The List

In fourth grade, I made a list to simplify my life—which had started to feel complicated.

I think my anxiety was caused by the questions adults ask kids in an effort to make conversation. They are always asking about kids’ favorites—forcing them to rank their few life experiences.

In fact, I did it today.

My friend asked Henry, age seven, “What was your favorite thing at the farmers’ market?”

“Ummmm …” he replied, “ummmm … .” After a long while he said, “It would be easier if you asked me …” but the rest of his sentence got whisked away by the open window as the car sped up.

“I missed that.  What was your favorite thing?” she prompted again.

“—The raspberries,” he said with a conceding nod.

And even though I’d already started drafting this blog post and knew better, I followed up with, “Are raspberries your favorite fruit?”

Again, he paused for contemplation.  “One of them,” he replied, softening my binary proposition and allowing for the possibility of more than one favorite.

I, however, was not this wise in fourth grade. When adults asked about my favorites, I assumed I needed to have favorites. So, I made my list and planned to carry it with me at all times. When asked about a favorite thing, I’d pull out my list to find the answer and avoid the tension-causing contemplation.

Favorite color:  green
Favorite animal: cat
Favorite thing to do: read
Favorite food: pizza
Favorite ice cream: blueberry cheesecake

My list—written on typing paper, glued to green construction paper, and folded into quarters—fit in my back pocket and gave me peace of mind.

Shortly after constructing this list, I found myself at an ice cream shop.  I remember strutting into the store, hanging out with my mom while the other kids pawed the display case trying to choose their scoop flavor. I already knew what I wanted without even pulling out my list, but then the cashier said, “We don’t have that flavor.”

I think I actually took a step toward the door to return to the car and add a column to my list for “second favorites” in case my “favorite-favorites” didn’t resolve the question or fit the situation. But there wasn’t time for that now, and I really wanted some ice cream.

“We have strawberry cheesecake ice cream,” the cashier said. Fine, yes, okay, I’ll have that. And it was good.  It had the same gooey pie crust and creamy bits my favorite flavor had, but it wasn’t as rich or pretty to look at as the blueberry cheesecake.

I’m pretty sure I abandoned my list after that experience because when it failed in that moment, I also had to admit that the list had not simplified my life like I’d expected it to.  I’d found myself fretting about whether I’d made the right choice.  I mean, green seemed like my favorite color, but there’s also that puke-toned olive green; whereas I always liked blue, any blue.  Then again, my favorite color to wear was purple.

I think of this fourth-grade list often because I still feel drawn by its allure.  Maybe I have a good day, and I’ll think, “Ah, this is it!  I’ve finally got it figured out.  This is how I’m going to live my life,” as if tomorrow’s going to roll out exactly as today did.  But, of course, it never does.

Even though I haven’t eaten dairy for over a decade, any time I end up in an ice cream shop, I scan for blueberry cheesecake.  It still exists but is just as difficult to find as it ever was.  I like knowing I had such a particular preference.  Had rocky road been my favorite, I might still be carrying around that list.  I’d be forever known as the kid who likes cats and rocky road.

Instead, I wake up to question marks most days.  The core of my identity settles into place while all kinds of electrons shift about and reveal whether today I will prefer quiet or company, activity or stillness, chocolate Coconut Bliss ice cream or chocolate chips by the handful.

Life’s a little more complicated and less  convenient this way, but rarely predictable and always interesting.



I write and illustrate stationery, cards, customized snail mail (yes, you can receive handwritten and illustrated letters in your mail!!), coloring books, and more. My business name is "Carrot Condo." After teaching English for 15 years (gasp!), I am now a full-time parent and part-time artist slowly, but steadily, building a creative business and life. You can read more at or see my products at Thanks for your interest and support!!
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2 Responses to The List

  1. Rose L. says:

    I was quite the LIST girl when young. I can remember the group of girls on my street getting together pre-sixth grade to make lists–usually silly. But one thing on a list I made of WHAT FAMOUS PERSON WOULD I LIKE TO MEET I had written Jesus. I had learned in Sunday school that he would return someday so I figured I would have that chance.
    Sometime in high school I made a list of “important” things. Not long ago as I sorted through “stuff” to get rid of the overload, I found and read it. I plan to toss it but had to just ponder it one more time, Now you must understand that I would spend lots of time in libraries looking at travel books!!
    1. Favorite colors-blue and pink
    2. Favorite food-lobster
    3. Favorite band-The Monkees (I actually met Davy Jones and he kissed me and asked for my phone #, but that’s another story)
    4. Where do I want to live one day-Oregon (It happened!)
    5. What kind of work do I want to do-be a preschool teacher or librarian
    6. Castles I want to see–Neuschwanstein Castle, Prague Castle, Chambord Castle (I saw this one!), Versailles castle, Edinburgh Castle (I saw this one!), Chenonceau castle (saw this, too!), Chantilly castle, Balmoral Castle, Edinburgh Castle (also saw this one!), Glamis Castle, Hearst castle (been here!), Warwick castle, Leeds castle, Waterfall Castle in Poland
    7. Places I would like to visit in other countries–Santorini, Greece; Loire valley in France (visited it); Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia for waterfalls; Capilano Suspension Bridge in British Columbia (still a top on my list); Rothenburg ob der Tauber in Germany; St. Basils Cathedral in Russia; Portofino, Italy; Kyoto, Japan; Manarola, Cinque Terre in Italy; Cotswolds (went there!); Stratford-upon-Avon, England (did it); Stonehenge (did it);
    8. Places to visit in America–Glacier National park in Montana (saw it!!); Crater Lake in Oregon (did it); Grand Canyon (did it); Maine in fall; Yellowstone (did it); Winchester Mystery house (did it); Calif, Redwoods (did it); Olympic National park (did it); Muir woods (did it); Colorado mountains (did it); Zion national park (did it); Carlsbad caverns; Northern lights in Alaska; Bryce canyon (did it); Thor’s Well in Oregon; Savannah, Ga.; Monte Sano State Park in Alabama; the Oregon coast (did it); Vermont in fall; Maine; more to come! (guess I figured I would discover new places!)
    The list goes on and on about animals I want to see, museums and historic sites to visit…
    Just on what I shared, I am surprised of the places I have seen and it was just a dream when I was young!

    • tristac says:

      How cool that you found your list and even more impressive that you accomplished so much of it! It’s a bucket list. I don’t know if I still have my list. I have boxes of journals from childhood through college, but I dread ever re-reading them!

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