Lard List Label by Lindsey Harding
Time was passing. Change smelled like something Paula Deen had fried in lard. Mothers read about her Type II diabetes diagnosis on their iPhones. These women now nurtured Instagram accounts, thirty Pinterest boards. Their Facebook friends had on average 1.75 babies. Their blogs recorded between 10 and 318 hits daily, though they posted less frequently. Where was the time? Text content shrunk from paragraphs to sentences to stories rendered in a single mysterious phrase: Tumbling through sheet walls.
Early in the New Year, mothers left their kitchens. The snickerdoodly air had grown stale, and they gagged every time they licked a spoon. On Fridays, they reinstated Chinese Take-out Night. They considered again the merits of Velveeta and Chef Boyardee. They cut coupons for Stouffer’s frozen entrees.
Sprung from their stockpot lookouts, mothers turned to the rest of their homes, the rooms and recesses they had neglected for cinnamon roll oatmeal and cilantro-lime chicken. In the nursery, only vestigial evidence of nesting remained. T-shirts invaded the onesie drawer. Outfits the next-size-up crowded too-small clothes still occupying hangers and closet space. Books sat in uneven stacks on the floor. Toy trucks jutted out from beneath the crib. Dolls wore buttonless dresses backwards. In the master bedroom, a similar unrest disrupted the parental field. Necklaces lay draped on dresser pulls. Shoes avalanched out of the walk-in closet. Bathrooms had become hostile territory. Months had passed since Windex and Soft Scrub had been used. In playrooms, wildness had reclaimed all square footage. Clutter became a very real presence in homes, both cherished and condemned, at times ignored, at times unable to be ignored, always gathering and spreading, always dispersing and accumulating, on the move and motionless. Mothers thought about clutter when they read news headlines and heard reporters mention Greece, Mali, and Syria. The global stress they absorbed compounded their domestic anxiety and left them with headaches and hankerings for fast food dinners and expensive morning lattes.
So they took Spring Cleaning seriously. They sought to secure peace on the home front. They would rest once they had scrubbed every inch of Berber, ceramic, and laminate. Closets, they cried, would be no match for them. Pictures from this era document their efforts, all the time and money they employed to achieve serenity and, above all, order.
Inspiring banality reigned. Mothers wondered, Why hadn’t I thought of that? And so they started to think about that. And this. And to make lists of everything they thought about. Then they posted their lists. And organized them on Pinterest. The mobile app Listr listed their visually constructed lists of lists.
In the real world, mothers covered the surfaces of their homes with numbered sequences and catalogs of items and activities. These lists gestured, like pictures, toward a future state in which the past, however tedious, is recorded to be forgotten. The List became the maternal marker, the new way of accounting for a mother’s domestic ability. Mothers were divided not by the Mommy Wars reignited in a Tweet from Hillary Rosen about presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s wife—Working Mothers vs. SAHMs—but between those who could List and those who couldn’t.
Some mothers, eager to be added to the List list, compiled lists based on material they found on other mommy blogs. These secondary lists quickly experienced exponential growth spurts:
• 110 Free Things To-Do This Summer
• 44 Greatest Grilling Moments
• Bake a Different Batch of Cookies Every Day Until Your Child Graduates from Elementary School
• 75 Practical Uses for Pennies
The List evolved around the time Marissa Mayer became CEO of Yahoo! and announced her pregnancy. In response to the headline, mothers pushed List limits and popularized 3D versions like tiered furniture, drawer pulls shaped like bullet points, and suburban floor plans that divided family life into distinct levels for eating, sleeping, working, and playing.
Meanwhile, children progressed through their Milestone Lists, and mothers approximated corresponding dates for baby books. List Art hung above washing machines for mothers to take pictures of after laundry room face-lifts had been crossed off.
• In summer,
• mothers locked into List mode
• often found themselves returning
• to week-old lists
• in the middle of the night
• to add a thing or two
• they had remembered having completed.
• These items they immediately crossed off.
• In the morning, they added revise last week’s list
• to the new day’s list and promptly crossed the words off.
• A study conducted by Ladies Home Journal
• found mothers reported greatest satisfaction
• (on a 7-point Likert scale)
• when they completed between 15 and 21 List items
• before popping mocha K-Cups into their Keurig Brewers.
• In the same study, researchers investigated the relationship
• between patience towards children and productivity.
• Pearson’s correlation coefficient registered
• +1, statistically strong enough
• to signal dependency.
After months of claustrophobic List conventions, mothers untethered letters, words, and phrases, and let them loose in their homes. Labels went up systemically, thoroughly. An object without a label went into something that had one. Entire homes were hashtagged.
Mothers attended to label content with the same rigorous consideration that went into selecting baby names. Then they shopped Etsy for custom letterpress labels. Then they downloaded fonts like Skinny Jean and Pottery Barn so they could print labels for every plastic container in their pantry.
When a sheet of labels came out of the printer, mothers sometimes sat at their desks to watch the ink dry. How many nights had they spent hunched over cribs, hands stretching into darkness but not touching, hesitant to reach for the softly rising bellies lest they cause a disturbance? Never wake a sleeping baby or else the ink will smear.
And where were the children during this time? Capital-lettered names in lime green, vertically oriented in white ovals bordered by polka-dotted blue then hung on coordinating green ribbons to dangle from woven baskets placed on shelves in cupboards the same blue as the blue of the cardstock borders of the labels. They were easy to find.
Lindsey Harding loves everything to do with writing. She graduated from the University of Georgia with her Ph.D. in English in May 2015, and she now works as the Assistant Director of the Writing Intensive Program at UGA. Her flash fiction and stories have appeared in Spry, Soundings Review, Prick of the Spindle, The Boiler, and others. She lives in Athens, Georgia, with her husband and three small children. You can find her online at www.lindseymharding.com.