Tuesday, November 18, 2008
by Jenny Gardiner
Okay, class. Today’s lesson is on multi-tasking. For the uninitiated, multi-tasking is the process of doing as many things as humanly possible in the same space of time: fixing dinner, cleaning dishes, feeding the dogs, writing a book, scrubbing the floor, fighting for world peace. It’s one way to maximize the limited 24-hour day.
It is a skill that has been honed throughout millennia by women in particular. Often times they receive their inaugural multi-tasking trial by fire upon the birth of their first child, whence they are called upon to perform such challenges as soothing a screaming newborn over their shoulder while picking up the burp cloth that’s inconveniently fallen on the ground with their toes while simultaneously attempting to clean up the projectile vomit said screaming child has just emitted while letting the barking dog out because the barking dog is what caused the child to scream in the first place. Oh, and cook dinner, dust the bookshelves and make the bed. While carrying a basket of laundry up from the basement.
Of course, when the husband comes home at the end of the work day and finds the new mother looking as if she just gave birth (again) and asks, “What did you do all day, honey?” implying that it looks as if she’d parked her butt in front of Oprah and didn’t even get up to go to the bathroom, a woman has to learn to cast that sphinx-like smile and just glibly tell her man, “oh, a little of this, a little of that” (either that or club him). But we know better.
Women are excellent multi-taskers. I have female physician friends who I’m sure could readily perform a C-section, bake a pie and clean the dishes, if only the operating theater were within reach of the kitchen.
Another friend of mine wins the award for multi-tasking. I saw her one time, shortly after her baby was born, on a neighborhood stroll. The baby in a jog stroller, the dog on a leash, and a book in front of her face. If that’s not an ambitious undertaking, killing three birds with one stone, nothing is.
I have found over the years that I can multi-task with just about everything. I read while brushing my teeth. Sometimes I clean my sink while blow-drying my hair. Check my e-mails, talk on the phone, feed the dogs, and clear my desk. You get the drift. I like to think of it as hyper-efficiency. My husband calls it ADD.
But I’ve found there’s one task that absolutely thwarts a person’s ability to seriously multi-task, and that is driving. Now, to a certain extent, we all multi-task when we drive. It’s an inevitable side effect of the process: checking mirrors, scanning the horizon, glancing over your shoulder before going into the passing lane. Even to the point that you might be eating a burger, licking an ice cream cone, or drinking hot coffee with one hand while driving. Who hasn’t steered with their knees occasionally?
Of course the cell phone has enabled those of us who spend an inordinate amount of time behind the wheel to at least partially fulfill the need to multitask. As a mother of three, I’ve spent several hours a day over the past decade or so couriering my charges to their various and many activities. At least with a cell phone I can take care of returning phone calls that are only interruptive when conducted at home, or catching up with someone I’ve neglected to contact in ages.
But I yearn for the ability to do more behind the wheel and long for the day that technology will catch up with a mother’s need to achieve while driving: how about a plug-in blow dryer so I can dry and drive at once? Or a way to fix dinner while stuck in traffic at 6 p.m.? We’ve all see those ambitious ones who boldly do the idiotic while behind the wheel: applying make-up, curling eyelashes, shaving, for God’s sake. That’s about as crazy as trying to perform a pedicure while tooling along the road. Those undertakings are obviously foolish. But really, I think the blow-drying idea is imminently do-able, provided of course that styling brushes are not required.
Having now ushered two kids through driver’s ed, where they learn to drive the way we’re supposed to drive, however, I realize that my days of ambitious achievement above and beyond the task of getting to and fro have drawn to a close: I now have a driving-age backseat drivers who are ready and willing to correct every little transgression I might possibly make while in the course of my daily driving.
Because after all, while idly sitting at a traffic signal catching up on my reading is a useful way to spend the forty-five seconds during which I’m stuck at the light, it’s probably more incumbent upon me to pay attention to other drivers. That is, not looking at what they’re wearing or how funny they look belting out a song alone in the car, but rather whether there are last-minute light runners who might impede my forward momentum once the light does change to green. Alas, it looks as if my days of multi-tasking are now limited to off-road moments. And that’s a good thing.