December has rushed in like an unwelcome houseguest. My friends flip through their planners frantically, trying to account for lost time. Where did November go? When did we get to finals? How will it all get done? I can feel the stress in my tight chest and tingling palms, in the pile of unwashed dishes in my sink.
Some people exercise to relieve stress. Other people meditate, color in mandalas, or knit scarves.
I make ice cream cakes.
This morning, I arrived at White Mountain at 8:30 a.m. The door was locked—I rapped on the frosted window and my boss, Peter, rushed to let me in. The Comm. Ave traffic chugged along beside me, and a T driver in a yellow jacket bustled by, a Dunkin Donuts coffee in hand. I breathed in the brisk air and tried not to think about the books in my backpack and the straps that dug into my shoulders.
Making an ice cream cake is easy. First, you fill a cake tin with ice cream and let it harden in the freezer for two hours. Once hardened, you hold it in a sink of hot water, shaking the pan around until the sides of the ice cream cake unstick. Then you flip it over onto a gold-papered disk, wipe away the streams of melted ice cream, and pop it back in the freezer.
While I waited for the flipped ice cream cake to firm up, I drummed my fingers on the counter. Customers would filter in throughout the day, but for the moment, the store was empty. Sometimes I bring books with me to work. I read intermittently, pushing myself to finish a paragraph or a page or a chapter in between customers. No moment can be lost, right?
Today, I let the moments fly by. I mixed up frosting colors in clear, plastic bowls—bright blues and peaches, mellow lilacs, a bowl of daffodil yellow. I hummed along to the crackling Tchaikovsky on the radio. I let my thoughts wander from the items on my to-do list: the unread books and incomplete job applications, the unfinished Heights column and ignored grocery needs.
I’m a list-maker by nature. I constantly rework homework lists and grocery lists on a worn-out legal pad, making supplemental lists on index cards when I need yet another mode of organization. Boston College hasn’t helped me get over this obsession. I’m surrounded by list-makers, organizers, and over-achievers in all arenas. Sometimes I feel disorganized in comparison.
In the midst of all this list making, we have forgotten something crucial. The barrage of to-do lists isn’t meant to amplify stress or remind you of all the things you haven’t done. A list is a simple thing. It takes the uncontrollable and intangible cloud of stress and pins it down to a piece of paper. A list should give you peace of mind. Can you remember the last time you felt relaxed after looking at your to-do list?
After frosting my cake, I put it in the freezer to harden, and I made a new to-do list: fold clean rags, wipe tables, refill napkin dispensers, and decorate cookie monster cake. As I moved through each of these tasks, I felt the glow of accomplishment. I dotted the bottom of my hardened ice cream cake with yellow puffs of frosting, dusting the top with sprinkles. As I looked at my finished cake, more satisfying than any completed essay or problem set, I wondered why life wasn’t as simple as filling up an empty cake tin or adding on another layer of frosting.
At 10:00 a.m., I stepped out into the cold December sunlight. I held my completed White Mountain to-do list in one hand, each item crossed off with a thick Sharpie line, and I tried to hold on to my peace of mind. My backpack straps strained against the weight of all I had to do, but I forged on to O’Neill anyways.
Featured Image by Meg Dolan / Heights Staff