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.

Best Valentine Ever

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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!

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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.

Over the Hill

Our first day at Copper Mountain, before I tried to ski. At least I look like I might know what I'm doing.

Our first day at Copper Mountain, before I tried to ski. At least I look like I might know what I’m doing.

As I make my way through my forties, I find myself facing a painful fact: I am afraid. I’m not just referring to my lifelong fear of spiders and aversion to clowns. Now I am afraid of lots of things. Things like amusement park rides, fast-moving vehicles, small planes, narrow bridges, coastal highways and mountain roads. Things that never bothered me in my twenties, when I stubbornly embraced my own invincibility, terrify me in middle age, and all I can wonder is: What happened?

It’s not as if I never confronted mortality, made life-changing decisions or experienced pain or loss in my twenties or thirties. The difference at age 46 is that fear, especially of physically dangerous situations, can be paralyzing.

I discovered this last weekend during a ski trip to Colorado with friends. My family had skied once before, several years ago in Wisconsin, but we figured we needed a refresher course to tackle the long, winding runs of Copper Mountain. After a two-hour group lesson, my husband and kids were ready to move on to more difficult green (beginner) runs. I, however, couldn’t get down Roundabout, the easiest green at Copper, without falling. My family took off for the Lumberjack lift, but the instructor sensed my fear and lack of confidence and suggested I stick to Roundabout for a few more runs.

The thought of skiing alone terrified me. What if I fell again? What if I crashed into someone? What if I broke a leg or hit my head? What if I wound up paralyzed and couldn’t take care of my family? A twentysomething would never entertain such crazy thoughts, but for a middle-aged mother they all seemed to be possible, if not likely, outcomes. After standing by the lift for an hour, watching preschoolers zip by and imagining myself rolling down the mountain in a giant snowball like a cartoon character, I gave up and went back to the condo.

The next day, my husband encouraged me to try again. He said he would ski Roundabout with me once or twice before joining our kids and friends. I agreed, knowing that at least I wouldn’t be on my own if something went wrong. I managed to get halfway down the gradually declining slope, but when it steepened slightly toward the end, I veered out of control and fell. I sat there, shaken and crying, unable to get up. I finally took off my skis and made the walk of shame to the bottom of the hill, where my ever-supportive husband waited for me. He gave me a reassuring hug, but I felt like a failure.

As I rode the shuttle bus back to the condo, I wondered what happened to fearless me, the girl who rode in fast cars with bad boys, smoked cigarettes, drank Jägermeister shots and danced all night at punk clubs in inner-city Detroit. Apparently, she had turned into a fearful middle-aged mess.

Frustrated and ashamed of myself, I thought about what our friends who ski would say, especially the ones who were with us on the trip. Would they consider me a coward or a loser? At 26, the peer pressure of the situation would have been enough to force me back on the lift. But at 46, I didn’t care and let myself give in to the fear. Was that really so bad? Wasn’t it worse to do something that scares you because you are afraid of what others will think than not to do it because you know yourself well enough to realize you aren’t ready?

When I got back to the condo, I booked a beginner group lesson for our next ski day. While my husband and children moved on to the blue (intermediate) runs and our friends skied the black (advanced) slopes, I would be on the bunny hill with a group of adults who didn’t know how to put on their skis. And that was exactly where I wanted, and needed, to be.

During my lesson at Green Acres, Copper’s beginner area, I realized that although my fearfulness might slow me down, I didn’t have to let it stop me. I skied at my own pace and found a buddy, Kim. We rode the lift and navigated the bunny hill together, laughing at our missteps (when I fell off the ski lift, for example) and cheering for each other when we made it down the hill without falling. At the end of the half-day lesson, our instructor, an oddball retiree ski bum named Lyle who teased us for sticking out our butts while skiing, said we were both ready to take the Kokomo lift to Roundabout. And he was right.


The view from the top of the bunny hill at Green Acres, Copper Mountain’s beginner area

After lunch, my husband and daughter agreed to forgo the blue runs for a while and head over to Kokomo. I felt nervous about trying to ski Roundabout again, but I knew I could do it. The first part of the run went smoothly. I maintained control, relaxed a little and enjoyed it. When the slope steepened slightly, my confidence waivered as it had the previous time. But instead of deliberately falling and giving up, I kept going. I ended up on my butt again, but I got up and finished the run, which felt like a victory to middle-aged me.

I guess what happened to me over the past 20 years or so is that I learned to be cautious. My safety, my health, my continued existence matter to three important people: my husband and children. I may be more fearful in my forties, but it’s only because I have so much more to lose. Being over the hill doesn’t mean you can’t make it down the hill. It just might take you a little longer to get there.

After I finally skied a green run without freaking out. This one deserves an awkward family photo award, doesn't it?

After I finally skied a green run without freaking out. This one deserves an awkward family photo award, doesn’t it?

Back Off, Mama Bear

This morning I dropped off my son for his first day of finals as a high school freshman. I know he cares about his grades, and he says he studied. But how he does is entirely up to him. I can’t take the tests for him. Heck, I would probably bring down his GPA if I attempted the honor’s geometry exam. I can’t talk to the English teacher who he feels is being unfair. Well, I could. But I’m not going to. Sometimes mama bear has to back off. Today is one of those times.

I will admit to having been an overbearing, overprotective, borderline obsessive-compulsive parent when my son was small. He was my first child, I had no idea what I was doing, and my biggest fear was of doing the wrong thing or, worse yet, not doing enough. I anally retentively organized his Lego blocks, dinosaurs and Matchbox cars into labeled bins. Each night, as we cleaned up the playroom, I followed closely behind him, sorting through the toys he carelessly tossed into the wrong bins. I made sure the Spider-Man puzzle wasn’t missing any pieces and all the Imaginext figures were on board their pirate ship. I maintained the order in our little universe because I could and thought I should.

But what if I hadn’t picked up all the pieces and erased every mistake? Would it really have mattered if a Lincoln Log turned up in the Thomas the Tank Engine bin?

I look back and cringe at my perfectionist self in those early years. I micromanaged every aspect of my son’s day based on all the parenting books I read. I knew what to expect when I was expecting, during my son’s first year and when he was a toddler. I kept careful track of his progress, visiting the pediatrician more times than I care to admit when he didn’t fall within the range of what the books described as “normal.” I knew that healthy sleep habits make a happy child — thanks to the similarly titled book by Dr. Marc Weissbluth, which I read multiple times — and I rigidly enforced nap and bed times to the point of turning down playdates and leaving parties early. My parenting bibles gave me a sense of control amid the chaos of the early years of being a first-time mother.

When my son started kindergarten, I redirected my need for control to my own life and went back to work part time. Having a focus outside the house, even though I worked from home, helped me regain my sanity, and I think it also benefited my second child. I enrolled her in preschool five days a week at age 3. In the afternoons, when she was home, I sometimes had to conduct an interview or finish an article. She colored in my office, watched a video or played by herself in her room. My work deadlines kept me from obsessing over missing puzzle pieces or misplaced toys. My daughter was, and is, confident, assertive and independent, and I think that has something to do with me being forced to back off with my mama bear ways.

It’s still there, though, that urge to step in and fix things, especially with my son because I did it for so many years. After I dropped him off this morning, I thought about calling the English teacher with whom he is struggling. Would it be so bad for me to interfere — just a little? Yes, it would. I have to let him try to work out this problem on his own first because soon enough he will be heading off to college, and mama bear isn’t allowed there — or at least shouldn’t be.

Mama bear is backing off today, but that doesn’t mean I’m not worried about my son. It doesn’t mean I don’t love him. It means that I know if I keep cleaning up his messes and erasing his mistakes, he will never learn to do it for himself. Sometimes doing nothing is harder than doing something. Today is one of those times.

Kindergarten: a simpler time, when mama bear could, and did, fix everything.

Kindergarten: a simpler time, when mama bear could, and did, fix everything.

I’ll Be Home for Christmas

April 1971 at the Melrose house

That’s me on the front porch of the Melrose house in 1971. It must have been Easter or something. I wasn’t normally so fancy.

I played alone for hours outside the house where I grew up in Southfield, Michigan, daydreaming on the swing set or exploring the pastures and back woods, acting out books and creating my own worlds. A barn on the property housed several horses, and one of its three pastures doubled as a vegetable garden, which I helped my Uncle Lincoln plant and tend each summer. The modest ranch house with a screened-in carport anchored two acres of land, but it sat close to the gravel road, its doors always open to the stoppers-by who regularly bellied up to my Aunt Thelma’s table. Her kitchen smelled of coffee, cigarettes and bacon grease, a combination of odors that thirty-some years later still reminds me of home.

I left the house on Melrose at age 11 to move in with my father and his new wife, but I can still picture the kitchen table, where my aunt sat in her white quilted bathrobe, smoking cigarettes and writing letters, while Patsy Cline sang softly on the transistor radio. I can see my bedroom window at night, a bright light beckoning from an apartment building on Lahser Road, and hear the soothing hum of a train passing in the distance. I recall the gilded mirror with a photograph of a boy playing cowboys and Indians that hung on the wall of the rec room, or “rumpus room,” as my aunt and uncle called it. I remember the cobalt blue candy dish in the living room filled with butterscotches, which my uncle let me eat before dinner when my aunt wasn’t looking.

Whenever I dream of going home, even now, it is to that house.

With the holidays approaching, the Melrose house and my childhood there are on my mind more than ever. It was in that house that I knew safety, comfort and stability after losing my mother as a toddler. It was there that I discovered the importance of tradition and the meaning of family. It was there that I felt the unconditional love of two people who were my aunt and uncle but also my parents. And it was there that I unwittingly learned how to be a mother and make a house a home.

I miss my aunt and uncle, and the Melrose house, the most this time of year. An industrial park now stretches across their property, their house long since razed. Uncle Lincoln, my second father and best buddy, passed away when I was pregnant with my son, who is now 14. Aunt Thelma, the only mother I ever knew, died two years ago, four days before Christmas. As anyone who has lost one or both parent knows, there is something hollow and unsettling about spending the holidays without them, even if you have a family of your own and no matter how much time passes.

Although there is nothing left of my childhood home, I like to think it lives on through the life my time there helped me find. After the tumultuous teenage years I spent with my father and stepmother, I wandered lost and miserable through my early twenties. I was looking for something, I guess, but I had no idea what. When I met my husband, a quiet, thoughtful man much like my Uncle Lincoln, I realized all I ever wanted was what I had in that ranch house on the gravel road in Southfield: to feel safe and loved.

I’ll be home for Christmas. I am already there.

Embracing the Status Quo

The other night at dinner, my husband used the term “status quo,” and our 12-year-old daughter asked what it means. I explained that it is the current state of things and that people who embrace the status quo do not like and are often afraid of change. She shrugged and probably forgot what I said immediately, being the fearless girl she is. But the definition of the word resonated with me because I realized I was describing myself.

I thought of our conversation the next day during my daughter’s parent-teacher conference. Her seventh-grade teachers told my husband and me that she is a pleasure to teach and a leader in class, and she works well in groups. Her grades are excellent, and she is well-liked. I know these things. I’ve heard them countless times from previous teachers, but it is a relief every time to know nothing has changed. While my daughter may be a typical sassy-borderline-surly preteen at home, she isn’t experiencing any learning issues or social problems at school. Another year has passed without consequence. We have maintained the status quo.

On the car ride home, I thought about my son’s conference the previous month. Like our daughter, he is an honor student and a leader in class. However, when he is bored or doesn’t like a class he can be, well, disruptive. He’s in ninth grade now, but I’ve known this about him, the boy who is quiet and well-behaved at home, since kindergarten. It’s not a major issue, the teachers say, just something he should work on. Even hearing the same negative comment is comforting because it means nothing has changed. The order of my family’s little universe remains intact.

And that is why I go to my kids’ conferences every year: I need the reassuring ritual of sitting around that table listening to their teachers tell me what I already know. It’s an in-person reminder of how lucky I am to have two healthy, intelligent, well-adjusted children, and I need it. Like everyone, I sometimes get caught up in the trivial details of regular life and take its gifts for granted, especially when things are going well. At times when we have the most, we often appreciate the least. We forget how quickly things can change. On this Thanksgiving eve, I am embracing the status quo, my current state of affairs, because I am blessed to have it. I wouldn’t change a thing.


Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I am so thankful to each and every one of you for taking the time to read my words, comment and sometimes even share them. Wishing you a wonderful holiday weekend with the people in your life who matter the most.

Just a regular night out at Buffalo Wild Wings with the kiddos.

Just a regular, old night out at Buffalo Wild Wings with the kiddos. How come I sometimes forget how lucky I am to have this perfectly ordinary life?

There’s a Place for Us


My favorite quote from Ally Sheedy’s character in “The Breakfast Club”: “When you grow up, your heart dies.”

Remember the basket case in “The Breakfast Club”? That was me in high school. I may not have been decorating my artwork with my dandruff, but I walked through the halls feeling lonely and disconnected. The academic part was easy. I took AP classes and earned mostly A’s with minimal effort, whipping out papers the night before they were due and barely studying. The social part was what killed me. I had a small group of close friends, and I don’t think I would have survived without them. I was adrift in high school, a nobody in a sea of kids who all seemed to belong somewhere.

Looking back, I recognize that I never found a niche in high school because I didn’t look for one. I didn’t join clubs or participate in sports. I didn’t audition for plays or musicals or learn to play an instrument. No one encouraged me to do any of those things. I’m not blaming my parents. My father worked the afternoon shift, and my stepmother was on days. Neither of them was around after school to drive me to auditions or practice even if I had thought to ask. I was a kid who preferred sitting alone in her room writing in her journal or reading a book, and it was the ’80s, an era of hands-off parenting not tiger mom hovering.

I’ve talked to a lot of moms who, like me, grew up in middle-class homes where music lessons and other activities were a luxury not an entitlement. And, like me, they have gone out of their way to ensure their own kids have the chance to participate in activities, hoping they will find something they love to do. Are we overcompensating for what we view as our parents’ slights against us? I don’t think so. We just happen to be lucky enough to be able to give our kids the opportunities we didn’t have.

Some of us, like me, do go a little overboard. My children (now 12 and 14) have begged to join — and eventually abandoned — a laundry list of sports and activities over the years, and I have almost always said yes. I do have one stipulation, however: They have to honor the commitments they make by finishing the class or season. I may have more disposable income than my parents did, but I’m not willing to shell out hundreds of dollars only to have them quit on a whim after one disappointing class or a particularly hard practice.

In my son’s case, music has been the only thing to stick. He found his true love, the piano, in fourth grade when we bought a used baby grand, and he started playing saxophone in the school band the following year. Music is something I hope will always be part of his life, but when he talked about joining the high school marching band, I had concerns. I worried about the grueling practice schedule, but not because I thought it would affect his scholastic performance. Like me, he is a kid for whom school comes easy. My fear was that he wouldn’t have time to make friends and have fun or, worse yet, that he would be labeled a “band kid” or “nerd” and ostracized.

What I could not have realized, because I knew nothing about marching band or the culture that surrounds it, is that he would find much more than his niche. All those practices, football games, parades, competitions and band camps (insert tired “American Pie” joke here) form unique, unbreakable bonds. My son doesn’t feel adrift when he walks through the halls of his high school because he knows he belongs somewhere. And that makes the countless hours my husband and I spent watching him participate in long forgotten sports and activities worth every second.

As an adult misfit who still feels like Ally Sheedy in “The Breakfast Club” much of the time socially, I wonder if things would have been different if I had tried a sport or learned to play an instrument, if I had made the effort to get involved in high school. But the feeling of not belonging is what pushed me to start a journal all those years ago. Writing helped me stay afloat during my high school years, and it’s been a beacon throughout my life. My love for it led me to major in English in college and become a magazine editor in Detroit. A potential newspaper job brought me to Chicago, which is where my life as a wife and mother began. And here I am, all these years later, writing this little blog, my online journal.

In the end, the goal is to be part of something bigger than yourself — whether it’s a marching band, a sports team or a family — and to find your place. It just takes some of us a little longer to get there.

Me circa 1985: "...each one of us is a brain... ...and an athlete... ...and a basket case... ...a princess... ...and a criminal."

Me circa 1985: “You see us as you want to see us… In the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain… …and an athlete… …and a basket case… …a princess… …and a criminal.” –“The Breakfast Club”