Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Time Sinks

I was up to my elbows in thorns and roses and madder than a hornet to boot. I was stuck in a time-sink project.

The trellises holding my rosebushes had fallen down—thanks to a thunderstorm the night before. We had company coming over in three hours. Our icemaker was busted and we needed ice. And the inside of my house looked like the after-effect of George Bush’s foreign policy. The last thing I needed was a time-sink, but there I was, wrestling with a rosebush, watching precious time slip.

My friend Deb was the first person I ever heard use the term “time-sink project.” I immediately latched on to it. I don’t know if she made it up or heard it somewhere else, but it was a term that didn’t need explaining. Time-sink projects filled my days.

A broken car. Or a pipe that bursts. Perfect examples of time-sinks. By definition, the worst part about a time-sink is when you’re finished, you’re not ahead, but merely back where you started.

Time-sinks are frustrating, but it wasn’t until I became a parent that they began to enrage, rather than just frustrate me. I remember going out to the garage to change a car seat that had been peed in. I wasn’t mad at the son who’d done it—these things happen to newly potty-trained boys. (Well, okay, maybe I was a little mad.) But I was furious at the Chrysler Corporation and their stupid tether-strap latch that I couldn’t get loose. I was mad at Graco, the company that made the car seat, for making their tether strap hook so incompatible with Chrysler’s latch. I was mad that this project was taking longer than it should have—longer than I’d anticipated—and that something that should have been so simple had become so difficult and that I’d been completely stymied before I could even complete the first step: remove car seat from car.

I cried over that car seat. I sat in the back of the Jeep swearing and crying over a piece of furniture and I remember thinking, “It’s finally happened. I’ve lost the rest of my mind.”

I was at that point with my roses: distraught that the trellises refused to stay up despite my repeated efforts and that one of the main canes had splintered beyond repair. I was repeatedly getting scratched with thorns and was starting to look like I’d been in a reality-TV show catfight. A thorn had broken-off in my thumb, the sharp end embedded in it like a splinter and I couldn’t pull it out. As I swore and ranted in the backyard I wanted to blame anyone or anything else. I was acting so crazy it’s since made me wonder if it were more than a coincidence that, two days later, the for-sale sign went up in my next-door neighbor’s front yard.

My husband, on the way to the store for ice, stopped to help. His calmness, his analytic approach and his understanding at my frustration was the marital equivalent of pulling the thorn from the lion’s paw.

I wish I could be that calm in the face of a time-sink. Perhaps it's because he doesn’t have to deal with as many of them as I do. He spends his days in the business world—used to results. Or maybe he’s just used to being in a world where everything is a time sink.

Regardless, we’re all busy. We want our projects to produce results.

I suppose I could have left the rose bushes sagging, taken care of them the day after the party. But that splintered cane—it broke my heart. I took it, cut the end clean, dipped it in rooting compound and stuck it in the ground, tying the branches up along the fence. It looked beautiful that night and although I ended up cutting back most of it, the cane is still green in the ground. Perhaps it will survive. A positive time-sink result.

At the party that night, a friend said to me, “Your roses are so beautiful, I could weep.”

I smiled, said, “Thank you,” and told him sometimes, they made me weep, too.

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