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Peterson: Break in routine throws memory off schedule

Published: Friday, June 14, 2013 5:30 a.m. CST

Now, I feel bad. Really bad.

Wednesday was my growing-older-too-fast daughter Katie’s birthday – her 22nd – and I forgot to call.

And it is early Thursday as I write this, and moments after I turned on my laptop on the kitchen table, I looked at June 12 on the wipe-board calendar and crossed it off as another day well-lived. Cheers. It was when I finished the diagonal upper-right corner to lower-left corner line that I realized Katie’s birthday was on the day I just crossed off. Ack.

I forget things easily unless I leave a bread-crumb trail of notes to remind me. I didn’t write her name on the calendar on the refrigerator door. I don’t have my computer set up to remind me a week in advance of her birthday or her brother’s because – up until now – June 12 and June 13 are indelibly entered into my memory.

I just don’t forget those dates. Until Wednesday. I’ve failed as a dad.

My saving grace is that I did remember to send birthday cards on Monday – plenty of time for them to arrived in DeKalb and Lincoln, Neb., on their assigned dates, respectively. The U.S. Postal Service, for all of the grief it gets as snail mail, moves mail remarkably fast these days.

I can send a letter on Tuesday in northern Illinois and I can pretty much expect it to arrive at its destination the next day. And I can expect it to arrive within two to three days if it has to cross Midwest state lines. I can’t tell you about the coasts because I rarely send mail there to anyone I know who will confirm delivery.

Now that postage stamps no longer carry a price on them – just a fishy “forever” – and the prices keep increasing, I can’t tell you how much a stamp costs, but it is less than 50 cents, a price that will give me pause to buy. For mail to be delivered so expeditiously, I’m not about to complain about today’s price of a stamp.

Wednesday was not an ordinary day for me, and I need the ordinary of routine to keep from forgetting things. I need to wake up, brush my teeth, have a cup of coffee and breakfast, read, shower, talk to my good wife and go to work. And the little things fall into place. Like remembering to call my children and parents on their birthdays.

But this Wednesday was hardly routine. I had a mental-health convention to go to at the James R. Thompson – another governor who did not go to prison! – Center in Chicago during the day and a meeting on expunging criminal records in the evening, having to leave for that as soon as the train pulled into Woodstock.

The irony of going to a meeting at a building named after a former Illinois governor the same day as going to a meeting on expungement was not lost on me. Nor was it lost on the lawyer who is the state’s expert on expunging criminal records.

I read the train schedule wrong, and arrived 50 minutes early, so I drove back home to wait for the next train to roll into town.

At the convention, there was plenty of downtime to make a birthday call from under the white-and-black sculpture, Monument with Standing Beast, in front of the Thompson Center. It would have been perfect, calling Katie from the greatest city in the United States underneath one of its landmarks.

I could have called from the Governor Who Wasn’t Imprisoned Transportation Center, where I had an hour to wait for the next outbound train to Woodstock. And I had an hour and a half on the train, time I could have spent making a call. I didn’t have a chance to call back and forth to McHenry because I had a passenger, but I could have called while my good wife finished completing a test she was taking online at 8 p.m.

But I forgot it was Katie’s birthday. Completely. This was Wednesday, the day I was supposed to be in Chicago, then McHenry, then catch some Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup Final hockey on TV.

I remembered Katie’s birthday all last week. And I bought her birthday card early. And I mailed it on time. So, it’s not like I really completely forgot it. I remembered in part.

Except when it counted. When the day had finally arrived, it slipped my mind. I forgot, until I crossed June 12 on the calendar as another day well-lived on June 13. Not so well-lived, as it turns out.

• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental-health advocate, a freelance writer and a former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. He can be contacted at dickpeterson76@gmail.com.

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