I hear the car door slam and look at the clock.
I forgot to thaw something for dinner. Again. Wheeling my office chair away from the desk, I give it a spin and catapult myself out of it, my socks sliding on the wood floor, through the living room, and into the kitchen. Grabbing the door handle, I come to an unsteady stop in front of the refrigerator. After several minutes of mindless staring at produce bins and last night’s leftovers, I slam the fridge shut. A single white sheet takes flight, crash landing under the kitchen island.
I was supposed to schedule a mammogram weeks ago. I return the script to the fridge, ready to secure it once more with the clothespin butterfly magnet my daughter made in pre-school. Studying its antennae, I gently run my finger along the black pipe cleaners recalling the day she brought it home ten years ago. Her excited chatter about that day’s lesson suddenly fills the kitchen once more. The class had spent weeks following each stage of a butterfly’s life cycle and she had rushed off the school bus each day waving a related art project. The day she brought home the magnet, her tiny hand held my finger and gently ran it along the butterfly’s antennae.
“They are called feelers, Mommy! They help the butterfly find flowers so it can get a drink!”
In her limited vocabulary, she explained how the feelers are so essential the very survival of the butterfly depends on their accuracy of function. I picked her up and tickled her while she giggled and screamed and squirmed out of my grasp.
“My feelers won’t survive if I don’t tickle you at least once a day!” I yelled as I chased her around the kitchen island.
Through the years, the clothespin butterfly has anchored many important papers from permission slips to the kids’ latest masterpiece. As our family grew, so did the number of magnets. The fridge changed from single door to dual, white to stainless steel, but the clothespin butterfly maintained a prominent place on what I began to refer to as “my life on the fridge.”
At some point, I added a calendar to keep up with the kids’ extracurricular activities and my husband’s business trips. Scattered Post-It notes held scribbled reminders when we were out of milk or the dog was due for its heart worm pill. The busier our lives became, the more cluttered the refrigerator doors. It hardly seemed worth it at the time to complain. No matter what new organizational system I tried, the fridge always reverted to a state of barely controlled chaos.
I longed for the sleek refrigerators featured in interior decorating magazines and home improvement shows. I would go on a cleaning frenzy before someone came to visit, pulling papers off the fridge and shoving them into the drawer like a madwoman before the doorbell signaled their arrival.
“I love your kitchen! You are so organized!” one of our guests would undoubtedly say.
“Thank you. I’ve finally found a system,” I would reply with a smile, and quickly change the subject.
Now, as I reposition the mammogram order on the fridge, I’m taken aback by the stark white square on an expanse of silver. Finger paintings and stick figure families are crammed in dusty scrapbooks. I yearn for the days when game tickets fought for space alongside homemade Mother’s Day cards, and student of the week certificates, trumping all else, were prominently displayed in the center. Gone are the extra magnets that held my life in place.
These days, schedules are tracked electronically so the family can sync their calendars on a weekly basis. Homemade cards are replaced with the store-bought kind, and grocery lists are compiled via voice command directly into my phone. The kids are older and set reminders for deadlines on their own cellphones. Now, my husband simply emails his itinerary for my information. Time and technology have cleared the beautiful mess that once covered our fridge.
I stare at the white sheet, occupying a single space of a canvas that once displayed my full life. The butterfly’s feelers are bent out of shape as though the nectar it needs is no longer within reach, and I find myself relating to a clothespin butterfly with pipe cleaner antennae. I can’t help but feel that which has been essential to my survival may soon be just out of reach.