Keeping Track

I come from people who keep track of everything: groceries to get, bills to pay, upcoming events, the day’s experiences, and past events.

As a young woman, my mom kept a diary that noted what mattered in her days: starting a novena and that a guy she was dating was kind of full of himself (they were happily married for 67 years anyhow). WE’RE AT WAR! she wrote in December 1941. Later in life, she recorded the weather daily on small pads of paper she kept next to the sofa. At her funeral, my cousins told me my uncle (her brother) had also kept meticulous notes—some about his garden, others about the weather. We marveled at the shared habit.

When my mother-in-law recently moved, at least 20 years’ worth of journals turned up. I was aware of her habit because she often asked how to spell something we’d served for dinner. Cioppino or ratatouille. She enjoyed keeping notes about what we ate and did during visits.

I’ve gotten an extra measure of documenting genes. Off and on since high school, I’ve kept personal journals in which I work out confusing feelings. I also make entries in a gratitude journal to remind myself of what’s good and right in my world despite the pandemic and trying political times. I document garden plans—what’s planted where and ideas for next year’s garden. I have lists of books I want to read along with books I’ve already read and what I thought of them. When dieting, I keep track of my exercise and meals.

I’m not alone in those habits, but for me, it doesn’t stop there. I have a ridiculous number of notes in my phone app. Supposedly 194 of them, but that can’t be right! Poems I like, blog ideas, writing tips, ideas for pottery projects, a list of lawn chemicals that won’t harm birds and pollinators, the steps for starting the snow blower. The notes go on and on!

My reasons can be practical. I want to remember something or find it quickly, and my phone is always with me. I tell myself I’m being efficient and orderly . . . but maybe ‘obsessive’ would be more accurate! Other times, keeping track is an emotional impulse. My personal and gratitude journals help me maintain equilibrium.

The habit of keeping track intrigues me. I think there’s something universal, something beyond the practicality of grocery lists, receipts, and calendars. The same impulse that leads people to document their lives on Instagram or Facebook, keeps me writing extensive notes and ongoing journals. It’s what caused my relatives to make daily diary entries.

As far as I know, my mom didn’t consult her weather notes after the fact. My uncle might have looked up which kind of tomatoes did well. I don’t know if my mother-in-law refers to her notes to remind herself of a previous year’s Christmas dinner. I suspect she doesn’t.

I believe the impulse to keep track is a way of saying, “I was here. My life matters. To me.”

What do you keep track of?

Dormant

Usually I’m philosophical about the below zero temperatures and snow we have every winter in Minnesota. The deep freeze is a time to stay indoors, be less social, and avoid unnecessary errands. Mother Nature pushes me to slow down, maybe be more introspective, read more. It can also be a time of creative planning (gardens, vacations, workouts), organizing or clearing out (closets, photos, files) and tackling household projects I wouldn’t bother with when the weather is nice.

For a little while that feels OK, maybe even good, as if I’m in tune with a natural rhythm, akin to a Circadian rhythm. This is what I’m supposed to be doing now. It feels good to wear wooly socks, make soups and stews, and settle in to watch movies or stream new TV series.

But with the persistent, longer-than-usual spell of extreme cold weather this winter, I feel as if I’ve shifted from slowing down in a pleasant, restorative way to being dormant. On pause. Hiding, like a tulip bulb buried deep in the ground. Waiting for enough time to pass so I can come back to life again. Hunkered down. I’ve been getting restless with so much reading and TV, and I’m trying hard not to register the waiting, which makes it worse.

I’ve lived in Minnesota long enough to know this spell will pass. The temperatures are already moderating. The days are getting longer. The torpor of these frozen days will dim so much that by August I’ll wonder if I imagined the feeling. But I didn’t.

Living Like You Are Dying

When the buds begin to show in springtime, I think of my mother. It was the season she learned that she was dying. I wonder what it would be like to learn that you won’t be present by year’s end, yet there is the promise of life all around you. A promise in the buds on fruit and maple trees, woodpeckers drumming, and robins with pieces of grass or a beakful of mud. Crocus with its purple and white flowers peeking out of the ground on the sunny side of the house and in the air the smell of rain, soil, and grass.

In a way, I do know. I didn’t think that I would live to be twenty-five. I didn’t have any hope for the future. I’m still surprised that I created a loving family. A safe home. And, my children and their friends, teens in their own right, still want to hang with the moms for a game or two of Monopoly.

Though that time of turmoil, chronicled in House of Fire, is long gone, I still live as if I’m going to die.

I make a great effort to live with no regrets. I’m already planning our families next Guatemala vacation in June of 2018. It will be our 5th visit to Juan Jose’ and Crystel’s birth country. I have my sight set on a sailboat river tour of the Rio Dulce, Lake Izabal, and Livingston before spending time anchored alongside an island jungle and beach.

Fortunately, Jody saves for the future. She packs away items from one holiday to the next. If it was up to me I’d just go out and buy the same thing year after year.

It’s helpful to live like you are dying. I’m at every track and cross country meet with the kids that I can attend. Though, I did hold back from going to their Nordic ski events. Somehow, I didn’t think that I’d regret standing in the cold waiting for them to come to the finish line. Maybe, next year.

The lilacs haven’t bloomed yet. But, they will. Their green bud promises us that.

The robins will strengthen their nest with mud. I’ll do the same showing up for my kids.