go by again, 7 minutes early.

Well. I didn’t have the heart to tell the meat guy the truth, just picked up the beef and glowered at a the bus stop for a solid 18 minutes before the next one came.

Once home, I installed the drapery rods. It was an irritating process, and my God, they looked awful. Obviously I had not treated the thin rods with the delicacy required as I carried them from hardware store to grocery store to café to meat guy to bus top and then on the bus. Both were bent. I tried to straighten one, and made it look worse. Disgusted, I pulled out the mountings and now had little holes around my window, lined up in little pairs, like vampire teeth marks. I didn’t have any spackle, so I busted out my acrylic paints and mixed up a little beige paint to dab on the holes. So now there are spots around my window that look oddly, subtly discolored, like tiny water pipes in the wall had leaked.

And how did I feel, after wasting $15 and two hours of my precious vacation time to end up with weird spots on my bedroom wall? Strangely OK with it, at least after drinking a restorative Snapple and eating the rest of the Ruffles. I’ve realized that in the frenzied activity of most modern families, we don’t have time to fail. Not that we don’t fail – oh boy, do we fail. Late pickups, forgotten lunches, missed deadlines, temper tantrums, really bad hair days, things we shouldn’t have said, emails we shouldn’t have sent … the list goes on.

But we rarely have time to consciously embark on a risky project, knowing it might not turn out, feeling confused, embarrassed or incompetent (or all three). Trying new things takes time and energy. It’s easier not to make the attempt. I realize I’ve been spending my minutes like a little miser, looking for maximum ROI. Looking at things that way, wasting time and failing spectacularly can be very liberating.

Now I’m looking at the kitchen doorway. What if I found a little teeny tension rod to put on it and hung some thin drapes to cordon off the kitchen …

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