Thursday, February 24, 2005

Degree of Difficulty

“Must you do everything the hard way?” my mother asked, in a tone that mixed irritation, exhaustion, and something akin to awe. I was six years old, and while I remember the question vividly, I am not entirely certain of the inciting incident. It may have been when I spilled cereal all over the floor at breakfast, and had to clean it up. When Mother came back into the room twenty minutes later, I was found taking one Froot Loop at a time to the trash can. I was using her good tweezers. I was also balancing my cereal bowl on my head, as a new way of getting it to the sink. Or it could have been any one of a hundred times that my problem-solving skills gave my loved ones tension headaches. I remember the question because I stopped whatever crazy-making behavior I was doing to think “Wow, I guess this was the hard way, now that you mention it”. It might have even occurred to me that the solutions of other people didn’t seem to require secondary solutions as often as mine did. But, the moment passed, and I picked up the tweezers again.

Like so many of my quirks, it begins in a place of reasonably normal behavior. The trouble seems to come with the phrase “Yes, and…” If other people feel confident getting one problem fixed with one solution, I simply cannot rest until several problems are getting corrected at the same time. The solution will get more and more extended and ill-conceived until it is creating smaller problems of its own. For example, one morning last week along with the usual morning school run, I had to get the dog to the vet, the library books returned, the dry-cleaning to the cleaners and, most critically, a bag of valentines and a tray of pink cupcakes for the school party for Valentine’s Day. Any person old enough to understand the concept of gravity would have made more than one run to the car. But not me; my cunning little brain deemed several trips of fifteen feet to the car “Completely unnecessary”. Why, once I tied the dogs’ leash to my wrist, looped the library bag over the same arm, and carried the dry-cleaning bag in my teeth, I had scads of room to balance a tray of frosted cupcakes on my other forearm while tucking the bag of valentines under my chin! And who doesn’t enjoy yelling “Come ON” to your child through the straps of a canvas bag while trying to maintain balance while a dog maniacally tries to get the squirrel that is taunting her from a tree across the street? The Goddess who watches over mothers allowed me to not drop the cupcakes, although I was begging for such an event. I was only left with bruises on my arm from the leash and the library bag, and a lingering taste of canvas in my mouth for the rest of the day. But, damnit, I only made one trip.

Sometimes, I can even feel myself losing the battle. I can see, clearly, where others might have stopped, and have been perfectly content with the outcome. But onwards I plunge, with only the voices in my head for company. When asked what she wanted for the theme of her third birthday, Daughter requested an Animal Tea Party. This was to be a very low-key birthday party, just a few friends from the neighborhood, so I decided that I could bake the cake.

REASONABLE QUINN: Just get a sheet cake; the kids only want the frosting, anyway. If you are feeling fancy, buy animal-shaped candles.

OTHER QUINN: You know what would be totally cute? A cupcake for each guest.

RQ: Sure, you can buy that.

OQ: Or, we could make them at home. No, wait. I could make them in those little molds that I have been saving.

RQ: Or, you could buy them. Put some sprinkles on them yourself. Better yet, just serve the children cups of frosting, if you really want to make them happy.

OQ: OH MY GOD! I had the best idea. I will make each little cake look like a garden, and I will put a homemade frosted animal cookie on it. Standing up. With candied violets in the mini-cake garden.

RQ: Are you even aware that I’m here?

Her birthday is in summer. It was a warm day. I was found in our kitchen screaming at small animal cookies because they wouldn’t stay upright in their frosting grass, which was melting. Consort gently led me to our bedroom, and put a cold compress on my neck until I stopped sobbing. The children ate the green frosting, and left the virtually untouched small cakes scattered throughout the backyard, creating an Easter egg hunt for the dog for weeks to come. I still can’t look at those molds without shuddering.

And still I learn nothing. Tomorrow I have a lunch meeting across town. I am taking with me two things that need dropping off. They don’t need dropping off anywhere near where I am going, you understand. But, damnit, I will make only one trip.


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