My Used-to-Do List

I could do all those things again, but that's not the way I want to spend my time now

Lately, I've noticed how frequently I start a sentence with "I used to …" when certain topics come up in a conversation. An example: cupcakes. My cupcake tins are rusting away in a cupboard, but I used to bake cupcakes in them, usually for someone's birthday or a class party. Decorating two or three dozen cupcakes? Sure, I used to do that. And what about sewing Halloween costumes, or clothes that weren't costumes? I used to do that too. Once, I made tailored wool shirts for all the men in my family. I made most of my daughter's clothes when she was a toddler. Skirts and fancy dresses for myself? Sure. Sewing? I used to do a lot of it.

I can look back at my years as a new mother and dredge up other memories of things I used to do: wriggling into leotard and tights for Jazzercise; playing evening games of softball with other neighborhood moms; getting those awful '80s perms. I used to spend hours playing Boggle or Scrabble with my neighbors or my family. If I wanted to now, I guess, I could play with anyone—anywhere—on my iPhone. I used to play Words with Friends and Letterpress, but that kind of petered out a couple of years ago. So I can add that to my list too.

Most of the things I used to do were crafts, like macramé, and good riddance to that. I spent a good part of the '80s making a rug out of short lengths of wool that I pulled through a grid with a hook. It took me years before I gave up saying, "I'm hooking a rug." I used to be more interested in doing art projects and making things. I couldn't compete with today's DIY movement, and I have no interest in Pinterest.

Another thing I used to do was knit sweaters for my husband and children. I still knit, but the projects I choose are for little people or babies. Or birds: I knitted a bird's nest for the local animal shelter. I used to finish everything I started, too. Not so much anymore. Sweaters, books, articles: If I lose interest, I set them down and move on to the next thing.

I also used to cook dinner. When we were a bustling family of five, preparing dinner was my job, at least half the time. My husband, who actually enjoys cooking, filled in the rest—unless it was a pizza night. To be fair, some of "my" cooking nights involved takeout. My kids have very clear memories of our dinners on those nights when Dad wasn't around: grilled cheese sandwiches and carrot sticks. Bon appétit! I have nothing to apologize for there. We all loved the informality and predictability of those dinners. The kids are all parents themselves now, and I've heard about their fallback menus of "breakfast for dinner," which is another thing I used to do.

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Dancing. There are hardly any occasions when I feel like cutting loose. There was a spontaneous dance party last Thanksgiving, but once the cell phones came out to capture the whole thing, I danced back into the kitchen. I like to dance, but I don't have a willing partner—which I know isn't strictly necessary. I used to get my sons to dance with me when the mood struck, but they are all grown up and have their own families. However, they both have young sons themselves now, so I see the possibilities for the future. The little guys are easy to catch, and they might think it was fun to boogie down with their grandmother.

I used to bake a lot: cookies, pies, birthday cakes, banana bread. But when it's just two people who are watching their waistlines, it doesn't make sense to have that kind of stuff around. In anticipation of a visit from my daughter, I baked some chocolate chip cookies and put a bunch in the freezer. They're still in there, months later. My husband and I used to throw dinner parties for friends and family: multi-course affairs that took a chunk out of our paychecks, hours to prepare and hours to clean up afterward. And then we had kids and more demanding jobs and other things we'd rather do, and the other couples all got divorced, so we haven't had a dinner party in quite a while. Because my husband likes to do the cooking, I am stuck with the cleanup, and I'm just not that into it anymore.

At this point in life, many people have a bucket list of things they'd like to do before the "go-go" years become the "slow-go" years—and eventually the "no-go years." It might be time to quit referencing the "used to" stuff and focus on the "to do" stuff: I'm happy to leave the cupcakes and parties and crafts to the next generation while I am busy looking to take part in the things I long to do while I still can.

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Frankly, all the things I used to do are part of a life I'm not living anymore: young mom with kids, or mom with older kids and a job, those days before there was cause for concern about cholesterol, or blood pressure, or a few niggling aches and pains. Sometimes I look back wistfully to those "used to" days, but if I'm honest with myself, I realize that those days are gone and I'm grateful to have had them, but wouldn't go back even if I could. I believe that if I wanted to, I could do all those things I used to do, but that's not the way I want to spend my time now. I am hanging on to my cookie recipes, though, because someday I'll want to be able to say I used to bake cookies with my grandchildren, and didn't we have fun?

Tags: memoirs