Thank You for NOT Being a Friend; an Open Letter to My Parents

Mr and Mrs BradyDear Mom and Dad,

Thanks for saying ‘no’.

Thanks for setting a curfew. At the time I thought it was ridiculous. Looking back? It seems pretty damn reasonable.

Thanks for following through. Surrendering the keys to my car sucked…but you said it would happen if I did X. I did X. It would sound trite to say I learned my lesson. I would have done X anyway…but I respected the fact that you drew the line and followed through when I crossed it.

Thanks for making sure we had dinner together every night.

Thanks for not choosing my friends or telling me who or who I could hang out with. Thanks for allowing me to come to those conclusions on my own.

Thanks for not paying me for good grades, but expecting them because you knew I was capable.

Thanks for convincing me to take the typing course. I remain unconvinced about the sewing one, but the typing one definitely came in handy.

Thanks for not rescuing me every single time. You taught me how to figure out how to get out of situations myself.

Thanks for respecting age limits. Sure, I was pissed when you wouldn’t let me see The Breakfast Club because it was rated R and yes, I went to see it anyway….but by making me wait to do things it made me appreciate them more, and it made me realize you cared about not letting me grow up too fast too soon.Mr and Mrs C

Thanks for having expectations that were high, but achievable. You expected me to do well and by default I never doubted I could.

Thanks for having your own ideals, but not forcing them on me after a certain age. I know I gave you a lot of shit at the time, but I respect it now.
Thanks for letting me screw up and make mistakes.

Thanks for not buying me everything I wanted. It’s true I still carry a grudge about the Jordache jeans. And the skateboard. But you taught me the importance of working for something, of saving, of the pleasure that comes from accomplishing a goal, no matter if it’s a pair of jeans or an Xbox. You taught me I shouldn’t expect something simply because I want it.

Thanks for letting me express myself and not freaking out when I shaved the side of my head with the clippers I found in the medicine cabinet.

Thanks for always asking who I was going out with, whose car I was riding in, whose house I was going to be at.

Thanks for indulging some angst-y teenage behavior but not letting it get out of control.

Thanks for demanding a respect for adults, from teachers to relatives to the woman working behind the counter at the grocery store.

Mr and Mrs KeatonThanks for trusting me. It made me think twice about everything I did, every decision I made. Because you trusted me, I trusted myself to make the right ones. Not every single time, but more times than not.

In a kind of anti-Golden Girls way, thank you for not being a friend. At least not until I was an adult myself.

You’ll thank me later, you said. No I won’t, I said. And yet here we are.

Thanks for not saying I told you so.

Love,

Me

Advertisements

Little Ditty about Jack and Diane

tastee freezI hope Jack and Diane rang in the New Year by sucking on chili dogs out behind the Tastee Freez.

I, on the other hand, celebrated by belting out the solid gold hits of my youth with friends.

I should add that I can’t sing. Let me clarify: I can’t sing well. But I”m loud. And enthusiastic. And apparently the am I making a fool out of myself? switch is now permanently set to the I don’t give a fuck settingEven if it means enduring the eye-rolling of a couple of mortified teenagers who were witness to the whole thing; especially then.

Oh, all you Jackies. All you Dianes. I keep trying to tell you how boring grown-up life can be sometimes, but you refuse to listen. You just keep draping yourselves in a cloak of teenage stubbornness already thread worn from being passed down from generation to generation.

Right now you’re still the Dianes from the song; debutantes in backseats, sitting there on Jackie’s lap, his hand between your knees. The thrill of living’s still right there, palpable in the thrum of a heartbeat or the whisper of a breath along your neck.

The thrill of living. I’m not that old. I remember the way those thrills trilled up my spine and exploded like tiny supernovas in my chest.

We used to sit on a crumbling concrete curb by the small, grassy circle at the end of the Dianeneighborhood and listen to Jack and Diane. A gaggle of neighborhood kids and a boom-box, a scratchy cassette tape spitting out tinny top-forty fare. I was never really a Diane, not the Diane of the song certainly, it took me until my late twenties to find my Jackie.

I also didn’t have the guts to sing out loud back then. Or play air-guitar. Or dance on a chair. Yet I seem to be doing more and more of that lately. Strange days indeed.

Quite simply put, I don’t give a rat’s ass anymore. Just like all those inspirational quotes that clog up my social media feed advise me to, I sing like no one is listening. I dance like no one’s watching. And I seem to be singing and dancing far more than I ever thought I would at this stage of the game. This is the glorious gift my 40s have bestowed upon me.

This was going to be a quirky little miss sunshine piece about my hope for those embarrassed Dianes, that I wished someday they found a group of friends to sing Sweet Caroline with; friends that recognize the art of enjoying themselves elevates itself above being or seeming cool. But as these pieces often do, it morphed into something else: the stunningly simple realization that life doesn’t stop as you get older.

The thrill of living? It’s not gone. A lot of times it’s hidden under mountains of paperwork and never-ending lists of chores. But it’s not gone.

Hold on to sixteen as long as you can. Do I wish I could have held on to the ass I had when I was sixteen? What do you think? Sometimes I think about the heart plummet of a first kiss, the backseats of all those cars. Sure, hold on to sixteen as long as you can–sixteen was good.

But 45 is pretty damn good too.

At sixteen you can’t think beyond the thump of your heart in your ears. You can’t see beyond the next moment, the next kiss, the next breath. But at 45 you can. You can see far enough to understand they’re not limitless. They’re not endless. You start to feel them again. Maybe not as intensely as the first ones, but with the intensity of never knowing when they’re going to be your last.

A little ditty about Jack and Diane. Jackie’s never gonna be a football star. And Diane probably got knocked up in the backseat of Jackie’s car. He’s probably selling life insurance now, spent too much time down by the Tastee Freez and is now pre-diabetic. Maybe Diane never lost all the baby weight. Maybe they went their separate ways when those changes came around real soon made them women and men…

Life goes on, but the thrill of living? The thrill of living is far from gone. I’d say it’s just getting started again.

So hold on to 16, sure. But hold on to 45 too. And 60. Wherever you are.

jack and diane 2All you sweet Dianes out there cringing while your parents and their friends bang their heads to Bohemian Rhapsody or shake their hips to Grease Lightning—it may look goofy to you, it may be embarrassing, because right now you probably can’t imagine anything more mortifying than exposing any of your own inadequacies, real or imagined, to the world. But the thrill of living? The real thrill of living is getting past all of that and learning to enjoy life. To flip your switch permanently to I don’t give a fuck setting.

Jack and Diane must have figured that out by now, just like I have. They’d be near fifty now. Surely they’ve learned that when life hands you a new year and a group of friends to sing with, let it rock. Let it roll. Hell, you can even let the Bible Belt save your soul if you must. I don’t have time to judge, I’m too busy playing air guitar.

 

 

 

 

Life in the Middle Ages

honey-kennedy-nina-leen-la-barbe-a-papa-03Much like gaining weight, middle age seems to have snuck up on me. Sure, somewhere in the back of my mind I knew all those nights spent in front of the television with bowls of salty snacks would eventually come between me and the button of my jeans (sorry, Brooke, there is something between me and my Calvins….it’s called a muffin top). I knew it the same way I knew all those birthday candles would eventually add up. But it is slow and nefarious, this getting older business. Sometimes it catches you by surprise.

All those small steps don’t seem so bad. A little wobble here, a little paunch there. A chin hair here, an enlarging of your Kindle font there. But then one day you realize it’s not a question of getting your jeans buttoned or even getting them past your knees but more not remembering when you just gave up and bought a bigger size. Or like when you find yourself sitting in the front seat of the car merrily singing along to Margaritaville.

Wait…what??

I’ve never been a parrot head or whatever bird Jimmy Buffett fans are named after. To me Margaritaville has always embodied the kind of generic, store brand complacency I ran away from as a youth. Singing about wasting away and claiming there’s a woman to blame? It has always been the epitome of older than your years middle age music to me. So when I found myself enthusiastically singing along about lost shakers of salt with my husband on a road trip recently, it was the mental equivalent of trying to get my jeans up over my squishy thighs and realizing they weren’t going anywhere.

But I know….it’s my own damn fault.

Oldies stations that play 80s music, soft rock which includes the metal bands of your youth, the length of Van Halentime it takes to scroll down to 197X. Ticking a different demographic bracket. Being okay with a little squish, a little soft around the middle–literally and figuratively. They’re all signs of life in the middle ages. But there are more. Oh so many more.

I amble down the aisles, meander around the malls and the styles that fill the racks and stock the shelves? I’ve owned those styles already in some other decade. I’ve owned them and donated them to the Salvation Army. It’s hard to get excited by clothes you’ve already worn and deemed out of fashion once upon a time.

Here’s another sign: a groupon to your favorite rock band. That’s right, folks. The hair bands of your high school days, the ones your parents begged you to turn down, they’re touring again and you can get a groupon deal to go and see them. Yes, David Lee Roth, I’m looking at you. When you can get a deep dish discount to see the premium bands of your youth, you may as well jump. Jump! Who knows, maybe Eddie Van Halen’s standing there, his back against the record machine wondering when the hell he got so old.

When the idea of staying up all night makes you physically ill, you know you’ve hit middle age. When you can’t start watching a movie after 8:30 pm because you’re not sure you’ll make it up to see the ending, and you’re ok with it? You’re probably middle-aged.

Apples-602x451If your teeth hurt watching kids gobble up cones of cotton candy bigger than their heads and guzzle orange soda, all those things you lived for as a kid–Fun Dips for crying out loud--you’re probably middle-aged.

If you remember a time when peanut butter wasn’t a weapon of mass destruction, but just a sandwich filling you’re probably middle-aged. If there are dance clubs that play the music you cut your teeth on and they’re billed as retro? It’s a good sign you’re middle-aged.

If you start talking bout my generation, starting statements with “in my day” or waxing on, waxing off about how much better things used to be, you’re probably middle-aged.

If you think the current crop of kids is the end of the world as we know it? You’re probably middle-aged. Video killed the radio star, but if you’re pretty sure YouTube killed the video star? Welcome to the middle ages, my friend.

Can’t find your lost shaker of salt? Don’t worry, most of us are having trouble remembering where we put stuff lately.

lost shaker of salt

Perhaps Jimmy Buffett is really singing about life after 45. Maybe Margaritaville is really a retirement community bursting with paunchy men in Hawaiian prints and women in culottes and big hair. Think about it. Flip-flops and blender drinks. Baggy, elasticized clothes without buttons. Not remembering where you put the salt.

Damn. It doesn’t sound nearly as bad as it used to.

 

Mixed Tapes and Other Things My Kids Will Never Know

mix tapeBuried in a box in the cupboard, under notes and letters and other written breadcrumbs of our early relationship, is a mixed tape. I made it for my husband way back when. In those early butterfly days, I was striving to impress him more than anything else, but there is still a significance to each song, a metaphor in the Modigliani print I used as a front piece, telling clues in the A side/B side titles. Seventeen years later that mixed tape is still there: a tangible relationship artifact.

In the museum of our love, it would be in a little case with a spotlight.

It occurred to me recently that my kids will never know the stomach plummeting emotions that come when someone hands you a mixed tape. They will never sit on their beds listening to a tape made by a crush. They’ll never hold it, examine the handwriting, interpret the scratchy silence between songs. Who reading this doesn’t remember the painstaking process of hitting pause and record simultaneously? The lengths you went to to avoid large, gaping moments of silence while you switched tapes or waited for the radio to get back to its regularly scheduled Top 40? What we did for love, eh?

I assume kids still put songs together for their friends and crushes. Somehow however, the notion of a Spotify playlist stored in the Cloud looses something in translation. It exists, but that whole Cloud thing makes it ethereal, less real. In twenty years there will be nothing to physically occupy the little case with a spotlight in their personal museums.

Similarly, my kids will never know what it’s like to sit with their legs up on the door frame, the phone cord stretched to its limit, pulled taut as a clothesline while they gossip and dream and whisper into the mouthpiece.

They will never giggle into a receiver tucked into their chin, or hold it on their shoulder while they promise they’ll be off in a minute.

They won’t know even know what it’s like to wait. They have grown up with pause and fast forward, with broadband and box sets and binge watching.

TV

They won’t know what it’s like to sip ginger ale in the nurse’s office because Mom isn’t home to answer the phone when school calls.

They’ll never know the sharp scent of freshly mimeographed paper. They won’t know to wait a moment while it dries or risk spending the day with purple ink smeared on your fingers.

They’ll never know what it’s like to fly into the air when someone bumps you too hard on the see-saw. Or to swing by the ankles suspended seven feet above the asphalt at recess.

They won’t know what it’s like to race to grab the house phone  in case it’s the girl you just gave your phone number to on a scrap of notebook paper torn from your Trapper Keeper.

They’ll never know what it’s like to send film canisters off in the mail or risk a summer vacation’s worth of photographic memories with Billy at the FotoMat.

They’ll never take a typing test with a trash bag over their fingers or listen to the swing of the carriage return. They won’t know the smell of Wite-out or the excruciating pain of pulling the page out to start all over again.

They’ll never know the sound of a dial-up connection, or a busy signal.

Post QueueThey’ll likely never know what it’s like to wait for a letter or to take a road trip stretched out in the back seat of the car.

They’ll never know the gilded pages of an Encyclopedia set or the sweet torture of a card catalog.

They’ll never have to get up to change a channel or tune a station or hold their pee until the commercial.

They’ll never go into the store with a note from their mother permitting them to buy a pack of Pall Malls, they won’t flip through LPs in a record store, know how to rewind or have a librarian use a date stamp that’s been manually changed that morning.

They’ll never appreciate the hi-tech graphic exquisiteness that was Pong.

They’ll never know the exhilaration of accidentally on purpose pegging the girl you hate playing Dodge ball in a school sanctioned moment of rubber ball revenge.

They’ll never get that little finger callous from hours spent practicing the swirl of loopy, cursive writing.cursive

They’ll never know the smell of Noxema on a sunburn or slathering baby oil on to get a base tan. They’ll never know the stink of an Olgivy perm the smell of Love’s Baby Soft, the oil slick of watermelon Bonne Belle, the hours spent perfecting the flick of the wrist that led to the perfect feathered bang.

Judy Blume books won’t be as shocking, Flowers in the Attic will seem tame. The Day After will seem quaint and retro.

They won’t know who Ponyboy Curtis or Jake Ryan are. They won’t know what happened one Saturday morning in detention when a jock, an athlete, a brain, a princess and a basket case all got together.

It’s entirely possible they won’t have a life that isn’t tracked, tweeted,  texted or electronically tailed.

Oh, there is plenty they will know. They will know love and friendship. They will know new and better ways. They will know more and faster. They are connected in a way that we never were; to each other and to the world around them. They are growing up in a world where most don’t think twice if a fourteen-year-old walks down the hallway with his boyfriend or a black man is elected president of the United States. They’ve seen how a hashtag can mobilize a country. The world is getting smaller, change is happening faster and they are a part of it.

Perhaps their personal artifacts will be stored in the Cloud somewhere. Maybe their museums will be accessible by GoogleGlasses and Zuckerberg bucks. But they’ll never have a mixed tape.

I’m glad we still have ours.