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.

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.

Red Lipstick

My older sister said our mother never left the house without lipstick. Before she carried the garbage to the curb or hung the laundry out to dry in the backyard, she painted her lips a glamorous red and wound her blond curls into a tidy upsweep. My father said when she walked into a room, everyone stopped to look at her. She was a talented seamstress who could spot a dress in a department store and recreate it at home without a pattern. My aunt said she kept an immaculate house and dressed herself and her children impeccably. She was a homebody who had few friends, and she seemed to prefer it that way.

I don’t remember my mother, but from other people’s stories and memories, I have woven together an image of her, and it has profoundly affected the way I navigate my life and relationships. I compare myself against the image. I decide which parts of her I wish to embrace and imitate: the confidence, the independence, the self-assuredness. I recognize the ways I am like her and accept the ways I am not.

The part of the picture that puzzles and intrigues me most is that she didn’t have a lot of friends. Was that by choice or default? I wonder who taught my mother how to read the subtleties of female behavior, to avoid being sucked into the vacuum of cliques, to spot real friendship in the sea of selfishness and phoniness. Did her mother teach her those lessons, or was their relationship the reason she didn’t like or trust other women?

My relationships with my stepmother and the aunt who raised me had a major impact on the type of women I choose to befriend. From my charming, popular stepmother, I learned that those who follow the crowd often do so because they neither know nor love themselves. From my aunt, I learned that strong, confident women make the best friends because they don’t want or need anything other than your companionship. Neither of them ever told me how to interact with other women; they showed me.

I think of my own daughter as I watch her unravel the inner workings of middle school friendships. I wonder what effect I have on which girls she chooses to befriend. Like my mother, I don’t have lots of female friends, but the ones I do have are loyal and true. Like my aunt, I speak my mind and do as I please. Unlike my stepmother, I will never be popular and am fine with that.

I hope my daughter will learn to be herself and not succumb to the bullying and peer pressure that happen even in adulthood. I hope she will ignore the static and forge her own path. I hope she will wear red lipstick when she takes out the garbage and not give a damn what the neighbors think. I hope she will be a little like the grandmother she never knew.

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

Jeanne Marie (RIP 3/26/27 – 4/28/70)

It Really Is a Wonderful Life

Source: RKO/NBC

The first time I watched Frank Capra’s magnificent film “It’s a Wonderful Life,” I was a single twenty-something living in Dearborn, Michigan. The movie made me sob, first and foremost because I am a gigantic sap. But also because it made me think about how much value each of us has and how many other lives we touch, whether we know it or not. It made me think of my future and the place I wanted for myself in the world. It made me realize I wanted to matter to someone.

I’ve watched “It’s a Wonderful Life” every Christmas since then (the black-and-white version, of course), and each time it says something new and different to me. There was the year I watched it for the first time in a Chicago apartment with the man who would be my husband, and he loved it just as much as I did. There was the year we watched it in our first house, a 1920s’ bungalow in Chicago, and I understood exactly why Mary wanted to fix up and live in the drafty, old Granville house. There was the year we watched it for the first time with our kids, neither of whom liked it all that much, and I cried extra hard when George found Zuzu’s petals in his pocket. There was the year we watched it after my husband lost his job, when Mr. Potter seemed extra villainous and George’s victory celebration was particularly poignant.

This year, the line that resonated most with me was Clarence’s inscription in the copy of “Tom Sawyer” that he leaves behind for George: “No man is a failure who has friends.” It has been a tough 12 months for me (parent’s death, job loss), and I don’t know what I would have done without the strength and support of the friends who buoyed me through it. I’m also very lucky and grateful to be married to my own George Bailey, my best friend and the richest man in town.

On this Christmas Eve eve, I am happy and thankful to be exactly where I am. I wouldn’t change a thing. The bad times only make the good ones mean more. I guess I don’t need Frank Capra to tell me it’s a wonderful life, but I do enjoy the reminder.

Wishing you all the happiest of holidays with those you love the most in your own wonderful lives.

When the Cat’s Away…

…the mouse howls at the moon.

That's me: No. 5 from the left. So excited for a night on the town after four days of single parenting.

Of course I channeled my inner groupie and wound up on stage at Howl at the Moon in Chicago. Where else would I be?

I know I look like a cardboard cutout, but that's me, really, up on stage.

Workin’ on Some Night Moves…

…well, not really. But I did laugh until I almost peed myself in the wee hours of the morning the other day.

You see, when we picked up my daughter’s bestie for band carpool, she presented me with the record below, and said, “My dad thought you might like to borrow this.”

When I saw what “this” was, I burst out laughing and so did my daughter. You see, not everyone knows I hate Bob Seger. In fact, a lot of people assume the opposite because I’m from Detroit. Apparently, you are supposed to like all music born in your hometown. Well, personally, I’ll take the White Stripes, MC5, Iggy Pop and pretty much any Motown artist out there over Bob Seger any day. And Record Girl’s dad, an infamous prankster, knows this full well.

So, with apologies to Mr. Seger, today I raise my coffee cup to the friends who always know how to make us laugh — even at 6 o’clock in the morning.

Disclaimer: I spent the entire morning trying to work out an issue with the RSS feed on this blog, and it’s still not resolved. I’m annoyed but even more frustrated that I squandered the two hours I had allotted for writing today on such nonsense. And there you have my justification for yet another short post. Sigh. I feel like such a NaBloPoMo failure.

A Pre-Apocalyptic Bucket List for the Soul

On the way to school this morning, my 13-year-old son reminded me that the world is going to end Dec. 21. Of course he was kidding, but we decided it might be a good idea to plan a party for Dec. 20 just in case. I don’t know about you, but if the Mayans (or the folks who misinterpreted when their calendar ends) were correct, I have a lot to do in the next 38 days. The good news is we can at least scratch Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa shopping off our lists, right?

Here’s my challenge to you: Write a list of the top 10 things you wish you could change about or accomplish for yourself before you die. I’m not talking about skydiving or mountain climbing here. Let’s call it a bucket list for the psyche.

Here’s mine:

  1. Let go of past hurts. I can forgive, but I have a lot of trouble with the forgetting part. Dwelling on things doesn’t hurt anyone but me … and my husband, who gets stuck listening to me obsess.
  2. Love and be proud of my body. I’ve spent 45 years on this one so far, and I haven’t made much progress. I’d like to learn to look in the mirror and at photographs of myself and see the good parts instead of the bad. (Disclaimer: I don’t voice my body image issues in front of my daughter. It’s not healthy for me to force my saddle — I mean, emotional — baggage on her, and I recognize that.)
  3. Quit being an easy target. I wear my heart on my sleeve and always have. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, but I never learned how to fight back verbally or physically. Melting into a pool of emotional mush doesn’t work out so well. Take my word for it.
  4. Stop yelling at my kids. Strangely, this correlates with No. 3. My kids don’t listen the first three or four times I say something because they don’t take me seriously. Until I yell, that is. Then they get upset with me for raising my voice and shout back. Then I yell louder. It’s a vicious, and headache inducing, circle, and I hate it.
  5. Be a better friend. I have let so many relationships fade over the past 13 or so years. I know it’s a copout to blame it on having kids, but I do, at least to a certain extent. At the end of a crazy, busy day, the last thing I want to do is pick up the phone or even compose an email. I want quiet, peace. And as a result of my lack of effort, I’ve lost track of a lot of people I truly love and miss.
  6. Call my sister more. This goes back to No. 5 and the fact that I despise talking on the phone. But that’s a lame excuse. Our parents are both gone and it’s just us (and our wayward brother; see No. 7). My sister lives alone, and I know she would love to hear from the kids and me more.
  7. Reconnect with my brother. He’s a lost soul who has been in and out of trouble over the years. He has issues I don’t feel comfortable sharing publicly without his permission. But he was always good to me, and I love and miss him like crazy.
  8. Listen more. To my husband, to my kids, to my friends. But most of all to myself. If I listened to my inner voice a little more often, I think No. 1 would be much less of a problem. I tend to overlook bad first instincts about a person, thinking that everyone deserves a chance. Maybe some people don’t, or I just need to learn to give up sooner.
  9. Let people in. I’ve experienced a lot of loss in my life. I hate when people leave me, so I put up walls to keep them out in the first place. I guess that’s why No. 1 is such a problem. When I actually do let someone in and he or she hurts me, I’m emotionally devastated and I can’t let it go. Ugh. This is the thing that drives me the craziest about myself, but I think it’s also one of the hardest to fix. I for sure haven’t had much luck in the past four-and-a-half decades.
  10. Seize the day. It’s been a tough year (death, job loss, etc.). I lost my positive mojo and confidence somewhere along the way, and I need to find it. After all, the clock is ticking.

 So what’s on your psyche’s bucket list?

Our Hillbilly Anniversary

What better way to spend your anniversary than with a bunch of hillbillies, right?

Those of you who’ve been here before know my husband and I are music nuts, him being an actual musician and me a die-hard groupie. Well, yesterday was our 16th wedding anniversary, so we decided to celebrate it as any true fans would. We had a quiet, romantic dinner at our favorite local Italian restaurant, and then headed over to the VFW hall for some foot-stompin’ music and dollar beers with our good friends the Righteous Hillbillies.

The band was on fire, and it was a great night. I’m kind of sorry we missed the fish fry, though.

The Righteous Hillbillies rockin' the house at last night's release party for their new CD, "Trece Diablos" (photo by Michelle Gadeikis)

Keep Your Politics Off Facebook, Please

This post is not about the election. It’s about the social media aftermath.

I went to bed last night at my usual 10 p.m., having reached my daily peak of exhaustion. It takes a lot to keep me up any later on a weeknight. A sick child, a gripping movie, a foot-stomping concert? Yes, maybe and perhaps. The presidential election results? Not so much. It’s not that I didn’t care. It’s that I was pretty convinced the guy I didn’t vote for would win and figured the next morning, after a solid eight hours of restful sleep, was soon enough to learn the news.

So what happens? I wake up to find the guy I did vote for won. Say what? I’ll admit I was excited for and proud of our president, and I wanted to share my enthusiasm. But I have a lot of Republicans and/or Romney supporters in my life (including my husband) and didn’t want to rub salt in anyone’s wounds. This is what was in my head when I logged on to my computer to post about Obama’s victory.

What did I find on Facebook? A whole lot of openly hostile as well as passive-aggressive posts from adults, a picture of the Statue of Liberty with her head in her hands, and a post from a teenager saying something to the effect of “at least I know my parents didn’t vote for him.”

What the f*ck, Facebook?

So I, the perpetual Pollyanna, post this: “I’m ALWAYS proud to be an American, to have freedoms and choices, and I love ALL my friends and family, regardless of their politics. I’m for keeping Facebook politics free. Anyone with me?” Not a single comment or “like” (at least not yet). I also posted this image of and quote from Thomas Jefferson.

You'd think they would at least listen to Thomas Jefferson (source: JeffersonQuotes.com)

Wow. Four-hundred and fifty-nine Facebook friends and not a single one believes we should stand together as Americans and respect the collective voice of our nation? Now that’s something for the Statue of Liberty to be ashamed of.

And so I ask you, Facebook friends, what do you get out of attacking our president online? I understand that you’re angry, disappointed, frustrated. But is Facebook really the right forum to express those feelings? Will your electronic-courage-fueled posts effect the positive change you claim he is incapable of producing? If you are that angry about the current state of affairs, why don’t you get out there and volunteer, run for office, do something to be the change you want to see in our country?

Whatever you do or don’t do, I would really appreciate it if you stopped clogging my Facebook news feed with your vitriol. I go there for the cute baby pictures.

My Failed Facebook Dry-Out

If this one sounds familiar, that’s because it originally ran March 28, 2012. I edited and reposted it for this week’s Yeah Write Challenge.

I gave up social media for Lent this year, and I’m sure it comes as no surprise to anyone who knows me that it didn’t last. Let’s face it: I am a Facebook junkie. I like to “check in.” I like to “like” things. When I go a day without updating my status, people text me to make sure I’m OK. That last part probably sounds like an exaggeration, but sadly it is true.

Inspired by my husband, who gives up alcohol every year for Lent, I decided to try some clean living of my own. For 46 days (actually 40 because Sundays don’t count during Lent), I would give up Bejeweled Blitz (I am embarrassed to admit how much time I spent matching and detonating jewels); checking in (how would anyone know about the fun places I visited?); and updating my status (almost unthinkable for someone who has as much to say as I do).

Since I am not Catholic, I figured I would make my own rules and start Lent early. On Feb. 8, I announced my intentions publicly, via status update, of course. My friends wished me well and offered words of encouragement. One went so far as to send me a sympathy card the first week. No, I’m not making that up.

Somehow this perpetual Facebooker managed to quit cold turkey. For an entire week I did not take a single peek at my page or anyone else’s.

All was well until I realized that an email address I desperately needed was only available to me on Facebook. I knew I’d be cheating if I ventured back to the dark side and, although I may not be Catholic, I am prone to overwhelming guilt. So I signed on, got the email and admitted my lapse in a status update. I also said a quick hello because Lent hadn’t officially started and the temptation to let my 416 friends know how much I missed them was more than I could bear — even if most of them probably had no idea I had left Facebook in the first place.

Hoping it would be an isolated slip-up, I climbed back on the wagon. Again, I lasted about a week. This time I felt the overwhelming need to brag about my options guru husband, who had made an appearance on Fox Business News. It was a really big day for him, and he is not one to boast about his accomplishments. Someone had to do it for him, right?

By the time Fat Tuesday rolled around I knew I was in serious trouble. Giving up Bejeweled Blitz was nothing. It was going without the social interaction that was doing me in. So I deleted the Facebook app from my iPhone, and I deactivated my account.

I did pretty well initially. I logged in on two separate Sundays (the Catholic Church says they don’t count, remember?), but I deactivated my account before Monday, when Lent resumes.

Then I was faced with the mother of all tests of my addiction: My daughter, a fifth grader, won an essay contest. As her mom, I would have been proud of this regardless. But as a professional editor and on-again, off-again writer, I was thrilled. I had to let my friends know. I just had to. So I signed on to my dog’s account (yes, my Yorkshire Terrier, Rosebud, has her own Facebook page), and I sang my daughter’s praises. Rosebud only has 38 friends on Facebook, but, hey, it was something.

It was a Friday, not a Sunday, and I was on Facebook posing as my dog. I knew I had reached a true low point, so I gave up and reactivated my own account. Lent, for me, was officially over two weeks early.

Our dog, Rosebud, unsuspecting victim of FB identity theft

Am I embarrassed that I couldn’t last the full 40 days? A little. But I’m proud too. Although I’m a miserable failure at making Lenten sacrifices, I did accomplish what I had set out to do during my Facebook sabbatical: I started this blog.

After months of thinking and talking about it, of agonizing over putting myself out there and writing again, I did it. And I’m pretty proud of myself, broken Lenten promise or not.

I’m not sure where this journey is going to take me, but I’ll be sure to keep everyone posted in my Facebook status updates. Oh, and for the record, my husband is still happily on the wagon.