Monday, April 16, 2012

On the horns of a dilemma

My nine-year-old said the words I love to hear perhaps above all others yesterday. “Mom, could you just read outside while I ride my bike around the driveway?”

She likes to do driveway laps, but not without company. So she likes me to sit there and read while she bikes. It’s like being given a job as an ice cream taster: surely too good to be true.

I pulled a lawn chair out of the garage and found my Kindle, but just as I opened to the front page of the Sunday Boston Globe, I realized that the circumstances were ideal for tackling a household task I’d been procrastinating for months, which was digging through the myriad packing boxes in the garage to find the nighttable lamps we’d never unpacked after moving a year ago. It’s one of those things I keep meaning to do, and yet unlike laundry or cooking, it’s never essential. It’s always sort of a second-tier priority. And second-tier priorities never seem to get done.

If I was ever going to search for those lamps, this was the moment.

And yet there on my Kindle was an entire Sunday Boston Globe plus an entire Sunday New York Times to be read, and the circumstances were ideal for that as well.

It was a fairly straightforward dilemma. The benefits of searching for the lamp were obvious – locating something I needed and garnering the additional satisfaction of crossing off a task that had stagnated on my To Do list for months – but the benefits of the newspaper couldn’t be overlooked either: awareness of current events, exposure to informed opinions, overall intellectual stimulation.

I spend a few idle moments contemplating the nuances of this admittedly trivial dilemma. Reading the newspaper, especially the Sunday paper, really does make me a happier and more fulfilled person. I genuinely feel lacking when I go a whole Sunday without reading the paper at all. I worry that I’m missing out on important world developments. I feel hesitant to join in conversations about current events, feeling uninformed.

On the other hand, procrastinating on household tasks takes its own mental and spiritual toll. Though there are surely people who never think about housework and are able to devote all of their discretionary time to intellectual pursuits, I can’t imagine being free of the gnawing voice inside telling me I can’t let the household tasks get away from me; they multiply like bunnies. Dust bunnies, that is.

In the end, I treated the conflicting choices inside my head the same way I treat my own children when they quarrel: I made them take turns. First I read the lead story in the Globe; and then, with a deep breath, I approached the mountain of packing cartons.

I suppose the outcome was inevitable. Household chores always manage to sink their teeth in; you give them an inch, they take a mile. Two hours later, I was still going through boxes – not because I hadn’t found what I was looking for but because one thing leads to another with a job like this, and once I’d located the lamps, I needed to find the lightbulbs, and while looking for the lightbulbs I came across a favorite vase that I wanted to bring into the house, but if I was going to find a place for that vase, I might as well find the one that went with it as well. And so on.

Not until after the kids were in bed six hours later did I get back to the paper. It was nearly ten o’clock and I was only one article into the Sunday Globe. Unless I stayed up ‘til midnight reading, I knew I’d feel just a little bit behind, intellectually, all week.

Still, knowing there was one fewer task on my To Do list was worth something. So it was with a very small and yet unquenchable sense of accomplishment that I finally finished one last article and reached out gratefully to turn off my much-missed bedside lamp.

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