Soundtrack of Our Lives

Farewell, old friend

Farewell, old friend

I always wanted a shiny, black grand piano. Not that I play or anything, though I have thought of taking lessons from time to time. I just liked the idea of having such a strikingly elegant object in my home, I guess. When we moved into our second house, I saw a perfect spot for one: the nook next to the fireplace in our great room. My husband had the same thought, but it was something we only talked about in passing. We had other, more pressing expenses. Maybe someday, we said.

And then someday came. Well, sort of. A guy on the trading floor mentioned to my husband that he was selling a piano, and a few days later our great room became home to a used, mahogany-stained Story & Clark baby grand with a broken foot pedal and keys that stick. While I viewed it as a charming antique to occupy a vacant spot in a room, my husband, the musician, had other ideas. He found a piano teacher and signed up our children, ages 7 and 9, for lessons. If it’s going to be in our house, he said, someone needs to learn how to play it. I agreed, recalling having read somewhere about the scholastic benefits of playing piano. Plus, I never learned to play any musical instruments as a child and loved the idea of giving my own kids the opportunity.

Little did either of us realize the impact that old baby grand would have on our lives. Our children’s experiences learning to play it were as different as the two of them are from each other. My son took to it easily and naturally; my daughter did not. For him, the piano was a confidante to whom he could pour out his artistic passion, an unconditional friend he would never let go. For her, it was an acquaintance whose company she grudgingly tolerated and eventually abandoned. But for both, the piano unlocked what I hope will be a lifelong love of music.

A few months ago, we stumbled upon a sleek, black Yamaha baby grand for sale. It was in mint condition, and it was the perfect step up for a pianist of the caliber of our now teenage son — or at least that was what his teacher had been politely but firmly suggesting for several years. It was also a lot closer to the pristine black piano I had envisioned in our great room so long ago. We snapped it up immediately, our son was thrilled, and we were finally off the hook with his teacher.

The Story & Clark, meanwhile, sat sad and untouched in the other corner of the nook. It reminded me of “The Giving Tree,” patiently waiting for its boy to return. I thought of all the times I heard my son play “Für Elise” on it. I remembered him rushing immediately to the piano like a long-lost friend after his week away at band camp. I recalled all the times I welcomed the distraction of his beautiful playing as I worked next-door in my office, enjoying the entertainment too much to remind him to do his homework. On that piano, for a good six years, the soundtrack of our life had played.

Today, movers came to take our Story & Clark to a new home. A local family with five young children bought it, and the mother seemed excited about her kids learning to play. It made me happy to know our first piano has another family to enjoy it, and I am sure I will come to love our shiny, new one. Still, I was sorry to see the old one go. When I look back years from now, the house I will remember most vividly is the tiny bungalow in Chicago where we brought home our newborn babies from the hospital. And the piano I will recall most fondly is that Story & Clark with the broken foot pedal and keys that stick. Both were where some of my favorite family memories were made.

Goin’ Home

“Can’t Find My Way Home” by Blind Faith played in heavy rotation on my Ford Escort’s cassette deck during my twenties, when I lived in Michigan.

Come down off your throne and leave your body alone.
Somebody must change.
You are the reason I’ve been waiting so long.
Somebody holds the key.
But I’m near the end and I just ain’t got the time.
And I’m wasted and I can’t find my way home.

I was a different person back then, sad, lonely, disconnected. Instead of figuring out who I was and what would make me happy, I hid from my true self in a bad relationship, trying to fix someone who did not care enough about himself — or me — to let me. When he finally ended things, I was lost. I realized the person I needed to stop avoiding and fix was me, and I knew I couldn’t do it in Michigan, surrounded and haunted by the memories of my many mistakes. I moved to Chicago in search of the key, to find my way home.

These were my thoughts as I sat drinking a Centennial IPA at Founders Brewery in Grand Rapids, Michigan, two days ago. My husband and I stopped there for lunch on our way back to Chicago from a weekend of camping, hiking and canoeing with friends in Wellston, Michigan. When he left the table to use the restroom, I noticed the Rolling Stones song playing in the background.

Spending too much time away.
I can’t stand another day.
Maybe you think I’ve seen the world.
But I’d rather see my girl.
I’m goin’ home, I’m goin’ home, back home.

I laughed to myself, thinking that “goin’ home” for me used to mean returning to Michigan, but now I couldn’t wait to get back to “my girl” (and boy — i.e., our children) in Chicago. Two years had passed since our last visit to my home state, when we attended my aunt’s memorial. This time, our trip took us nowhere near the Detroit area where I used to live, but the drive Up North was a familiar one. I took it often as a child with my aunt and uncle who raised me and later as a young adult with friends. Driving those roads now, after 20 years have passed, made me remember the figurative journey I took, trying to escape my Michigan self and start a new life.

Change is never a quick, easy trip, even against a new backdrop. Your problems follow you until you acknowledge and resolve them. When I met my future husband a few months after moving to Chicago, I knew immediately that he was a good man, the kind you marry and raise children with. I had never felt more comfortable or at home with anyone in my life, and it terrified me. It took a long time for me to see myself as worthy and let go of my fears of abandonment. But no matter how many conscious or unconscious attempts I made to sabotage our relationship, he kept coming back. It’s almost funny to think about what we considered argument-worthy in the early days, compared with what we have experienced during almost 18 years of marriage. I guess learning to sort out the little problems in the beginning of a relationship helps prepare you to deal with the real ones later.

Watching my husband walk back to the table, I thought about the Blind Faith song again. During my younger days in Michigan, I didn’t realize I was the one holding the key. I kept searching for it in relationships, jobs and other experiences, always looking for the next best thing. The key, it seems, was inside me the whole time. Marriage and motherhood led me toward happiness, but only I could unlock the door and walk through it to find peace.

The photo below is of my husband and me enjoying a Michigan sunset long ago. I don’t think we were even married yet. It’s the only copy I have, and it’s covered in fingerprints. I think one of our kids ripped it at some point. It hangs on the bulletin board in my office, reminding me how far we have come, together, finding our way home. Cheers to the man who never gave up on me.


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.

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.

Say Hello, Good-Bye Girl


He sat at the counter with our daughter, telling tales from his trip to China, as I scurried around the kitchen. He described the fish skin dumpling soup he ate for breakfast in Shenzhen and the Jetsons-esque skyscrapers he saw in Shanghai; she chattered about cross country and honors math. I tried to focus on their conversation, to relax and enjoy having him home, but the perfect meal I wanted to serve wasn’t turning out as planned. The mashed potatoes were lumpy. The gravy was too thick. The beef brisket wasn’t big enough. It was my husband’s first dinner with us in 10 days, and I had ruined everything.

A few minutes later, we were seated at the table, and I watched the two of them devour the food on their plates. I apologized for the lumpy potatoes and inadequate brisket (there was actually plenty since our teenage son wasn’t home), and they dismissed my culinary self-consciousness and served themselves second helpings. The food was obviously at least edible, so why was I being so hard on myself?

It wasn’t about the dinner. It was about my husband leaving again in two days. He would barely have a chance to recover from his jet lag only to board another flight, and we would be saying good-bye all over again. I hate good-byes. I hate being left behind. I know these things about myself, but I can’t seem to control my fight-and-flight emotional response when people I love go away. My modus operandi is to pick a fight before the person leaves and then withdraw emotionally. It hurts a lot less when someone says good-bye if you were mad at him or her anyway. This time the fight was different, though, because I was having it with myself. Before I knew it, my husband would be walking out the door again. I wanted to appreciate our time together. I didn’t want to screw it up.

The next evening, I was alone in the kitchen as I made dinner. I poured a glass of wine and turned on some music. I thought about the fact that I had made it through 10 days without him. The next trip was only two days, the one after that seven. And in 11 days, it would all be over. I could manage. I would survive.

Dinner was perfect that night, or at least as perfect as salad and chicken parmesan with store-bought marinara can be. My husband and I took our dog for a walk afterward, holding hands and laughing as our crazy little Yorkie ran from one side of the street to the other. When we picked up our son from marching band practice, we cranked up Led Zeppelin and sang along in the high school parking lot.

Later, as I watched him pack his suitcase yet again, I realized that instead of worrying about the good-bye, I should relish the hello. And that night I did.

#iPPP Sunday Funday

While you were home watching “Boardwalk Empire” (no spoilers, please; I still haven’t seen that episode), here’s where I was Sunday night.

The opening act: Everest. These guys just got off the road from a tour with Neil Young. We’ve seen them a bunch of times. Super talented band and all-around nice guys to boot.

Co-headlining act: Alabama Shakes. Our first time seeing them. Brittany rocked it with that powerhouse voice of hers.

Co-headlining act: Band of Horses. I can’t say enough good things about these guys and the stellar performance they gave. Really. Check ’em out, folks.

And here’s my best little buddy, Rosebud, all snuggled up in the place I didn’t want to leave Monday morning: my bed.

I’m linking up with the awesome GFunkified and Mamamash for #iPPP. Come hang out with us.

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.

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)

Jeff Buckley and a Flat Tire

It was Feb. 9, 1994, a snowy Wednesday night in Chicago. I was with a friend at Schuba’s Tavern, one of our favorite music haunts. We met there to see Jeff Buckley, but it was a sold-out show and we didn’t have tickets. A drink at the bar before we trudged home through the snow: Why not?

When the guy with snow-covered hair nudged his way up to the bar next to me, I noticed his cheekbones, his motorcycle jacket, his playful smile. As he waited for his beer, he built a house out of matchbooks. He was trying to get our attention, so we indulged him.

I asked him if he was there to see Jeff Buckley. He wasn’t. His friend had a flat tire outside the bar and called him for backup. Apparently, he called several other friends too, so Cheekbone Guy decided to go inside to warm up and have a beer.

I teased him for not helping his friend and laughed when he admitted he’d rather be in the warm bar having a drink. We talked about the NPR “Car Talk” guys, and he told us Janis Joplin was one of his favorite female singers. The conversation was easy, so we shared a few more drinks.

When he asked for my number, I gave it to him. I assumed he wanted to hang out with my friend and me. (I’ve always been a little naïve about picking up on guys’ signals — even the blatantly obvious ones.) My friend laughed at me. “He is going to ask you out,” she said. But I didn’t take her seriously. He was a few years younger than us; I really didn’t see it happening. Plus, I was 26 and had just moved to Chicago four months ago. I wasn’t looking for a boyfriend.

Cheekbone Guy called a few days later and asked if I wanted to go see a movie. I asked him if he meant “go see a movie” as in “go on a date.” Yep, he said, that was exactly what he meant.

We saw “Reality Bites” at the Biograph Theater on our first date, which lasted 24 hours. Six weeks later we moved in together. Today we are celebrating our 16th wedding anniversary.

Thank you to Jeff Buckley and a flat tire for making it all possible.