Frazzle dazzle

My son wrote to ask if he could get my pancake recipe. I cherish requests like that, which give me hope that I am still a somewhat necessary dimension to a life that is in every other way productive and fulfilling without me.

So I dropped everything and sent off an email with my recipe — a much-modified rendition of one I originally received from my stepfather, Paul Chaffee. My sons grew up on “Chaffee pancakes.” When they were little, I stirred chocolate chips into the batter to mimic pancakes they once enjoyed during a family trip to San Diego. As they got older — and more athletic — I started experimenting with healthier additions. During high school football season, I made these hearty pancakes each Friday morning — a complex-carbohydrate load to provide energy for the physical demands ahead.

Now both of my sons are grown, college-educated and completely self-supporting. They live and work in Washington, D.C., where they share a car and an apartment on Capitol Hill. My husband and I are eagerly anticipating our Thanksgiving visit with them next week.

But the pancake recipe is bothering me right now. When I talked to Andy the day after I sent it, I asked how the pancakes turned out. “They were good!” he said. “But I used milk instead of water.”

“Water?” I asked, incredulous. Somehow in my distracted, sleep-deprived, multi-tasking frame of mind, I’d typed “water” instead of “milk” when I emailed the recipe. Mental slips like that are frightening to me, especially when I remember my grandmother’s Alzheimer’s disease and her long, slow mental decline.

“No big deal,” Andy reassured. “I knew what you meant.”

It’s comforting to know that people have your back when you’re frazzled and your eyeballs feel like sandpaper from too many hours on the computer. It’s also comforting to know when there’s an end in sight to a long and daunting project.

That’s where I am today. For the past few weeks, I’ve been trying to help Calendar & Directories Editor Mala Blomquist with data entry and fact-checking for our annual Schools, etc. book. This year’s effort includes two new directories — preschools and postsecondary schools — in addition to the tens of thousands of words already committed to describing private and charter schools in Maricopa County, public school districts, Arizona boarding schools, online schools, special needs schools, tutoring resources and more.

If my eyes are shot, I can only imagine how Mala’s feel. But we’ve been doing this book for nine years and we know the routine. Just when we’re the most exhausted and overwhelmed by this project, we reach a tipping point: There is more work done than there is remaining to be done. And that’s when a second wind — and renewed excitement — kicks in.

It usually begins with the moment of meltdown. Mala’s came Sunday night, when she called me to say she was afraid we’d never make the deadline. Somehow, just articulating that fear, putting it out in the open, galvanized both of us. We created a game plan, pulled in some support from other staff members and by Monday evening we were in a completely different place.

I am always in awe of Mala’s resolve throughout this arduous annual project. She is enormously proud of this, her “baby,” and spends many sleepless nights pondering whether she’s covered absolutely every base in her quest to provide local families with a comprehensive guide to planning their children’s education.

So when I’m feeling the most frazzled, I’m also a bit dazzled — awed by Mala’s resolve and especially her ability to work through exhaustion with humor and grace. Most people facing this kind of pressure would be (understandably!) grumpy. Mala remains serene, patient and focused. It makes me want to be the same.

I just won’t be making any pancakes until this is over.


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