Friday, February 13, 2009

"Your MOM Goes to College!"

"Your MOM goes to college!"

I was chortling over that quote from "Napoleon Dynamite" this morning as I dropped off my daughter at Seminary. My idea of what's funny is inversely related to how much sleep I'm getting, so at five-forty a.m. this little line was full-on hysterical.

Anyway, it reminded me of something I've been wanting to write about for a long time. It's been slogging around in my brain for several years, always with the working title "What's on Your List?"

See, when my now-seventh grader went to first grade, I found myself in that place every mom-of-littles occasionally dreams about when they're hip deep in, well, let's just call it 'motherhood.'

From 9:00 until two-ish every day I was ...

... alone in the house.

Go ahead, float for a moment on the magic carpet of that beautiful thought. I'll wait.

(Back yet? Well I'm going to keep writing. You can catch up with the rest of us when you're finished. Take your time.)

Where was I? Oh, yes, alone in the house. And can I tell you, it was awesome.

The quiet! The privacy! The things-staying-picked-up-edness!

The first thing I did was leave the bathroom door open while I took my shower. Just because I could!

(FYI, it turns out a closed door keeps in the heat, so you might want to think twice about that one.)

And I ate chocolate chips in the living room instead of the linen closet.

And I talked on the phone for a full, blissfully uninterrupted hour. Completed sentences. Shared ideas. The works.

And I played way too much Spider Solitaire ...

And I slept a lot ...

And I neglected my house, and the shopping, and basic hygiene ...

... until I finally realized I was going to have to come up with a better use for this time than simply "not doing the kid thing for a few hours."

It wasn't like this was entirely new for me. A couple of years earlier, while living in Puerto Rico, we had sent this same child to a pre-Kinder program at Fort Buchanan, and once I dropped him off I had the whole afternoon to myself. Problem was, I wasn't going straight home. I was heading over to Plaza las Américas, the largest mall south of the American border which also held the distinction of being both gloriously air-conditioned and loaded with shoe-stores.

I was easing my lonely heart by shopping my guts out. Oh, those were soothing, expensive times ...

So I decided to write a book, based on a couple of speaking engagements I'd had with the families of recently-transferred federal employees who were feeling a little overwhelmed by the fact that while Puerto Rico, an American territory, looked a lot like their home town, it sure as heck didn't act like it. Writing "The Accidental Gringo" was a great experience, a big bag of fun and frustration and a learning curve that at times went straight up the wall, doubled back on itself, and bit me in the asterisk.

But it was also an unexpected opportunity, one that was sort of "fixed" in time and space, and when it was over, it was over. The accidental gring-a moved to Las Vegas and got on with her life.

So, here I was, youngest in first grade, bathing working its way to the 'optional' side of the to-do equation, and I knew it was time to dust off The List.

Most women I know have this List, this nebulous compilation of things they're going to do when that last child is out the door for a few hours every day. Knowing that the list is simmering on some back burner of their lives is what keeps many SAHMs plugging along day after day, hoping against all evidence to the contrary that their replacement brains will be sufficiently developed as to enable them (the moms) to start checking off the items on that wonderful list.

The thing is, when it finally came time to start working my way through my list, I discovered two things:

First, there was almost nothing on it. Lots of 'ummms' and 'well, you knows' and suchlike. And second, I had no interest in doing what remained.

Well, I'm telling you, that really brought me up short.

"Am I to understand," I asked the apparently slothful Keeper of The List residing inside my psyche, "I no longer want to earn a Master's Degree?"

"Nope. Not on the list any more."

"Well, how about developing a love for the outdoors? Is that still there?"

"Uhhh ... let me check ... yeah, here it ... wait, no. That's a love for French doors. Sorry. Nothin' here about camping."

"Well, you've been terribly irresponsible," I sniffed. "I left that outdoors one right at the top of my list. And now you're saying you've misplaced it?"

"Look, lady, I'm thinking the 'Heidi of the Alps' plan was just penciled in back when you were trying to woo your husband by assuring him that there was nothing you found more appealing than sleeping on the ground and eating hot dogs that taste like lighter fluid."

And the inner dialogue between me and that sassy-mouthed KOTL went on like that.

School teacher? Ick.

Scrapbook 20 years' worth of pictures? Please.

Learn to sew? Who did I look like, Betsy Ross?

Soooo ... after firing the List Keeper, I decided to create a new list. Yes! This was brilliant! I'd come up with a list of things I wanted to learn and do and become based on who I was at that moment! Look out world, here came DeNae and her New and Improved List!

Item # 1: Learn how to ...

(Insert sound of crickets chirping here ...)

OK, we'd come back to number one.

Item #2: Finish ...

(Cricket, cricket)

Dang, this was harder than I thought. Oh, yeah, here was a good one ...

Item #3: Make brownies. Right now.

Yes! Done!

Item #4: Go out to lunch every single day.

Yer on a roll, baby ...

Item #5: Re-read everything Terry Pratchett ever wrote because he is funnier than the law should allow.

Oh, I could feel the self-improvement juices flowing like crazy!

Item #6: Take over directing an orchestra despite the fact that until recently you thought Yo Yo Ma was a Teletubby.

Yes, exact- ... whoa, wait ... what was that last one?

Item #7: Start writing music for symphony and chorus without having any idea what a flugelhorn is and if you even have one in your orchestra.

No, hang on, go back to #6....

Item #8: Teach Institute classes for Seminary teachers even though your own Seminary teacher, Bro. Madsen, took you and Scott Carter into the hall one day and announced that the two of you were leading the rest of the class straight to hell.

Come again? Flugelhorn? Seminary -- wha-? Stop it! Hold on!

My list was totally running amok.

It was as though that list was writing itself!

And that, ladies and gentlemen, was when the heavens parted and the angels sang and a celestial voice that sounded a lot like James Earl Jones uttered the one word that would change my life forever:


Of course the list writes itself! It has an existence all its own. It's self aware, organic. It grows and adds and sheds and evolves with every new day, every new opportunity, every experience and trial and revelation and relationship that comes and goes in our lives.

And thank goodness it does. If it were left up to me, my list would basically read "whenever possible, try not to look stupid."

So, yes, goals are great. I'm all about having a plan. We were never intended to passively let mortality just wash over us for ninety-odd years and then call it a wrap.

But we shouldn't be surprised when we drop in on our list, just to catch up, you know, see how things are going, and discover that without any direct input from us it has added another bathroom and dropped out of culinary school and planned a little vacation and is thinking about investing in other lists for tax purposes.

You have my permission to let the old list go. It's all right. It filled the measure of its creation. Got you out of bed and helped change those 4.8 gazillion diapers and held your hand while you kept vigil over your dying brain cells. It stood by while you sacrificed and loved and served and waited and wondered if you would ever buckle just one seat belt again.

And letting it go doesn't mean you've failed or fallen short of your potential.

Not only that, you're going to love your new list, I promise. It's got talents and friendships and opportunities for growth and learning both up and down the wazoo.

And if you're very, very lucky, it will even include flugelhorns.


Hel said...

Wow! I just recently added to my List. Furnish my non-existent house with decor and furnishings that I have lovingly searched for, restored and recovered with my own two bare hands.

I know, a little ambitious, but I have to have something to think about while I play in somebody else's house.

I am glad the List changes, I think I have made an unachievable one. But you are so right, it keeps me going.

I can't WAIT to make brownies in my spare time (spare time?! I am giggling from the thought)

aunt dyanne said...

Wanna borrow my fluglehorn....?

It kinda has a mind of its own also.... maybe it could help write the symphony...or at least a sibelius dance to while you eat the the living room? It is for LIVING - right?

Lara said...

Even though I'm not quite to the point where I can enjoy pickedupedness for 7 hours each day (swoon...does that really exist?), I have learned this concept of the ever changing list.

I used to think that I was only going to be in the opera. That's all. I never imagined I would do so many of the things that I have photography, for instance. It has been really cool to find and develop new talents and passions.

However, I think I'll leave all flugelhorning escapades to you and to my husband. I'm pretty sure about that one.

Mary said...

Thought I would just add to your comment collection and say how much I LOVE your posts!

R Max said...

You either haven't been getting enough sleep, OR, you're a GENIUS!

Me... I just grab my blankie and sit in front of the computer until I feel inspired as to what to have for breakfast.

Melanie J said...

Oh, man, you're a clever writer.

But you're right, I have a list just like that for a long distant time when my toddler enters first grade, but I'm not tied to it. It's already changed a few times and I think that's the fun of it.

Becky said...

This fall I will be in that position-youngest starting first grade. Can't wait. I need to get my list out this summer and start revamping it. I am still interested in going back to grad school, but am at a blank for what else to do... (insert sound of crickets chirping here too). said...

My new list includes lots of naps. (Going without sleep for 15 years will do that to a person.)

And I still love that glorious moment in the morning when the last one has finally left for school. But I also enjoy it when they get home, too.

brudcrew said...

Oh, Denae, you have burst my optimistic bubble! I had decided there was nothing I can't do when I get to that stage (in 5 years). My house would be clean, I could plan to entertain, get all of my visiting teaching done during the first week, take classes to renew my certification, go to institute, volunteer, etc, etc, etc! I have decided to forget I ever read this post,na na na na na, I can't read you! I need that dream to get me through all the unfinished projects.

R Max said...

I thought I commented on here already but I see that I do not show up so it must have got lost in the space time continuum or something. Anyway, I see you are a gemini, which makes perfect sense. It means you alternate between genius and craziness. Hence the genius posting (or was it crazy?).

Anyway... I'm 4th of June... geniuses unite.

Amber said...

I remember getting to that point last year when Avery went to 1st grade. I texted Jill and said, "so lemme get this straigh. My youngest goes to school all day and I have the entire day to do whatever I want? CHEERKICK!"

Then at the end of that 1st grade year...I had Harley.

Well that was fun.

Steph @ Diapers and Divinity said...

I love this post DeNae. Thank you for giving me permission to have an evolving list. When my first was born, I thought, "When my kids get into school, I'm going to work on my Ph.D." By the time my 2nd was born (a mere 18 months later), it became, "When my kids are all in school, I'm going to take naps. Every day." And so it goes. It's hard to balance the "I can't wait" with the "enjoy the moment." And can I just say that Amber's comment is my greatest fear? Really.

MommyJ said...

love this post... you seriously, as my sister and I just discussed, are one of the only bloggers that make me laugh out loud every time you post...

and my list evolves too... i've got miles to go before all my kids are in school... not sure I'm even done having them yet, and things have already changed... I can't imagine where the list will end up once I get to a point that I can actually DO something on the list...

Cluess in Seattle said...

So I am new to this whole blogging concept. I was reading a friends for the first time and stumbled across yours. Just have to say I love it. I'm about to turn 37 this is my first year with all of my kids in school and the days seem to disappear. Could be that I spend 3 hours at the gym--but hey I love it and it is good for me.