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.