"Your mom goes to college!"
I was chortling over that line from Napoleon Dynamite one 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 quote was absolutely hysterical.
Then it reminded me of my List, and how, when I really needed it, it really let me down.
When my youngest child 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 nine until two every day I was ... alone in the house.
The quiet! The privacy! The things-staying-picked-up-edness!
I ate chocolate chips in the living room instead of the linen closet. And I talked on the phone for an hour—completed sentences, shared ideas, the works. I even showered with the bathroom door open, just because I could.
Of course, I also played too much Spider Solitaire. And I slept a lot. And I neglected my house, the laundry, and basic hygiene, until I finally admitted I needed a better plan than simply "not doing the kid thing.”
It was time to dust off The List.
Most women I know have a list, this nebulous compilation of everything 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 a psychic back burner somewhere is what keeps many stay-at-home moms plugging along day after day.
But when it finally came time to start working through my list, I discovered two things: First, there was almost nothing on it. And second, I had no interest in doing what remained.
I have to admit, that really brought me up short.
"Am I to understand," I asked myself, "I no longer wish to earn a Master's Degree?"
"Nope. Not on the list anymore."
"Well, how about developing a love for the outdoors? Is that still there?"
"Uh ... let me check ... yeah, here it ... wait, no. That's a love for French doors. Sorry. Nothing 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?"
“I’m afraid so.”
And the inner dialogue went on like that:
School teacher? No, thank you.
Scrapbooking? Uh uh.
Learn to sew? Who did I look like, Betsy Ross?
It wasn’t long before I had to accept that if I wanted to create a new and improved me, I would need to create a new and improved list.
So after 20 years of coasting, I started over:
Item # 1: Learn how to…
Item #2: Finish…
Item #3: Take all the personality tests in O magazine.
Item #4: Go out to lunch every day.
Finally, I was seeing progress.
Item #5: Make brownies. Immediately.
The self-improvement juices were really flowing now. Munching on brownies and marveling at how, according to Oprah, I could either be a flight attendant or the dictator of a small, banana-rich country, I was momentarily distracted. That was when the next item appeared on my list:
Item #6: Take over directing an orchestra even though you only recently discovered that Yo-Yo Ma was a cellist, and not, as you had shouted at Alex Trebek, a Teletubby.
Item #7: Start writing music for symphony and chorus without knowing what a flugelhorn is or if you have one in your orchestra.
No, wait. Go back to #6 …
Item #8: Teach an Institute class for Seminary teachers, even though your own Seminary teacher once told you that your insolence was leading the class to hell.
Flugelhorns? Seminary? Hold on!
My list was totally running amok, as though it were writing itself!
And that was when the heavens parted, 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! And it’s a good thing, too. If it were left up to me, my list would basically read "whenever possible, try not to look stupid." The list has a life all its own. It's self-aware, organic. It grows, adds, sheds and evolves with every new day, every new experience, every trial, revelation, and relationship that comes along. The symphony and chorus gig was the result of a casual conversation with a stranger. My writing career began when I started blogging, new to the internet world and completely unaware of the friendships and encouragement I would find there.
Goals are great. I'm all about having a plan. We were never intended to passively allow life to just wash over us for ninety-odd years and then call it a wrap. But I learned not to be surprised when I popped in on my list, just to catch up and see how things were going, and discovered that it had registered for culinary school, planned a vacation to Italy, and quit the PTA.
That old list served its purpose. It got me out of bed, helped change those diapers, and kept vigil over my fading conversational skills. It stood by while I sacrificed and served, waited and loved, and wondered if I would ever buckle just one seat belt again.
And the day I wadded that list into a ball and ran it down the disposal was my Independence Day. Without the constraints of all those expectations, all that comparing to other women, all those not-so-important ‘things to do,’ I was free to go wherever my talents and interests took me.
College? Flugelhorns? Yo-Yo Ma?
Bring ‘em on. This mom’s ready for anything.
DeNae Handy is a humorist, blogger, musician, writer and editor. With twenty years' experience teaching Gospel Doctrine, Institute, and Seminary, DeNae enjoys invitations to speak at LDS-sponsored conferences and other events throughout the United States. Her most recent publication, Tell Me Who I Am, is a collaborative work which includes essays and poetry depicting daily life for sixteen Latter-day Saint writers. More of DeNae's writing can be found on her blog,