by Diane Wiltshire

I call it multi-tasking, this abil­ity we mothers have to tackle many tasks at once. My husband calls it severe Attention Deficit Disorder in the Adult Female. Sometimes I think he’s right. My most recent ADDAF episode began with the birthday card. I wanted to get my sister a special, funny card for her 40th birthday. I wanted to remember to buy it and mail it in time.

I started off highly organized with plenty of time; her birthday was scribbled on two of my three calendars, and a week in advance I started looking for cards when running errands around town. I found nothing special, and if it hadn’t been for a late-night super­market visit for a gallon of milk, I never would have discovered the stash of great cards at the car wash (bear with me here.)

So, back to the milk, which I purchase just before the grocery closes at midnight, relieved to have discovered we were out before staring bleary-eyed at the contents of our refrigerator at 5:30 in the morning. The next day at breakfast one of the kids opens the milk, sniffs the contents, and begins to gag dramatically at the foul smell. I make a mental note to return the sour milk and register a complaint at the grocery after dropping the children at the bus stop and attend­ing the PTA meeting.

The kids are dropped off, I am marveling that no one has forgot­ten anything, and I round the cor­ner on the way home to get ready for the meeting. Just as I’m think­ing, “Gee I hope that gallon of milk on the backseat doesn’t spill,” there is a minor explosion in the van. I feel a sticky wet sensation on the back of my head. Glancing in the rear view mirror I notice that most of the car is covered in white foam. Sour milk is gurgling from the open jug.

Ordinarily I would jump out and get a towel from the trunk to mop up the mess, but I have pulled over at the main intersection of our town and I am wearing my flannel nightgown with snow boats and my husband’s old windbreaker which doesn’t quite cover the flan­nel nightgown.

Just as I start to get the tiniest bit irritated at this glitch in my day, a positive thought occurs: the inside of our old van could use a good cleaning anyway and this is the perfect opportunity to splurge and get the works at the local car wash. But first I have to run home, rinse the milk out of my hair, and make it to the PTA meeting.

As soon as the meeting is over, I jump back in the van, which I notice is starting to reek, and get in line at the car wash on Route 7. I fork over a small fortune for the deluxe wash pack­age and go inside.

It is sort of nice, having an unexpected 45 minutes to myself. I pay a few bills, take a call on my cell phone from one of the children who left an important notebook at home after all and desperately needs it delivered to school before noon, revise my to-do list to include 14 additional entries, then settle into a cozy chair in the wait­ing room to read the newspaper.

Just then my eyes wander to a rack on the wall full of greeting cards. A birthday card for my sister! I toss the newspaper aside, jump up from the chair and proceed to read through the entire selection of cards. They are all so hysterically funny that I am laughing out loud, and I can’t decide, so I purchase five cards. I think, “Well, this is special, my sister’s 40th birthday, so she can receive one from each member of our family.”

I take the cards home and place them on the dining table so that I can remember to have all the chil­dren sign the cards. The next night after dinner the bag of cards is nowhere to be found. They have disappeared into that mysterious chasm known as “the mess in our house”; perhaps they are under the science project or mixed in with the mail or who knows where, but from previous experience I know that the cards will not appear again, no matter how hard I look, until long after my sister’s birthday.

So I go back to the car wash, which I needed to do anyway because the stench in my van is so strong; apparently the sour milk smell wasn’t shampooed out despite my $75 investment. The kids are whining that they will not ride in the car with the disgusting smell, and my younger son is espe­cially worried because the next night I am supposed to carpool him to the 8th grade dance with a group of very cute girls.

At the car wash, I try to con­vince the guy to shampoo my car­pet again for free because I was just there two days ago, but he demands to see the receipt, which of course I don’t have. Then I tell him that the cashier should remember me because I bought five birthday cards that day, and actually she does.

As I am waiting to get my car shampooed again I check the card rack and find only two of the origi­nal funny five cards that I had purchased earlier. I take these two to the counter and as I dig in my purse to pay the cashier, I realize that I really need to clean out my purse because it is hard to find things, like those priority mail stamps that I am sure I have and will need in order to mail the cards because now there are only three days left until my sister’s birthday.

I am determined to get to the post office before it closes, so after dropping one kid at cheerleading practice, one kid at lacrosse practice while another kid is at the orthodontist, I dash into the post office to mail the two cards just before 5 p.m. The cards are not in my purse or anywhere in the van, which now reeks of disinfectant. I realize that I must have left them at the car wash counter when I got distracted thinking about cleaning out my purse.

I rush back to the car wash, which has just closed. I am late picking up all three children. I am worried that now my sister’s cards will not arrive in time for this very special birthday.

Undeterred, I show up at the car wash the next day, and the cashier says that yes, two cards were left on the counter and she put both of them back. Going through the rack, I can find only one of the original five funny cards that I first purchased, but that’s OK because this is the funniest one. I buy the card again and dash to the post office, knowing that this will make me late for my son’s basketball play-off game. I remember as I am driving to the post office that I should have gotten a thank-you card for the basketball coach because I am in charge of the coach’s gift, but I think that I will just have the kids make a card.

At the post office I pay $11 for express mail delivery for this spe­cial card for my sister’s 40th birth­day. Later that day I call my mother and ask her about getting a gift cer­tificate, too. And my mother says, “Diane, that’s very nice but it’s your sister’s 39th birthday.”Diane, that’s very nice but it’s your sister’s 39th birthday.