March 8, 2001. I wanted to celebrate the fact that I hadn’t been murdered by the stranger who had picked me up on the side of the road when my car broke down. And since I was single again and he had a cute butt, I decided to celebrate with him! I did a little research first. Now kids, gather round because MeeMaw’s going to tell you a story about a time before Google! No Facebook, no YouTube, no Twitterverse. Since I couldn’t google him, I had to Altavista him. It’s a primitive mating ritual. I found him on the University’s faculty list…so that checked out. I linked to a couple of his posted class syllabi…he really did teach in the business school. I found a copy of his CV and all the education and jobs he had told me about were there and in order. No unexplained gaps that might mask an incarceration or long term psychiatric stay. I found a couple of fraternity pictures (hazy and scanned because our phones only made calls back then) and he appeared to be aging well. Oh, and on the bottom of his resume, he listed “Eagle Scout,” so that explained why he stopped to help an old lady with a busted car.
I made a note to myself that I might have a couple of teensy trust issues (or a promising future in stalking) then I emailed him to see if he’d like to have coffee some day. He said yes.
This was a green and growing time of my life. The day of the coffee date, I was talking to my friends Craig and Tom about things we’d like to do in our lives (we didn’t even have the phrase “Bucket List,” kids!). It dawned on me that we were doing a whole lot of talking and no acting. Dreams stay dreams until you put them on a To Do List. I arrived early to Jittery Joe’s coffee shop and happened to have my notebook with me, so while I waited for Richard, I wrote down what I called my Life List–50 things I wanted to do in my life.
The first thing I wrote, without hesitation, was “be someone’s mother.” Next was skydiving and white water rafting and sailing the Greek Islands and skinny dipping and learning how to do a card trick and owning a cashmere sweater and teaching someone to read and wearing a ball gown to a real ball and hiking the Appalachian Trail and sleeping in the desert to look at the stars and learning the constellations and eating all the shrimp I ever wanted in one sitting and reading a story out loud in public…you get the idea. It was a solid list and I was excited about it. In mid-scrawl, I felt someone standing near me and looked up to see my new friend. He pulled out the chair opposite me and asked what I was writing. Instead of hiding it or trivializing it, I told him. His response? “Let’s hear it.”
We spent the next hour talking about the things on my list. There were a few that he had done (skydiving, skinny dipping, Greece) that he highly recommended and a few things he had done (sleeping in the desert) that he didn’t want to do again. It was a great first date! And guess what? Over the first few months of our relationship, we knocked several things off that list! Because he knew that they were important to me–I had claimed them. I had declared that I would devote energy to the pursuit and he believed me. Here are some of my favorites:
- Skydiving. A couple of guys at work talked me into joining their skydiving adventure at Skydive Monroe. Best $200 I ever spent (except maybe on therapy). Richard went along to cheer me on then decided to join in. We went back to the house and ate strawberries and champagne and I couldn’t stop giggling. I giggled for three days. My stomach still lurches if I recall that moment of letting go into the void. And you won’t believe how quiet it is when the parachute deploys and you’re floating.
- Sharing a long kiss on a crowded sidewalk. After 10 years with someone who didn’t believe in PDA and after one too many Robert Doisneau posters in college, I put this one on the list. We crossed it off one day after lunch, right downtown as hundreds of people walked by.
- Cashmere sweater. On sale for $50! Still have it because it’s red and tight and makes me feel sexy.
- Give a gift to my college. While I was redoing my beneficiaries after the divorce, he suggested I make Wesleyan a beneficiary. Done and done!
- Own a piece of original art that I love looking at every day. I bought a painting in a silent auction for a literacy group. It’s still hanging in my bedroom.
- Learn the constellations. I bought myself a book by H.A. Rey, the same guy who wrote Curious George…also an astronomy buff! Orion is a friend to this day.
- Skinny dipping and sailing the Greek Islands. That’s a longer story for another day, but let’s just mark it a two-fer!
There were things we didn’t get to. Things I still have on my list. Things I’ve done on my own or with someone else. But the lesson that sticks with me was that I knew, right from the start, that this person would honor my dreams. It meant that I had to put them down on paper and put them out into the universe, but I had a partner who thought them important.
When I found myself divorced then widowed then still childless at 36, I believed that #1 on the list would never come true. The Baby Store would have nothing but empty shelves. I spent many nights looking up at Orion and crying over this “fact.” Then one day, I went back to my Life List and read it again. The first entry didn’t say, “Have a baby” or “give birth.” It said, “Be someone’s mother.” I could do that on my own. I resolved that, if I hadn’t met anyone with whom I wanted to have children by the time I was 40, I would adopt a child. Once that was settled, the space in my heart that had been occupied by fear eased up a little. And guess what happened a year later? At 38, I had a perfectly healthy baby. Then another one at 42. I know there are people who struggle to get pregnant later in life, but there are also people who don’t! If you are feeling hopeless about growing older and having children, focus on being someone’s mother. There are many paths to motherhood and they don’t all pass through your uterus and they don’t close down right on schedule.
I’ve been thinking about that list a lot today because I was reading an interview with The Bloggess and it mentioned The Traveling Red Dress Project. A few years ago, Jenny bought herself a wildly inappropriate and impractical red ball gown because she wanted to know what it felt like “just once, to wear a bright red, strapless ball gown with no apologies.” She bought it, enjoyed it then shipped it around to her friends and online community so that they too could experience the joy of wearing a stunning red ball gown. One woman wore it to celebrate overcoming her agoraphobia…the pictures are awesome. I still haven’t crossed off my “wear a ball gown” item on my list (and I was beginning to second guess it after Jennifer Lawrence almost bit it at the Oscars) but it might be time. Vivi and I can go out in the grass and twirl until we fall down. I am someone’s mother and we are prone to twirling.
Would you do your Baddest Mother a favor today? Write down five things you want for yourself. Start believing in them. Then jump!