Click here to read an original op-ed from the TED speaker who inspired this post and watch the TEDTalk below.
Artist Candy Chang gave a popular TEDTalk about her latest collaboration with the public: huge outdoor chalkboards that prompted passers-by to finish the sentence, "Before I die... " Each wall became a bucket list for an entire community -- an inspirational repository for hopes and dreams.
As Candy read some of her favorite responses...
"Before I die... I want to plant a tree," I smiled.
"Before I die... I want to be tried for piracy," I laughed.
"Before I die... I want to hold her one more time," I sobbed uncontrollably for a solid five minutes.
I have no idea whom that particular writer was referencing, but the primary "her" in my life is my two-year-old daughter. I cry when I think about sending her to preschool in the fall, so the idea of holding her for the last time made me apoplectic.
This is when it occurred to me that new motherhood and bucket lists don't mix.
When one has recently experienced the miracle of life, the thought of closing that circle in death is unacceptable. Unlike the spider Charlotte who birthed her babies moments before shuffling off this mortal coil, the human mother has a job to do, and that job takes time. I need to stick around long enough to fully implant myself in my daughter's psyche, Jor-El to Superman style, so that she'll know how to shop for produce, draw a horse, apply mascara, dress a wound, build a sandcastle, tie-dye a shirt, structure a story, keep a friend and nurse a broken heart. Above all, I need to show her how deeply she is loved. For this, I need a lifetime, maybe more.
Writing down what I hope to accomplish before I die would require me to admit that I'm going to die someday. I can't die. I am The Sun around which a tiny, adorable Planet of Need orbits. I prefer to imagine that I might be secretly immortal or that scientists will cure death in the nick of time. Better yet, those scientists will learn to reverse aging, then cure death, since no one wants to be immortal in the body of a 90-year-old.
I'm sure to some, my mindset sounds childish or even irresponsible. After all, an adult must face facts and plan accordingly. As Candy Chang says, "Preparing for death is one of the most empowering things you can do. Thinking about death clarifies your life." To that end, I did file a will, and what an hour of lawyer-guided death contemplation really clarified for me was that I needed a cocktail. Okay, two.
There are other reasons new mothers might have trouble answering the "before I die" prompt. A good bucket list requires pie-in-the-sky dreaming, but moms with young children are stuck firmly to the (sticky) floor. Personally, I can only plan as far as the weekend when Daddy's home and I can finally watch Mad Men. Maybe once my kid starts school, there will be space to air out my fantasies. However, several items that wild Young-Me would have demanded have since been shut down by practical Mom-Me. No thank you to skydiving, heli-skiing or mainlining heroin. Too risky, not worth it.
If I ever did write a bucket list, it might look like this: I want to sear a scallop properly, just once. I'd like to write a novel that's really a memoir but with all the names changed. I'd love to attend The Oscars, even if only as a seat filler. I want to run a very short race in Italy but spend a month carbo-loading for it. I yearn to hug a koala bear. Yet if I never do any of these things, it will be okay. That's because my biggest dream, despite all my higher education, feminist ideals, and creative urges, has been to make a family -- this family.
What do I want to do before I die? I'm doing it right now: being Mom, being here, banging on my bucket like a drum.
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