paralyzing choices: when you don’t know where to begin


I feel stuck. Totally paralyzed. Depressed. I’m literally sitting on the "snack spot" in my kitchen, a careworn loveseat, unsure of what to do, where to go, what’s next. I don’t know where to start. It feels like there’s a metal pinball in my head, zipping around, knowing there’s so much to touch, so much to do, but with no clear path.

My father and Carol are visiting this week: I’m beyond excited, wanting to fill the house with clean linens, load up the guest room with fresh flowers, their favorite snacks, my father’s dark chocolate almond nuggets, hoping to dazzle them with my latest cocktail inventions. But what are they again, exactly? What was I planning to do with the St. Germain Elderflower spirit? I was planning on mixing it with Lillet Blanc, but what was the Sherry for? I could spend an entire day figuring it out. Except what kind of day is that? Now all I want to do is clean out the fridge, write down all its contents on a sheet of paper, so foods don’t go bad, and creations can come together.

magazine rack

Our home gym: I’ve been wanting, for a long time now, a wall-mounted magazine rack, and below it, a galvanized bin stocked with bottles of water. Anything I can do, really, to entice myself to actually use the elliptical machine, or the Cybex UBE (it’s like a bicycle for your lard arms), or the treadmill. The bitch of it is that I love using the elliptical once I’m actually on it. Getting there is the monkey.

I begin the day believing I can finally cross this shelf sucker off the to-do-get list. There’s even a nice one at Walmart. But what if I get there and they don’t have it? More wasted time. Call first, you say? Pahleeze. All you’ll hear is me, half the day, enunciating, REPRESENTATIVE. OPERATOR. FCUK OFF.

First Discovery

Phil’s Birthday: this paralyzes me, most. I am as indecisive as they come. And Sir Philip has never once liked a gift I’ve given to him. He always wants to return them (and does). A watch winding box, one year, went unopened, and then returned. Even though, just that week he had complained that he never remembered to wind his watch when he wasn’t wearing it (he has the type of watches that do not run on battery, but keep time when they’re in motion). He doesn’t want clothes. He’s already said it. And since he works from home, he has no use for a laptop bag, briefcase type thing, not for ties, cuff links, or any such thing. He loves the money clip he has, and wants nothing to do with a credit/business card holder, never mind a wallet–just forget it. He already has leather travel bags and cases, a nice watch, and is up on technology. He doesn’t want an iPad; made it perfectly clear when he forwarded me an email listing all the things WRONG with the iPad: no camera, no multitasking (you can’t have tweetdeck open while emailing, surfing, etc.). I mentioned a hammock to him a while back, and he just shrugged. Then said, "Eh." He’s not the gardening type (we both killed a basil plant). The one thing I thought he’d really like is POPBOX, a unit that allows you to stream everything on your home network to your television, enabling you to play movies, music, photos, all on your big screen TV. But the damn thing isn’t ready for shipping yet.

He already has the latest camera. I bought him a new lens recently, and the one time he signed up for a photography class, he decided not to go. So there’s that. I thought that would be the perfect gift, actually, because we can never learn too much. But I worry it’ll just be wasted, and he won’t go again.

Then I thought of a piece of art, perhaps something by Michael Gorban, a favorite artist of ours. But then, I start to think, what if he thinks I’m getting it for us, and not for him? I torture myself into a spin, where I simply want to throw my hands up. Then I begin to search for new artists and my day gets away from me, with nothing to show for any of it. And his birthday is this Thursday, the same day my father and Carol arrive. At least a lovely birthday dinner and special dessert await him (don’t get me started on even choosing a restaurant). I think for my birthday I’m going to ask for him to start a wishlist (I’ve asked before, but I can ask again). Everyone should have a universal online wishlist.

And then, on top of this is work, work I know I should be doing, work that’s waiting, work where I’m not sure where to start. I feel overwhelmed, and know it’s all by my own doing, things trumped up out of thin air to make it seem like there’s so much to do, but in reality there’s probably not enough to do.

And the truth of it all is this: I don’t want to be told what I can be doing. I want to be excited about what I’m doing, to have to be pulled away from it, not steered toward it. I don’t want to work on anything that doesn’t keep me out past dark, playing hide and seek, not realizing it’s even time for supper. Because that’s the only kind of joy I want to be chasing. Everything else is filler. Also, I need some kind of anti-depressant. I’m having a down, blah, I’ve got nothing to give, month, and that’s not me.



  1. Thanks for this post. I’m sitting on the couch, trying to convince myself to go to bed so I can wake up early and get a good start on a day of work, avoiding the things I need to do because they are mentally and emotionally and physically hard, and feeling exactly the same way you do.

    Except now I feel better. Not so alone. :)

  2. Make him a plate of chocolate chip cookies. Put a bow on it, and say you’re almost always willing to whip him up a batch, for all the days of your lives. That, or get him a pedometer.

  3. I am hoping that Phil doesn’t read this as I have a suggestion for his b-day…. So, Phil, please stop reading in case my idea appeals to Stephanie.

    What about planning a 3-4 weekend trip for just the two of you? And maybe get relatives to come stay at the house to watch the children while you are away?

  4. So, start by making a list of what he dislikes. At some point you’ll get there. Also, don’t allow yourself no to use the treadmill, I would love to buy one but because I can’t afford it, I run in the woods like crazy woman trying to get away from sth. It is spooky.

  5. SK,

    These days are totally normal. These are the days that make the happy joyful oh-my-fucking-god, I can’t believe I’m lucky, alive, and living days worth it.

    So just ride it out in all the muck and treasure it. ALL OF IT.

  6. Maybe what you need is a long weekend to yourselves. One with no kids, no tweets, no blogging. Just the two of you. Private time. A romantic place. Maybe that’s really what the doctor should have ordered.

  7. Oh, I feel your pain. It’s so frustrating when there’s so much to do, but nothing draws you in. I guess I suggest just starting. Anywhere. An easy place where you can finish something and move to the next thing, being able to go back to the complete place and feel a sense of accomplishment. Maybe by the time you get the first couple of things done, and they feel good, you’ll be on a roll.

    As for a b-day present for Phil – have the darlings make a photo frame (or help buy one) and frame your favorite picture with you and them…that’s priceless and non-returnable. Feel better!

  8. Hmmm…too much stress. Listen, daughter dearest, as for us, we are there to see you all. Why not just play it by ear. It is the quality of time together that is important. Don’t worry about it. Let it just flow naturally. As for Phil’s birthday present, like me there is nothing you can buy for me. Some men (and perhaps ladies as well, even though I don’t know any like that) just get to a certain point, where they have the material things they want, and buying anyother thing can just be perceived as a waste of money. Purchase something like a shirt, etc. so he will remember it as his birthday present when he wears it. Phil probably feels like me, birthday presents are for kids and those who relish them. Some of us just get passed that. Love Daddy dearest

  9. How about getting him an experience instead of an object? Two years ago I got my fiancee a flying lesson – this year, a glass-blowing class…he is so hard to shop for so I decided to just make his birthday about things to enjoy and making memories.

  10. Cardio is out, haven’t you heard? Sprints are in and hit the weights– hard. Check out Australian personal trainer Kat Eden’s Body Incredible site for the science behind it. has a feature that tells you if something is available in the store. If it doesn’t appear, it’s not available. Have it shipped to your nearest Wal-mart for free and pick it up the next week.

    Anti-depressants wreck your metabolism for years to come. Too many women have gained 40 pounds in a year on them– it’s all over the internet even though your doctor will tell you it’s not true. The only thing to make one more depressed is getting fat.

  11. Go to Amazon and search “Roku”… it’s your popbox, and available. Also, there you will find other items just like it. :)

  12. I think you should buy Phil and you plane tickets for that week vacation to Japan you’ve been talking about for so long. You can take photographs, lounge around, have a lot of sex, eat, shop, and just be.

  13. My boyfriend shares a birthday with Phil. I’m getting him a globe for his office (since he said he wanted one this year– love it when it’s easy like that) but what I usually do is plan a “mystery trip” weekend. Hire a sitter, go out for one night to a drive-able place of your choosing, and do activities you know he’ll like. (Wine tasting? Hiking? Fishing? Golf?) Give him hints for each day leading up to it. Tell him what to pack. Even if it’s not exactly what he may have wanted, he’ll at least enjoy the novelty and planning you put into it.

  14. Re Phil’s B-day:

    Plant a tree in the backyard, just for him

    A weather/clock for his office (my hubby loves his)

    A small video camera (huge hit!)

  15. Jeeze. Give him a donation to some good cause in his name. He clearly doesn’t need more stuff.

  16. What about some concert tickets??? Thats always a great gift!!!HB PHIL!!

  17. Sometimes I think we all need to put wallowing on our to-do lists. I do it from time to time. At least, when I’m through wallowing, I’ve got ONE thing on that f@#$ing list crossed off.

  18. I love your honesty. I always feel like I am spinning plates wondering which one to keep spinning and which one to let crash on the floor. I think this is normal for most women, right? Don’t beat your self up!
    AS for a birthday suggestion, I love the hammock idea! I have the same dilemma with C in a month. MEN!

  19. I’ve been worrying a lot too…about wedding planning. I wish I had the balls to just elope without having the feeling that I’ll regret not having a “real” wedding in 20 years – cause that’s what he wants, the groom that is. Today we argued about music. Klezmer vs. Gypsy jazz vs. everything else. These choices are hard, really they are. It’s his birthday soon too and I’ve planned on getting a photograph of his Great-Great Grandfather framed for him. He is an actor here in Seattle and apparently so was this Great-Great. Yes, it’s sort of for both of us because we’ll both look at it, but he doesn’t care and I don’t think Phil would either.

    Good call on the Elderflower spirit btw…I’m way obsessed with elderflowers/berries right now

    Buck up and enjoy your family *hug*

  20. My brother got that watch winding box too. Interesting.

    Why not just celebrate?! No gift required.

  21. You and the baby Beers need to make him a coupon book of gift certificates, courtesy of you.. Good for winning one argument (you) Good for sharing an ice cream cone (them) etc…put them all together in your crafty way, with pictures of you and the baby Beers on the cover.

  22. I love it that your dad posted. Why not do what he says, saves everybody tsuris. My dad is like Phil to a degree, so i had to get over needed a reaction, only got insults. Maybe the best gift is to have no expectations for the reaction you’ll get, which is what always tanks you anyway.

    I mean, how do you win with someone who has told you he wants nothing and who has shown you he will never respond with enthusiasm. I think that lets you off the hook, if you can;t win, don’t try. Make a cake, buy a shirt, frame a picture…it doesn’t matter. And if was living with his ticker, i don’t think i would be a lot different. I’m guessing what he really wants is the promise that he will be here next year to celebrate his birthday, but who knows. I’d like to give him good health, but all I can give him is the wish.

  23. What about one of your beautiful scrapbooks for Phil? No way he can return that!

  24. First, my husband needs the watch winding box…can I ask where you found yours?

    Next, for Phil, I like the idea of giving him an experience. If he golfs, how about paying for a foursome to golf followed by lunch at his favorite course? For tennis, reserve a court and find him a partner (if not you). Or kayaking. Whatever floats his boat. Of course, you really can’t go wrong having the little ones make something for him that can contain a family picture – guaranteed to be the very best present he’ll ever get.

    Also, your dad is wonderful, like mine, and I think we’re both really lucky to have them in our lives.

  25. I understand the birthday present dilemma. I don’t like gifts much either, but I do like cards, especially handmade cards.

    Dear Phil,

    You’re my hero.

    Love, Steph.

    How could he not like that? I’d be thrilled. I save my b’day cards too. They go in an envelope marked with the year.

  26. My husband does not want gifts on his birthday so I just wrap new packages of underwear and socks. WooHoo…I just think you should have something to unwrap. Right? How about bringing in a close friend(s) for a surprise visit? Enjoy. Bonny

  27. My husband says the two best presents I ever gave him were 1) a gorilla suit, and 2) a home brewing kit for beer (which made surprisingly good beer). Good luck.

  28. Hi Stephanie –
    suggestions for Phil’s bday:
    have the kids pick out an animal to sponsor through Heifer Int’l
    cook him his favorite meal – because you love to cook and are really good at it.

  29. Hendricks Gin + St. Germain + muddled cucumber with a tiny pinch of salt + a squeeze of lemon or lime + ice + tonic water or that fancy Dry soda in the lavender or cucumber flavor = Fucking delicious cocktail

    In case you want to start with that, in terms of What To Do.

  30. I concur, for my husband’s 30th I got him a flying lesson as well, he loved it. I think experience gifts are great. You could rent a boat and go out on the lake for a romantic picnic etc. Or you could visit one of the local vineyards and stay at a bed and breakfast.
    Good luck!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.