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Suburban Island

Procrastination in Action
Thursday, Mar. 03, 2005, 6:41 p.m.

QUESTION: Where are my manners?

WHAT I LEARNED: Don't forget your manners.

I long to accomplish great and noble tasks, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble. The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker.

So said Helen Keller, who did indeed get many things big and small accomplished in her life.

We all aspire to at least a few great and noble tasks – that’s surely true – but it’s the humble tasks that get you every time.

I admire those people that can send birthday cards before they have to add the word "belated" to the inscription. I long to know the secrets of the person who can purchase, wrap, and deliver a gift to someone before it is 2 months past the event it celebrates. I envy those that can sit down and write a thank you note while the givee still remembers what they gave the thanker. I want to be like these people – gloriously calm, perpetually organized, and serene in their ability to provide prompt attention to such seemingly small and yet so insidiously important matters.

However, I have a propensity towards what I like to call communication procrastination. I mean to write the email. I want to send the gift. I intend to mail the card. And yet… every day as the evening starts winding down I realize – another task (indeed, maybe two or three) is still undone and this is weighing heavily on my conscience. Oh, good intentions, what good are you? To Do List – why did I not consult thee? Nike – where is thy sign to post upon my wall to remind me - JUST DO IT. Emily Post and Amy Vanderbilt – why cannot your firm words in the name of good manners whip me back into shape?

For example, take a task – the simple purchase of a baby gift for a neighbor. It should be easy enough to choose, purchase, and deliver a baby gift. Right? Wrong.

We did buy a baby gift recently for a new baby in our neighborhood – the very darling little Cierra. We laid down our money for the cutest little baby gift you'd ever want to see the very same day that the baby was born. So far, so good. Right. Wrong – because now we have to actually move further down the gift-giving continuum - often a dicey process for the procrastinator(s).

We put the gift in its gift bag on the living room floor. It looks pretty just sitting there ready to be given. I feel proud that we actually have the baby gift in hand. But wait. We didn’t want to go over to see the baby on Day 1. A bunch of visitors is the last thing they need. That makes sense. The gift sits on the floor waiting to be given on another day.

We decide that we must wait to deliver the baby gift until we all can visit together. Schedules collide. It’s not happening. It may never happen. It’s dinnertime. It’s too late. It’s too early. No one is home. Everyone is too tired. Everyone is too busy.

And besides, everyone hasn’t signed the card yet. Major roadblock to gift-giving kicks in.

Days pass. No one has signed the card. The card is super-cute. We all like the card. Why don’t we all sign it? I’m afraid it is lack of maternal nagging. I keep forgetting about the card. Thus, everybody forgets about the card.

I see the gift with the unsigned card in the living room every day. The weight on my shoulders is increasing daily. The cute card is still not signed. No consensus has been reached on when the perfect time for our family to visit would actually be.

Three weeks go by…

I discuss situation with daughter – conversation number 10 or 11 on this topic. We agree we do not all need to go on gift-giving expedition in the hopes that the baby will get the gift before starting college. We also agree that one person may sign the card for the whole family for the same basic reason.

I actually sign the card. I artfully place the cute card in the gift bag. I open the front door. I walk across the street. I knock on the neighbor’s door. The weight on my shoulders is lifting. Our neighbor comes to the door with babe in arms. See the baby – the baby is cuter than the baby in the cute card. Yup, that baby is cute. I give the neighbor the gift. The weight on my shoulders floats off into the ether. We chat for a few minutes. Hey, this is fun. After a while, we say goodbye.

Task complete. Time to complete: approximately 1 month.

Now for the envelope with the Christmas gift in it that goes to our old neighbors now living across the country. My daughter may go visit them over spring break. She can delivered it. There you go – airfare $375. A bit more than a stamp, it's true. However, the point is - problem solved.

As long as she doesn’t forget the envelope, that is.

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