God Save the Queen

I decided to go with a shot of Sid Vicious in the forefront because he will always be my favorite Sex Pistol.

A shot with Sid Vicious in the forefront because he is, after all, my favorite Sex Pistol — especially since I witnessed Johnny Rotten spitting on the crowd at a P.I.L. show. 

Yesterday, after my first girls night out in what seemed like about 150 years, I heard “God Save the Queen” on the ride home. So I did what felt natural: I cranked up the radio, rolled down the window and sang along with the Sex Pistols to one of many anthems from my teenage years, when rebellion reigned supreme. All that was missing was the cigarette dangling from my lip.

Not much compares to the release you get from belting out song lyrics at the top of your lungs while driving alone. No one can hear you or judge your singing ability, so you can be as loud and as passionate as you want. It’s like singing in the shower but with backing vocals. With enough creativity and determination, you can find personal meaning in any song, even when you are a middle-aged mother singing along with punks fed up about England’s fascist regime.

God save the queen…

A mother is a queen of sorts, right? She is the queen of her family, its sun, the center of its universe. She is everything to her children. But by being all to them, does she become nothing to herself? Is it possible to emerge from motherhood without winding up a soulless figurehead?

She ain’t no human being…

In exactly two weeks, my youngest child will be 13. In five years she will graduate from high school and head off to college. I can see that portion of the future clearly and will do everything I possibly can to ensure it happens. But what about the mother she leaves behind? Obviously, there is no turning back once our children are grown, but what propels us forward after they are gone? How do we find new roles for ourselves after nearly 20 years of doing the toughest job imaginable?

There’s no future, no future, no future for you…

I can’t attest to their logic, but somehow these were the questions I found myself pondering while singing along to “God Save the Queen” after a visit to my favorite local tavern with an old friend. Maybe the craft beer I drank was stronger than I realized. Or maybe the existential angst I thought I left behind in my teenage years — along with the Aqua Net and black eyeliner — is resurfacing and I’m having the female version of a midlife crisis. I don’t want a sports car or a trophy husband, however. I want a life of my own, plans and goals that are mine, all mine. I want a redefined sense of purpose. And the only person who can provide those things is me. I’m working on it. But I’m thankful I still have five years to figure it out.

Considering how much better I feel after reconnecting with my friend last night — and doing karaoke on the ride home — I guess I need to get out and spend time with other queens, I mean moms, on a more regular basis. I need to be reminded that I’m not alone, that others share my doubts and fears. Who doesn’t need that once in a while?

Motherhood becomes increasingly lonely as our children get older — or at least it can if we let it. The friendships that form effortlessly during play groups and other activities when our kids are young become harder to find as they grow up and spend more time living their lives without us. But we have to keep looking. We have to keep trying to make new connections, while also nurturing the ones we have and rekindling those we miss. I have let a lot of relationships lapse during my motherhood reign, and it makes me sad. I guess I need to work on the whole being a good friend thing too. Those five years will be gone before I know it.

In any case, Mr. Johnny Rotten, John Lydon, John Rotten Lydon or whatever you are calling yourself these days, I just wanted to let you know that despite what my teenage self may have said, middle-aged me knows there is indeed a future. And while I am far from being a queen in need of saving, I guess what I realized last night is that I could use a little company as I figure mine out — and a lot more singing in the car with the windows down.

Guardian Angel

 Jeanne Marie, RIP (3/26/27 - 4/28/70)

Jeanne Marie, our mother and guardian angel, RIP (3/26/27 – 4/28/70)

The rusted remnants of my brother’s car sat in our uncle’s barnyard like a mangled shrine to the recklessness of youth. I don’t remember the make or model of the vehicle, only the crushed roof and the weeds growing around and through its crumbling orange shell. He didn’t die or suffer even a minor injury in the accident, his second rollover, or any of his other many crashes. Our father bought him car after car and found him job after job during his teens and early twenties, but nothing lasted for my brother. Nothing fit. Not after our mother died.

Today would have been our mom’s 87th birthday, and I have no idea where my brother is. I wonder if he realizes it is her birthday. He was 12 when she died; I was 2½. I don’t know what he was thinking or feeling because I was too young to remember anything from that time in our lives. But I know from the stories my family tells that he was her golden child, and he adored her as much as she doted on him.

Today I am a 46-year-old mother, three years older than our mom was when she was diagnosed with leukemia and died six weeks later. I have two teenagers who need and love me, who want and deserve everything from me. I know, or can at least imagine, how my brother felt by picturing my children’s lives without a mother or an emotionally involved father. My brother acted out to get our dad’s attention before our mom died, but it was typical young boy shenanigans. After her death, the trouble he managed to find intensified. He skipped school. He partied too much and started using drugs. Eventually he dropped out of high school. My father insisted that he work, but he could not hold a job. With every disappointment, my father’s detachment from and animosity toward my brother grew. My brother wound up marrying a girl he barely knew and moved to Texas to work for her family. He left Michigan, just as I would eventually, to escape the sadness, to find peace.

Something broke inside my brother after that. I’m not sure when it happened, since he estranged himself from us almost completely. But at some point, his drug use turned into the darkness and desperation of full-blown addiction. My devastated father said he was always broken, but I don’t believe that. I still care about the brother I once knew, who teased me relentlessly and loved me fiercely, even if I cannot welcome the man he has become into my family’s life.

This April will mark 44 years since our mother’s death. She will have been gone one year longer than she lived, and that is a strange and unsettling realization. I wonder if I should try to contact my brother, if he is thinking about her too. It has been almost eight years since I last saw him, at our father’s funeral. Although in my own grief-stricken state I refused to acknowledge it, it was obvious to my husband and others that my brother was still wrestling with the same demons that caused him to wreck cars and lose jobs in the early days. We made the difficult decision to keep our distance after the funeral. But when I heard last year that his second ex-wife had taken him back, I tracked down her address in Arkansas. I thought of sending a Christmas card, but I never did. She is a devoted, kind-hearted woman who always saw the good in my brother, and, as much as I would like to believe otherwise, he is a master manipulator.

I don’t go to church or pray, at least not to a god of any sort, but I do consider myself spiritual. I believe our mother watches over us and keeps us from harm. I made my own share of wrong choices and wound up in some potentially dangerous situations in my younger days, but I always found my way home safely. I don’t know where my brother is, but I think he is all right. Maybe that is just me putting a happy ending on something over which I have no control, or maybe our mother really is our guardian angel. Either way, I want to believe that something lasted for my brother, that something finally fit. I have to.

Let It Go

My new hero: Queen Elsa from "Frozen"

My new hero: Queen Elsa from “Frozen”

I saw “Frozen” last night for the first time with my husband and children. I realize this is not a particularly earth-shattering event since it is a movie with more than $1 billion in worldwide box office sales, but my kids are long past the ages when they would normally deem an animated Disney film worth their time or attention. As our family’s resident sucker for happily ever afters, I was more than a little shocked and beyond pleased when they agreed to hit the couch and watch it with me.

Unfortunately, “Frozen” did not receive quite the acclaim in our household that it has from film critics and our friends with young children. My 12-year-old daughter and husband fell asleep halfway through it, and my 14-year-old son said it was “pretty good,” although he did not understand why it was “all over the Internet.” I, meanwhile, loved it and woke up this morning with “Let It Go” as my earworm.

Being rather pop music illiterate, I had never heard the song until Idina Menzel performed it at the Oscars (yes, I just Googled the spelling of her name; no, I do not remember or care what the Travoltified bungling of it was). It did not resonate with me at all then, although I thought the version she did later with Jimmy Fallon and The Roots on toy instruments was charming. When I heard it in the context of the movie, however, it had me in tears. In fact, I cried through a lot of “Frozen.”

If you know me or have at least read this blog before, you are probably not surprised. I tend toward sappiness and sentimentality at times. OK, most of the time. But lately, I have been struggling with some negative, albeit quite human, feelings, and the movie’s story and that song really got to me. I am not sure if this is the beginning of a midlife crisis (I am pushing 47, after all) or just the residual effects of an unbearably long winter, but either way, I have been a little lost, less than happy and not quite myself lately. Let’s just say that if my life were the movie “Cinderella,” I would undoubtedly be Drizella, the ugly, older stepsister, and my enormous foot would be busting out of that glass slipper despite my best efforts to make it fit.

Unlike “Cinderella,” in “Frozen” I found a main character with whom I could actually identify. If you are one of the maybe five people in the entire world who still have not seen the movie, Queen Elsa is plagued with powers she does not understand that arouse fear in those around her and drive her away from the people she loves. OK, so I am not a queen with magical powers, and no one fears me (except my kids when I give them The Mom Look). But I have always felt different. Not exceptional in any way, but not normal either. As a child and teenager, I was sensitive and serious, while others teased and joked. I shared my thoughts and feelings, while others made small talk. I preferred the company of a few friends at a time, while others thrived in large groups. I did not realize that these were positive qualities when I was young. But as I got older, and found like-minded people who preferred to delve beneath the surface and form true connections, I became more confident about who I was because I knew I was not alone.

And that is why I loved “Frozen”: It shows little girls that happily ever after is about being true to yourself. It is not about snagging Prince Charming. Queen Elsa is on a journey of self-discovery, not a man hunt. Her sister, Princess Anna, finds what she naively believes to be true love but then leaves her prince behind, bravely venturing into the storm to save Elsa. That Anna finds love in the end is more of a side bar; the real story is Elsa accepting and taking pride in her differences, finding happiness within herself, and realizing others will love her for who she really is. What little girl doesn’t need to know she is in charge of her own happiness? And what grown woman doesn’t need a reminder once in a while?

I know I do. So, thanks to my hero Elsa, I’m going to try to let it go — the “it” being all this self-doubt, insecurity and fear that has been festering in my middle-aged head lately. The glass slipper is never going to fit, and I know better than to force it. I have always been happier in my Converse anyway.

Rock On, Kid

My girl (right) at her first concert with one of her besties: Imagine Dragons @ Allstate Arena

My girl (right) at her first concert — Imagine Dragons — with one of her besties

Last night, we took our almost 13-year-old daughter to her first concert: Imagine Dragons at Allstate Arena in Chicago (technically Rosemont, IL, but the bands playing there don’t say, “Hello, Rosemont”). My husband and some of our friends are musicians, so she has been to a handful of family-friendly bar gigs and outdoor concerts. But this was her first arena rock show performed by a Grammy-winning band in a packed venue that seats more than 18,000 people. It was a big deal to her and, as a mom who happens to be a total music freak, it was a big deal to me too.

You see, I am the fan who is online at exactly 10 a.m., password and credit card in hand, the day of concert ticket pre-sales. I am the fan who suffers through a tortuous opening act to save my spot near the stage. I am the fan who forgoes bathroom trips and sends my friend/boyfriend (disclaimer: before I was married)/husband on beer runs because I don’t want to miss a single moment of the show. I am the fan whose heart pounds when the band finally plays “that one song,” the one I know every word to, the one that moves me the most. And I am the fan who won’t leave until the house lights go on because I refuse to chance missing an encore.

I have been to hundreds of concerts in the past 30-odd years, some unforgettable (Neil Young and Crazy Horse), others barely memorable (Lollapalooza ’91). Last night’s rated up there on my list of favorites, and this surprised me a little. Am I a big Imagine Dragons fan? No. I only know the songs I have heard — and sung along to at full volume with my daughter — a million times on my car radio. Do I appreciate the arena rock experience? No. I prefer small, intimate venues. Would I have gone to see this band on my own? Probably not. But as I watched my daughter and her best friend from preschool singing along to the lyrics, taking selfies and giggling every time the little girl behind us screamed, I thought about my own early concerts. I remembered the relief of securing tickets, the anticipation as the date approached, the excitement when it finally arrived, and the elation when the band took the stage. I remembered those feelings because I still have them, even as a 46-year-old mom/chaperone.

Last night was not about who was playing on the stage. It was about experiencing live music — one of my lifelong passions — with my almost teenage daughter for the first time. Her journey as a music fan is just beginning, and I am so excited for her. I hope it takes her to as many cool and magical places as mine continues to take me and that she will let me tag along now and again, maybe even after she no longer needs a ride.

The Anti-Social Experiment

But how could I not check in at Abbey Road on Facebook and Instagram a pic of us crossing it?

But how could I not check in at Abbey Road on Facebook and Instagram us crossing it?

On our family’s first trip to Disney World, when Facebook was just a baby and Instagram did not even exist, I saw a father videotaping his children on the Animal Kingdom safari ride. His family was sitting directly in front of mine, and I remember being fascinated by this dad and his video camera. He was so busy trying to preserve the moment that he did not appear to be enjoying it at all. I wondered why he didn’t just snap a quick photograph instead of spending the entire ride behind the camera. Wouldn’t it be better to be a part of the memory by experiencing the event, to be a participant in the adventure rather than just its chronicler?

In my twenties, watching a breathtaking sunset on Lake Michigan, I remember wishing out loud for a camera to capture its beauty. A wise friend said, “I don’t need a camera. My memory of it is better.” I guess he was right because I still remember how that sunset made me feel. A photo would not have done the moment justice.

I wonder what that long lost friend would think about Instagram. I doubt he even has a Facebook account. But I, like that dad at Disney so long ago, sometimes find myself a chronicler of rather than a participant in my life. I spend a lot of time capturing moments on Facebook and Instagram, especially when we travel. I use social media as my scrapbook and photo album, checking in on Facebook to record the names of restaurants, landmarks and historic sites we visit. I write status updates about the day’s itinerary and post photos as we move from place to place to help myself remember the sequence of our journey. But if I press the pause button to capture a moment on Facebook or Instagram, am I enhancing it or diminishing it? Does my obsession with preserving a memory keep me from truly being part of it?

On a recent family ski trip, I decided to find out by taking a break from social media and simply enjoying the moments as they happened. It was our first visit to Colorado, and I wanted to fully embrace its landscape and culture, which are so different from what we know in the Midwest. I took photos here and there, but I didn’t Instagram them. I ate delicious meals, but I didn’t check in at any restaurants on Facebook. Instead, I disconnected from my online persona for a few days and reconnected with my real world self and my family. What I found was that I liked being a participant rather than a chronicler. Posting the photos of our journey on social media could wait until after we were home. I wanted to experience it first.

That social media-free trip inspired me to take a break from my personal Facebook account. I have a page where I promote this blog and share links, and that will remain active. But I am taking some time off from posting on my own page to reassess how I use social media in general. Maybe Twitter is a better forum for my random thoughts. Maybe Instagram is a more appropriate place for my food and travel photos. I am not sure what the right balance is, but I do know that constantly sharing my personal musings, photos and whereabouts with 478 people, many of whom I haven’t spoken to in years or barely know, is beginning to feel off-kilter. Do any of them care what I ate for lunch at Le Fumoir on the way to the Louvre? Do they need to see a photo of my family crossing Abbey Road? Do they know I am just excited about my travels and not bragging about them? That last question in particular has been haunting me lately.

I’m only five days into my Facebook sabbatical. Considering how poorly I did the last time I attempted a social media dryout, my success is not imminent. So far, though, I’m happy to be living in the moment instead of wondering how to hashtag it. I’ll keep you posted on my progress. But don’t expect a status update.

Are you a social media junkie? How do you find a balance between life online and ITRW?


Update: Well, this probably comes as no surprise, but my “anti-social experiment” failed miserably after just 15 days. I did learn some valuable lessons, though. For instance, Facebook makes it pretty difficult for bloggers to get any traction without advertising. I knew this, of course, but it was frustrating to see it play out. When I made updates about new blog posts on my Michigan Left fan page, no one saw them. But more important than that, I missed the people I actually do interact with on Facebook. Working from home, FB is kind of like my water cooler. It’s fun to take a break and socialize. I just need to limit myself more, so I can stay focused. We will see how that goes. Stay tuned.

The Heart of the Home

As a little girl, I remember watching my grandmother bake apple pies in my aunt’s kitchen. She added a “pinch” of this or a “dash” of that to the mixing bowl, following her own recipe from memory. Then she sprinkled flour on the counter and kneaded the dough. I can still picture her wrinkled, liver-spotted hands as she worked the dough and then flattened it with a rolling pin. Her apple pies remain the most delicious I have ever tasted, but the best part about watching her bake were the scraps of dough she filled with jam and folded into turnovers. She made them just for me.

Sadly, I did not inherit my grandmother’s baking prowess. It is not something I enjoy. But I do love time spent in the kitchen with my family. Although we both cook, my husband is the master chef in our house. He is that enviable kind of cook who can whip up a gourmet meal from what most people, including me, consider a bare cupboard and nearly empty refrigerator. On the weekends, when we have time to prepare meals at a leisurely pace, our almost 13-year-old daughter always helps. I joke that I am their sous chef because I wind up chopping onions and mincing garlic — the jobs neither of them wants to do. I don’t mind, though, because I know the tasty rewards that await me.

Last night, as my husband and daughter stirred risotto at the stove, I watched them from the other side of the counter. Sometimes they bicker in the kitchen, I think because they both want to be the head chef. But last night, their culinary visions appeared to be in sync. As I chopped their onions, I listened to them reminisce about our trip to Italy, observing their easy banter, their laughter, the way my husband gently placed his hand on her back as he showed her how to stir the risotto. I loved that he was teaching her to cook, but what I truly relished was what he was giving her: his attention.


In two months, our daughter will be a teenager. She will be confronted with lots of difficult choices, not immediately, I hope, but soon enough. She will have to decide who to befriend, who to date. At some point, she will be offered alcohol, maybe even drugs. She will drive in cars with people — with boys — we barely know. She will find herself in uncomfortable situations where the right choice is not the easiest to make. The decisions will be hers alone, but they will in part be determined by how she values herself as a person. All those hours she spends in the kitchen with her father show her she is worth his time and attention, and I hope they teach her to expect both. And not just from her parents. From her friends, from the boys she dates, from the man she may one day marry.

My grandmother died years ago, while I was pregnant with my 14-year-old son. But those times I spent with her in my aunt’s kitchen are still precious to me. I was a little girl who had lost her mother and did not live with her father, and I think my nana, who was orphaned at a young age, bonded with me because of that. She always made time to read to me, to sing to me, to bake for me. With every turnover she made for me, she showed me I was special. She showed me I was loved.


Watching my husband and daughter in our kitchen gives me a sense of personal closure because I never spent that kind of one-on-one time with my father. To see them together, my husband giving her his undivided attention, brings me joy and also peace. We want for our children the things we never had. Some are tangible, but the most important are not.

I am not sure what my nana, who was born in 1899, would think about our modern household, where my husband does much of the cooking and I do none of the baking. I do know that she would be happy to see the love in our house. She may not have been able to pass on her pie-making skills to me, but she is part of the reason I know I matter in this world. I learned that with her in my aunt’s kitchen, the heart of the home.

Best Valentine Ever

photo (100)

My kids’ Valentine’s Day cards and candy were waiting for them on the kitchen counter when they came downstairs for breakfast this morning. They were not surprised, especially my daughter who helped me choose which chocolates to buy for her and her brother. I have always given them presents on Valentine’s Day. Although I consider it a silly, Hallmark-engineered holiday, it’s a good excuse to remind them I love them (see yesterday’s post). I did not expect anything in return because I honestly can’t remember the last time one of them gave me a Valentine. It was probably a Strawberry Shortcake or Sponge Bob card left over from one of those multipacks parents buy for little kids to distribute to their classmates.

This year, my almost 13-year-old bowled me over with a book called “52 Reasons I Love You,” which she made from a deck of playing cards. I was not surprised by the thoughtfulness or creativity behind the gesture. She is a kind, caring person and an excellent gift giver because she truly listens to people and wants to know who they are. What blew me away about the book were the sentiments she expressed.

If you follow this blog, you know that, as most mothers and daughters do, we have our ups and downs in the getting along department (here’s a letter I wrote to her about just that). Cards in the book like “You watch ‘Pretty Little Liars’ to make me happy,” “You give amazing fashion advice” and “You always let me borrow your stuff,” while they sound trivial, meant something to me because I did not have that kind of relationship as a teenager growing up with a stepmother. My stepmom and I rarely watched TV together. She did not help me decide which shoes or jewelry to wear. She never knowingly let me borrow her clothes, although I did sneak items out of her extensive wardrobe occasionally. My stepmother and I had a cold, distant relationship. There was no communication, trust or support. One of my biggest fears as a parent is that things will be the same for my daughter and me.

The book she made gives me hope. When I read reasons like “I can trust you with anything,” “You never let me down,” “You never doubt me” and “You always make sure I am happy,” I think that maybe, just maybe, I am doing some things right. Maybe, just maybe, our relationship will survive her teenage years, and the two of us will stay close. That would be the greatest gift of all.

There were funny cards in the book too, which is fitting because my daughter is a silly, lighthearted kid. “You scream every time we watch a horror movie” cracked me up because it’s true. She and my son argue about who has to face the embarrassment and shame of sitting next to me when we see scary films in the theater. “You taught me to embrace my inner nerd” made me laugh too, but it also made me proud. I want my daughter to be confident of her intelligence, to never play dumb or downplay it. As her mother, and as a woman, that is one of the most important things I can teach her.

There were many cards in the book that described how she views me as a person, not just her mother, and they gave me the impression she might admire, respect and even like me a little. She obviously knows me well: The second to the last card read “You’ll probably be crying by now.” I was.

The final card said “You’re my mom, and you couldn’t have done a better job.” Well, I have my doubts about that sometimes, but I try to do my best. Apparently, my daughter thinks my best is good enough. Happy Valentine’s Day to me.

Happy Hallmark Holiday!

photo (99)

Last weekend, I bought my husband and kids Valentine’s Day candy and cards, chocolate and shiny red heart reminders that I love them. I do it every year. While perusing the “husband” section of the gift card aisle of Target, I cried as I read the cloying sentiments. I do that every year too. I am a sucker for sappiness, a greeting card company’s dream. But that was not always the case.

In my single life, I stubbornly shrugged off Valentine’s Day. I considered it a Hallmark holiday designed to manipulate consumers into purchasing items they did not need. If a man loved me, I thought, he should tell me, and show me, every day. Even when I was dating someone or in a relationship, Feb. 14 was not a day I deemed worth celebrating.

I still don’t, at least not most of the time. But the thing about being married with children is that sometimes you do need a reminder that you love and are loved. You become so wrapped up in daily life that you forget how and why you wound up there in the first place. If it had not been for the man I loved enough to marry, I would not have two beautiful children. I would not have this life that I so easily and often take for granted.

This year my husband and I are planning a date on Valentine’s Day. I suggested it. We have had a busy few months. Heck, we have had a busy almost 15 years of childrearing. We have not made time for a date night in a while, and I know we need one. No kids, no interruptions, just the two of us remembering who we were when we met and celebrating the life we share. As our children get older, they drift further and further away from us. Soon they will have Valentines of their own, they will head off to college, they will leave us behind. If we do not nurture our relationship now, despite the distractions, it may not be there for us later when we want and need it to be.

I made a lot of bad choices in my twenties, but marrying my husband was not one of them. He is a man who brings me flowers on random days, who tells me I am beautiful when I am wearing pajamas and no makeup, who supports me whether I am right or wrong and even when he does not understand me. Most important, he demonstrates to our almost 13-year-old daughter how a man should treat a woman by the way he treats me. She will have high expectations when she starts dating, as she should, and he is the reason.

I may not celebrate Valentine’s Day next year. It is pretty silly after all. But this year it is my excuse to recognize and appreciate the man I married, my best friend. You know those elderly couples you see walking hand in hand in the park? I know it sounds like another greeting card cliché, but they exist. I have seen them, and I want us to be them one day. I bet they went on lots of dates when their kids were young. Hallmark holiday or not.

Freshman Year: Update From the Mama Front


Some local parents I know received an important letter this week. It informed them of their eighth graders’ class placements for freshman year. High school may still be months away for these kids, but the letter made it official: They will be going, whether or not their parents are ready.

I certainly was not ready when I got the letter last year. My son is my oldest child, so I had no clue about summer school or zero hour. Should he sign up for either or both? He received honors placements for every possible class, but should he take them all? Would the schedule overwhelm him? Would his grades suffer? How could he possibly juggle such a heavy course load and the rigorous practice schedule of marching band — not to mention all the other extracurricular activities he wanted to pursue? Would he have time to make friends and establish strong, meaningful social connections?

For me, the letter marked the beginning of my son’s journey into adulthood, and I was terrified. But you know what? We figured it out, and here we are, a year later; both of us have managed just fine. We made it through some major milestones — his week away at marching band camp, his first homecoming dance and final exams, to name a few. There were some tears (mostly mine), arguments and sleepless nights along the way, but this child of mine, this soon-to-be adult, not only survived the first half of freshman year, he exceled. He took all honors classes and participated in what seemed like a bazillion activities, yet somehow he managed to earn stellar grades. He also met some really great kids along the way. I know it’s only one semester. I know there will be challenges ahead. But so far he has demonstrated confidence, maturity and strength of character. I think he is ready to handle those challenges, and I am figuring out how to manage the way I worry about them.

This week local parents of freshmen, myself included, also received an important letter. It was about driver’s education class. Considering that my son is not even 15, it caught me a little off guard. I remembered my own ill-fated driver’s ed experience (I had to take it twice), but then I thought of the many hours of video games my son has played over the years. All those driving games would surely help him navigate the roads better than his mother, who could probably still benefit from a little Mario Kart practice at age 46.

I decided to file this particular letter under “things to worry about later.” The person I was last year would have been a mess after reading it. But the mother I am now, after the year of tremendous change and growth we both experienced, knows that the milestones are going to keep coming. Whether or not I am ready for them, they will continue to occur and in quick succession. I cannot stop them, but I can change how I react to them. If I deal with them as they happen rather than worrying about them for months in advance, I can manage them. At least I have so far.

Yesterday, I bought my son a new tie for the TWIRP (“the woman is required to pay”; we used to call it Sadie Hawkins back in the ’80s) dance this weekend. I also ordered a corsage for his date, a bright, lovely girl who goes to another high school. Am I nervous about him going to the dance? Not really. We already crossed off “first high school dance” from the milestone list, remember? Plus, I’m too busy being thankful he doesn’t have a license and won’t be driving to the dance. I have some time, a little bit anyway, before I have to worry about that one.

The Break-Up


We met in our children’s playgroup, both of us too immersed in the early years of parenting to think about making friends on our own. She was Ralph Lauren and country clubs. I was more Steve Madden and rock concerts. Motherhood and suburban life, it seemed, were the great equalizers. Our differences were easy to ignore because we had raising children in common.

We became friends quickly, both of us desperate for adult company after having left full-time jobs to stay home with our kids. We spoke on the phone multiple times a day, and the conversations lasted hours. Soon we ditched the playgroup and started meeting for happy hour playdates, which turned into family dinners once our husbands became acquainted. They worked in the same field, which gave them something in common. She and I were friends, our husbands got along, and our children played well together: The rarity of all those factors existing simultaneously was lost on neither of us.

Looking back, I don’t know how I would have made it through that time in my life without her. She was my best friend, my confidante, the emergency contact I listed at my children’s school. She was the person I called first with good news or bad, the person who supported me either way. When she lost her mother and my father died soon afterward, our shared grief cemented our connection. She understood the devastatingly painful void I felt, which my husband, who had never experienced the loss of anyone close, could not fathom.

What I did not realize then, as I shared my secrets and allowed our lives to further intertwine, is that some friendships are not strong enough to last forever. Some friendships are built on and exist in the vacuum of shared circumstances. They support us through uncertain or difficult periods, but when the context of our lives changes, they collapse or fade away.

For us, I think, things changed when I began to pull myself out of the grief. I threw myself into my job. I started running more. I made new friends. She and I talked less on the phone because I was busy with work and other things, but also because I was changing and she wasn’t. I was trying to move past my loss; she was not ready to let hers go.

The larger reasons, however, behind our break-up were the differences we had ignored in the beginning. When my husband and I finally caved and joined the local country club where she and her family were members, we started to see another side of her. She had grown up in that world and was someone else there, or at least she was different from the candid, down-to-earth person I knew from our playdates and dinner parties. I hated what I viewed as the pretentiousness and superficiality of the country club scene, while she was perfectly comfortable there. The differences between us began to matter, or at least they did to me.

Over the next year, my husband and I found ourselves pulling back from the relationship gradually and naturally. Our kids had made new friends at school and wanted less to do with my friend’s children and the country club. We decided to quit the club and began spending more time with other friends with similar interests. We went camping and on road trips. We ventured into the city to check out bands and restaurants. We started to get back to being the people we were before we moved to the suburbs with our children.

The less time we spent with my friend and her family, the more tense our relationship with them grew. I started to hear from other friends that she was gossiping about us. Apparently, she decided she wanted custody of our mutual friends and was working hard to manipulate the details of our waning relationship in her favor. Through it all, I never spoke ill of her. In my mind, I was taking the moral high road. But all I really did was make things worse. It was easier for people to believe the rumors than to look for the truth, especially since I was doing nothing to defend myself.

After a few feeble attempts on both sides to reconcile, we finally laid our relationship to rest. I learned through mutual acquaintances that my friend went through a difficult time, and she and her family eventually left town. I never heard from her again. Although I know a lot of her secrets, the ones she told me and others a mutual friend and I pieced together after she left, I don’t discuss them publicly. She was a loyal friend at a time when I needed her and for as long as she could be.

That’s the thing about relationships that exist in vacuums. You only see the part of the person he or she allows you to see. I loved the friend I made in that playgroup so long ago, the person she wanted me to see. She is the person I choose to remember. She is the friend I will always love.