As a little kid, I loved the book "The Little Engine That Could." It was published in the 1930s, and it's a story about the power of positive thinking. The star of the book -- a little blue train engine -- realizes that when he "thinks he can," he chugs up the big hill and saves the day.
I, too, am approaching a big hill. In a few weeks, I'm approaching the birthday that marks a person as "over" that proverbial hill. But my problem isn't with negative thinking. It's more about no thinking at all.
One day last weekend, I got up and wandered down to the kitchen to do the ordinary things -- let the dogs out, feed the cat, drink some water, let the dogs inside, and pour food into their bowls. After that, it was time for toast.
Like most people, I fly on autopilot in the mornings. My body moves on muscle memory even as my mind protests and pulls the covers over its sleepy head. This is why morning routines are so necessary, right? No thinking required.
I stood by the little red toaster in our kitchen, waiting not-so-patiently for my toast to pop up. After 30 seconds or so, I applied the "watched pot never boils" theory to the toaster and walked away from it. I retrieved my raspberry preserves from the fridge, grabbed a butter knife, and set both on the counter before walking back to the toaster.
Yet still no toast!
I checked the darkness dial to make sure it hadn't been turned too high. I wanted toast, not a black briquette. But the dial was still halfway between 3 and 4, just like always. Clearly, the toaster had malfunctioned thereby ruining the toast portion of my morning.
Me: "Tom! The toaster died, and my toast is stuck in there. It won't pop up."
Him: "Just push the lever up and get it out."
I'd forgotten about the ejection button designed to rescue a lost slice. (See above reference to sleepy brain issue.) But when I pushed it, I stopped short and then stepped back.
Me: "Oh, no. I can't believe it."
Tom: "Can't believe what?"
Me: "The toast didn't pop up because I never put it in there. It's empty."
Tom: "And you've been waiting on toast that doesn't exist?"
Then he just slowly shook his head -- like he was going to miss the version of his wife who could do complicated things like making toast.
I would've sworn I'd put the bread in there because I always do. I tried to rewind my mind the way I rewind "Dateline" on the DVR. That's when I realized I'd seen Tom put his bread in the toaster, but I'd never actually done it myself.
So, I've officially added "Did I put bread in the toaster?" to the list of questions I ask myself on a near-daily basis. Questions like "Did I put the garage door down?" "Did I take the medicine or was that yesterday?" "Did I turn off the flat iron?"
Maybe I should find some special training for my autopilot. Perhaps she needs a checklist, an iPhone reminder, or kitchen appliances that fetch their own bread.
Can a middle-aged mother like me get over the hill if she trusts her little red toaster and believes in herself?
"I think I can."
Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Email her at [email protected]. Her book is available on Amazon.