Uh-oh ... Mommy 'piow?

Yes, Mommy spilled. Again.

When our oldest child was still an only child (a condition of her life she has since suspected was an 18-month stay in her own personal Nirvana), she didn't miss much. Ever. She was born paying attention. She was the child who would stop breastfeeding if her mother so much as looked at an open magazine lying beside us on the couch cushions. She could sense my wandering attention, and the slight shift in her surroundings made her stop and wait to see ... and not continue with her work until my attention was back where it belonged. (notice the facial expression on artist Carl Larsson's wife as she attempts the same thing with one of her own eight children?)

At a year old, our daughter had advanced to a much more verbal processing of these environmental shifts. Still aware of everything, she had now learned to comment.

"Doo lou'!" ("Too loud" - a comment on a passing fire truck when we were out on a walk.)

"Gah!" ("All gone," said with chubby hands turned upward and with a small shrug, to cheerfully and adamantly inform us that her food was "gone," apparently because a magic trick had been performed.)

"Cahfooooh...!" ("Careful!" - her first real word, recited like a mantra while she was learning to walk across the room, nearly never falling down in the process.)

All must be noticed. All must be identified. Aloud. Usually with exclamation points.

And so, there was very little hope that the spilled oatmeal would pass unnoticed. It only happened once, but every morning for weeks afterward, we re-lived the moment.

Mommy reaches into the cupboard and picks up the container of dry oatmeal. Mommy puts the container on the counter and begins to pry up the edge of the lid. And this one time? This one time Mommy spilled. The container fell off the counter, and upended its contents onto Mommy's feet. And the child in the highchair, cheerfully waiting for breakfast in this place of contented confinement, up where she could see the breakfast being made, began her shocked commentary.

(Mommy glaring at her own bare, morning feet)

"Mommy 'piow?"
"Yes, Mommy spilled." (Mommy begins stepping out of the heap of rolled oats)

(teeth gritted, voice calm) "Yes, Mommy spilled the oatmeal."

"Yep - Mommy spilled oatmeal on her toes." (grrr!)

This was the dialogue that continued for weeks, every morning, and every time someone opened the door to the cupboard with the oatmeal container inside.

I thought about this today, more than twenty-five years after the fact. I thought about it because Mommy 'piow'd again. Not oatmeal, but papers and books. (Uh-oh ... Mommy 'piow? Toe?) Mommy's toe made Mommy's brain begin to process a certain sort of awareness today - the awareness of the spillable piles, and what they contain.

I began to look around. From where I stood, I could see books about cinema, because I'm writing my final paper for History of Film. I could see several notebooks - some empty, a couple of notebooks full of notes, and under other piles are notebooks with only a couple of pages used, either because they could not be found after the first bout of writing or because the project had ended almost as soon as it began.

Here are library books about emotions, brain development, perception, and narrative. There are Newspapers. Magazines. That table holds the latest finds from used book stores. This one has some (more) books and booklets for theological and religious education writing. Interestingly enough, the books about writing and poetry, once I own them, cannot be found in this part of the house. Those books are upstairs, in my office, near my desk, and usually shelved properly, where I can easily lay my hands on them again.

In the main part of the house, between clear-outs, the flat surfaces of living and dining rooms also bear their weight in junk mail, catalogs (both the desired and the where'd-this-come-from? variety), and all the mail waiting to go to places in other parts of the house or in other houses (my mother-in-law's mail, mail for the kids who aren't here, bills, etc.). The piles are ever in danger of 'piowing onto Mommy's toes, and Mommy thinks this morning that the myth of the paperless society is an absurdity too laughable to laugh at.

So, what is Mommy going to do about this problem?

(Uh-oh ... Mommy 'pioh? Oapmeoh? Toe?)
Hush up.
There is too much paper and there are too many printed words in this house.
I don't want to talk about it.

But ... wait.

Is that the problem?

Is it a problem that these piles and papers and books and notebooks are here, in my house, all the time? Should I have less paper here? Fewer notebooks and fewer books and fewer projects to generate all of this in the first place?

Is the oapmeoh the problem?

Or ... is this simply the stuff of life in this house?

This is a picture of Gretchen Rubin, writer, and most recently famous because of her Happiness Project and the book she wrote about her year's experiment. Notice, please, that in her New York apartment, where she lives with her husband and children, and where she writes and cooks and reads, and from which she goes out into the world to exercise, or speak, or shop ... where she lives ... she has lined a wall with books. Gretchen Rubin's gorgeous New York apartment has at least as much danger of acquiring piles of papers as my house has, here in mostly rural Stevenson, Washington.

Here is a similar picture of Mireille Guiliano, former CEO of Veuve Clicquot, and author of French Women Don't Get Fat. Another New York apartment. Another wall of books, some vertically shelved, some horizontal, non-matching bindings, hardback and paperback books kept together, not color-displayed ... real books ... lots of words and ideas and pages and pages and pages.

I used to put only a little bit of food at a time onto the high chair tray for the little girl who was sitting there. It was easy to overwhelm her with too much to do - too much to pay attention to - too much to process. (And it's too hard to comment on everything if there are too many things to comment on.) But the answer wasn't to eliminate the food. The answer was to have on the high chair tray only as much as the tiny talking child could pay attention to - and while she was eating (and commenting) the rest of the food in the house was where it belonged.

I need the things in my piles. Although I suppose I could do without the junk mail, I could also probably do without a new container being purchased every time I buy oatmeal. If I haven't sorted the mail at the post office and used their recycling containers, I can use mine for junk mail. If I haven't bought my oatmeal from the bulk aisle and used my own container, I can properly dispose of the purchased packaging on my own. I can fill my bookshelves with the words and words and more words, putting the bound and unbound pages that belong in this house where they need to go, throwing away the stuff I don't need, and filing my course work where I can find it again.

It sounds a little silly, when I type it all out like that. "I can be an organized paper shuffler." (duh) But when a pile falls onto Mommy's toes, Mommy wonders - at least at the first crash - if the contents of the pile need to be eliminated from her reality in some sort of final and definitive way. Today, Mommy has decided again that the possibility of spilled oatmeal is better than having no oatmeal at all, and that it just might be possible to live happily with all this paper in the house.

Now, if you'll excuse me? I have some piles to unpile and a few more books to find homes for. We went to a couple of library booksale places while we were on vacation a couple of weeks ago.

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