The List - FamilyEducation

The List

December 08,2009
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

My husband is an habitual list maker, and I love him for it, I really do. He makes long detailed lists of the pros and cons of things, of to-do projects around the house, of to-do projects already completed, and of various statistics involving his fantasy basketball teams. He also has the list of all lists—I call it The List—entitled “Records I Want”. The List is one page covered in tiny meticulous handwriting detailing all the records he hopes to own some day, with entries crossed off here and there to reflect changes, and little arrows and short annotations sprinkled in along the margins. Every now and then, for birthdays or Christmas or anniversaries, I’ll swipe The List from where I know he keeps it and disappear with it to a small, creaky-floored, musty-smelling used book and record store downtown (in my opinion a used book store should always have creaky wooden floors and smell musty, or else it is not a true used book store). A week or so ago in a busy moment Scott mentioned in passing that he thought he had lost The List. It was one of those comments your spouse might make in a moment of household chaos so that part of your brain hears the comment, but the rest of it fails to truly process it. But this weekend, as I was compiling MY list of all the holiday gifts I still need to purchase for family and friends and for all the hard-working teachers who have crossed our lives this year, I thought about how I needed to swipe The List again so I could do some Christmas shopping for Scott. Then I realized with horror that The List was gone. I hadn’t even had a chance to talk with him about the loss of The List. Being married with kids and working and doing a million and one things often means that you perpetually walk around with small threads of conversations hanging in the air around you. You and your spouse come together and pick up thread A or thread B and rejoin the conversation days later, effortlessly picking up right where you left off. But thread C might hang a little longer, especially if the other threads around it are more pressing, and need completing. Was he worried about The List, I wondered? Already busily recreating it? And, if so, where could I find it? Then on Monday morning, because we were running late, I had to park a full block away from L.’s school and on our way along the sidewalk, in the cold wind, trudging through wet slick leaves, L. stopped to look at a piece of paper on the ground, and I nagged him that we were late and had to get moving. But lists were on my mind, and the paper had the look of someone’s holiday shopping list. L. can’t resist passing by a piece of dropped paper, so he bent to pick it up and I looked down too—maybe I’m a little nosy, I confess. “Look Mama,” L. said. “It says ‘Peter Tosh’ on it." It did. And Billy Bragg. And Joe Jackson. And Aimee Mann. It was The List. It took all of 2 seconds for me to recognize my husband’s handwriting, and the little arrows here and there, and the familiar names. It seemed none the worse for wear for all its exposure to the elements, including the torrential rain storm we had on Saturday. The word 'psychedelic' in "Psychedelic Furs" was blurred and the ink had streaked into the name below it, but other than that, The List was fine. It felt like a small but sweet holiday miracle, it really did; the kind that brightens up a cold Monday morning, and sends your son into school and you into work with a smile on your faces and an extra jump in your walk. And I know where I'll be later in the week, with that list tucked into my pocket...