By L&T Columnist Rachel Coleman
Like a small child who’s recently learned to count to 100, I have of late been obsessed with numbers. At least, that’s what my family tells me.
When I realized my 20th wedding anniversary would take place this year, I marveled to note that my husband and I have each spent more time in the household we created together, than we did in our parents’ homes. Since we both enrolled in the School of Hard Knocks at age 16, that means we’ve outlasted our homes of origin by four years, 125 percent or a 5:4 ratio.
“That’s so cool!” I said. I love my mother-in-law, my 11 siblings-in-law and the hundred or so nieces and nephews that make up the family I married into. Yet a part of me — maybe the third-grade part? — loves the fact that I’m winning this time game, even more.
Then there are the contest entries. As the Kansas Press Association contest deadline neared, every content-producing person at the Leader & Times, from the advertising department to the news side, clicked through a year’s worth of electronic archives. We were in search of our best work from 2013.
Somewhere in the middle of my visit back to June, an unreasonable delight seized me. I wanted to count how many stories I’d written during the previous year (I didn’t, because I was unwilling to return to January and begin again). I wanted to count how many columns I’d written. I wanted to sort everything into categories and tally the final numbers. In a way, the contest required us all to do this, asking for entries in categories like “Agricultural Story” and “Youth Story.”
Once more, the third-grader in me emerged. I was genuinely happy that my coworker Robert Pierce had generated an impressive list of pieces about the Lesser Prairie Chicken. On the other hand, I was jealous, because the Lesser Prairie Chicken fits into two categories — agriculture and environment — and somehow, in the process of sorting and counting, I’d once again started to keep score.
“I really want us to win the Sweepstakes Award for small newspapers,” I told my editor. Weary and red-eyed, he continued to sort, file and submit stories and page layouts long after the reporters had completed our hunting and gathering. I’m not sure how many more hours he logged than we did. Keeping track of that is not my job, right?
“We have a good chance,” he said distractedly. “We’re sending in a lot.”
The question popped out before I even thought about it.
“I have 128 in the folder already,” he said. “But some of them are multiple parts of the same entry.”
“Yeah, you can take at least 20 off the raw total,” I suggested. “I know that one of my series entries had 17 parts, and nearly all my stories took up two separate pages to submit.”
Larry just nodded and kept plugging away. Honestly, I don’t think he cared about the numerical total at that point; he just wanted the job to be done for the year.
My husband says keeping score is a bad habit of mine. I don’t know how many times he’s said so. I still disagree, though. Paying attention to how things unfold, is what I call my tendency to step back and evaluate the cause-and-effect nature of reality.
In regard to our ages, unfortunately, there’s nothing my stepping back can accomplish: he will always be 11 years older than me. I have tried to find a bright side to this.
“It’s kind of interesting,” I mused. “When I met your dad, he was already in his 30s, but it took several years before I hit 30.”
“Yes,” my daughter said, eyebrows raised as if to ask, “What’s the point of this silly conversation?”
“So he got to witness me going through that transition, you know, from the 20s when you still feel like you have your whole life ahead of you and anything is possible, to the 30s, when it starts to sink in that you are a real adult.”
“And?” Why would I expect one of my children — not even 20! — to understand? Not that I’m keeping track, you know.
“It’s just interesting. To notice all the life transitions we’ve witnessed for each other. Over the 20 years. Your dad has been part of my life longer than I have been of his. I’ve known him for 36 percent of his life, and he’s known me 44 percent of mine.”
Incredulous looks: “I can’t believe she actually calculated this.”
“So you think Daddy has had a greater effect on you, because you were younger and more impressionable?”
The third-grader bristled.
“Not at all,” I said airily. “I just think it’s interesting. Of course, he turned 40 before I did, too.”
Nobody said it, but you could hear the response, “Well, duh!” vibrating in the air.
All in all, I believe I’m entitled to my emotional-familial number-crunching. Consider how many birthday cakes I have baked and decorated; the count was 50 last time I checked, and that was more than 10 years ago, so I figure the century mark has been in the rear-view mirror for quite a while. Consider how, when there’s not quite enough cinnamon rolls or carnitas asados from the taco wagon or bottles of fizzy juice to go around, I am the first to volunteer to have “just one,” in order to keep the peace and satisfy the appetites of my offspring.
Some people — I’m not naming any names, but there are four of them at this address — might suggest that’s just what people in a loving family do to show support and affection.
Maybe they are right.
But then, who's counting?