Motherhood & Words

It’s embarrassing how many of my sentences and thoughts begin with “I should…” I wish I could remove the word from my vocabulary, vote it out of my life. But even if I refused to say it, or—and this seems impossible—refused to think it, it would still be there, a silent but persistent anxiety, an endless to-do list.

Actually, the list-making helps relieve anxiety. If I write something down, I won’t forget it, and when I’m finished with the task, I can cross it off. But the problem is that my to-do list is very long, and it’s always long because I’m always adding tasks to it. When it becomes especially long and messy, I transfer it to a new piece of paper. The white space around the words relaxes me for a moment, makes me feels like I’m starting all over again. But soon that white space becomes cluttered with bullet points. As I change Zoë’s diaper or retrieve her from the chair she has climbed up on, as I help Stella with one of her crafty projects—cutting ribbon for a wand or cardboard for a castle—I’ll remember something I should do, and I’ll jump up and add the task to my list before I forget it.

How else would I keep things straight? I am getting ready to launch my online version of Mother Words, which is fraught with logistics. I’m thinking ahead to my May class at the Loft, trying to finish up a couple of freelance editing projects, and trying to make a dent in the pile of books I’ve been meaning to review on this blog. Oh, and I’m home full time with Zoë, which means, of course, that I try to do all of the above while she’s napping. Tuesdays are particularly hectic because I have both girls on Tuesdays, and it is also the day we take my grandpa for errands. We are in and out of the car, Zoë wailing in the back seat, Stella alternating between trying to calm Zoë and wailing herself about how Zoë’s crying has given her a headache. Throughout, my grandpa is trying to tell me about the new book he’s been reading or about the dinner he made the night before, and I’m trying to listen to everyone and keep my eyes on the road. We drive the twenty minutes out to the suburb where my mom and step-dad and grandpa used to live because my grandpa knows the lay-out of that store. When we get there, I park in front of the entrance, run in, get a grocery cart and pull it out to the car so my grandpa can lean on it. (Otherwise he would need his walker, and then where would he put his groceries?) I get him into the store, then I get back into the car, park, get the girls out, and strap Zoë into our own cart. Stella invariably wants to go “look at” the hair things—the barrettes and binders—which I remind her we are not buying today. Sometimes Grandpa goes straight to the deli and after I get him his senior coffee (which is free), I shop for him. Other days, he walks the store and checks off the list himself. Regardless, we meet back at the deli for rolls and butter or, occasionally, fried chicken. Sometimes there are other old folks eating at one of the deli tables and Grandpa strikes up conversation. Other days, it’s just us. I try to butter Stella’s bread (a task she knows how to do but has decided she doesn’t like to do) while I balance Zoë on my lap and try to keep her from eating the napkin or grabbing a pat of butter and smashing it into her face. Then Zoë pulls off her socks and throws them on the floor, and Stella *needs* a piece a candy from the bulk candy section and my grandpa reminds me that I forgot to get his potatoes and I remember the cans of mandarin oranges, which I should get here because they are much cheaper than they are at the coop. And when we finally get through the check-out lane, after I have bagged my groceries and Grandpa’s groceries, I rush out to the car to try to get Stella and the groceries in before Grandpa arrives. If he makes it there too quickly (which happens often and which is amazing considering he is 100 years old), I leave Zoë strapped in my cart with the groceries, and quickly close Stella’s door and open Grandpa’s door, and help Grandpa into the car at the same time I try to catch his cart before he lets it bump into my car or the car parked next to us. When I finally unload everything, strap a once-again-screaming Zoë back into her car seat, remind Stella to get buckled, and begin singing “Five Little Ducks,” the only song that will calm Zoë in the car, I’m exhausted, and all of the sudden I remember something I need to do, something I really *should* do today. But I don’t have my list, and I’m driving and my purse with my pen in it is in the back seat and I know I will forget this Very Important Thing by the time I drop Grandpa off. I definitely won’t remember it by the time we get home, and later I will recall that it was an idea about my online class, but I won’t remember what it was. I really should have written it down right away. I really should have.

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I have been teaching creative writing for almost twenty years. Reading about other women’s lives and experiences has expanded my world. To be able to walk in someone else’s shoes, whether it’s for a moment or an hour or a few days, is an incredible gift, providing me with insight into the human experience. It takes courage to write your truths, especially if it doesn’t seem as though anyone cares, as though anyone is listening. Let me tell you: your stories matter, I’m listening, and I’m here to help you find the heart of those truths, to get them down on the page, to craft them, and to send them out into the world. Together, we will change the world, one story at a time.


  1. Marilyn on March 4, 2009 at 10:52 am

    Kate, This lovely piece made me laugh out loud, perhaps recognition? My lists are scattered all over the place, sticky notes on top of scrap paper jammed in my desk drawer so it (all these scrap lists become one fractured, fragmented list) doesn’t “clutter” my work space, lists on the backs of envelopes and napkins crammed in my purse, lists on the fridge. Eventually, I throw them all away and start over. It is always a relief, that few minutes I am “listless.” Also, I like getting to “peek” into your day: what a wonderful mother and granddaughter (and writer!) you are. From where I’m sitting, the only thing you “should” do is pat yourself on the back!

  2. kate hopper on March 4, 2009 at 8:20 pm

    Thank you, Marilyn. I totally understand the relief of being listless.

    I’m not sure you would say I should pat myself on the back if you saw me sneak away from my Zoe again and again just so I could respond to a few emails. Poor thing.

  3. Melissa on March 5, 2009 at 1:36 am

    What a day! And you get another one every week! Oh my.

    Every once in a while I come across an old list and can’t figure out what half the bullet points even meant. I hope that means either I took care of those things so fast I’ve forgotten them (um…not), or that those things weren’t as important as I thought. 🙂

  4. Ines on March 5, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    You know Kate? This reminds me that there should be a chain of supermarkets or stores that would actually cater to your kinds of needs children and elderly (and pregnant moms, people in wheelchair or a cast). Maybe such a supermarket could have a person in the front to help with these things. I am convinced that we would run (not walk) to such store if it existed.

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