Susan Vollenweider: Saving the to-do list from the Pile of Death, with all its baggage

02/18/2014 12:00 AM

02/12/2014 1:54 PM

The list was staring at me, mocking me like it had been doing for a very long time.

“Hey, Susan! Hypocrite. Loser.” It sneered.

And it’s right. I screwed up.

Last year I had a milestone birthday with a really fabulous party. I celebrated with quite a few people that I don’t get to see often. The only gift I wanted from them was their presence. But it was a milestone birthday, so some brought cards and some brought gifts and those far away sent things. I was lavished with gifts and felt like a queen.

Only, a queen would have written thank you notes.

Right. Me — the mom who insists that her kids sit down the next day and write thank you notes — failed in this very task. Queen to Hypocrite in one stumbled face plant.


The day after my party I did write a list of all the givers and gifts. I began to write notes, crossed a few names off and hung the list back on the fridge with plans to write more the next day.

Only the next day never came. The piece of paper got knocked off and slid between the fridge and the cabinet. Out of sight, out of mind…

…until several months later when the fridge started making a funky noise and had to be pulled out and repaired.


The fridge noise stopped but the list’s taunty chant began to remind me that people cared enough to celebrate this life event and bestow a token of affection upon me to boot, and I never thanked them.

I felt like I didn’t deserve their friendship.

I felt like an idiot and didn’t know what to say to them.

So I did the most logical thing I could think of: I put the list on my To Do pile.

I lie to myself that it’s not a To Do List Death Pile, it’s merely a holding station where lists wait for me to have an answer or time or whatever is needed to get them completed.

Each time I flipped through the pile, the list threw guilt at me. “Not that chore, pick me! Face these people! Acknowledge their gift to you! Reciprocate their affection!”

Apparently guilt can compose a sentence better than I can about this issue.

I taped the list to my computer screen. This is where lists go to be revived — the To Do List ER.

Tape, un-tape, tape, un-tape…I finally faced the task a few days later.

I got a stack of blank cards and put the list in front of me. All I had to do was write a note.

Well, first I had to find my special pen, the one that writes really well. (It was in my purse, way at the bottom).

Then I needed the right background music (Fun.) and a hot cup of tea (Earl Gray).

Pen, paper, tea, music — and the list — were, eventually, assembled. The only thing missing was my fanny in a chair, pen in hand writing how grateful I truly am to have these people in my life. How hard could this be?

I stared at the first blank card and a wave of embarrassment boiled up from my gut. Quite unsure of what to write, I cringed.

“Susan, what would you tell the kids if they were in this situation?” I asked myself.

I knew: Just do it, let your heart speak through your fingers. They will forgive you, but you have to make the first step. These aren’t strangers, they are friends who know you.

“Dear Carol,

I screwed up…”

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