Our Apologies to the Y2K Babies

IMG_1429Do you remember the Y2K babies…the four million+ little ones born into the tail end of the first internet boom?

Like the mysterious cicadas, these equally mysterious young people have emerged from their not-always-comfortable kid cocoons and have started graduating from high school and pouring into the world. They overran the college application process. They’ve taken all the men’s medium t-shirts and women’s size 7 shoes. They have used ALL THE DATA. They’re eating all the frozen yogurt and have taken up every seat on flights to Europe. Dear God, I hope they are finding their way to their polling places.

These kids were just little chubby babies on September 11, 2001, and our perspective and hopes for them changed in an instant, and continued to change again and again with the awful and exciting things that tend to happen through a person’s lifetime. Inventions. Wars. Societal and political shifts. Natural disasters. Personal heartbreak and triumph. Epic movie franchises and broken sports curses.

Our oldest son is one of these former babies/current graduates. He and his cohorts have put up with years of our inspirational chats, and the retelling of cautionary tales – urban legends about kids who didn’t study hard enough for the SAT or only took three years of a foreign language instead of four. They were constantly reminded that every move they made would affect the rest of their lives.  Now that they’re done, and exhausted by all of our help, we’re like, “Oh don’t worry, you’re going to be fine. We just want you to be happy.”

It’s time for them to figure out their way. Our way depends on it.

The options for Y2K babies are different than those of every generation before them. We’re sending them into a weird world – where the possibilities feel infinite and finite, depending on the day. We (I) can’t unload our (my) panic about the mysterious state of the world onto them (him).

These new adults are Post Millennials. And it seems, while we were trying to make things so great, we’ve done everything in our power to make things as difficult as possible for them. As a proud Gen X parent, I feel like we’ve quietly put up with a lot, but we didn’t use any of that experience to help these kids. And so to you adorable group of Y2K baby graduates, I say…sorry, guys!

College admission is insanely competitive, and infinitely more expensive than what we had to deal with…tuition has gone up 260% since 1980, while other consumer goods have only gone up 120%. We’ve made it prohibitive in every way. You’re welcome!

We’ve re-wired your brains with our own lack of self control with technology – forcing our own addiction on you, then we get frustrated with how much you look at your little screen.

We shrug and turn to you – firmly resting our collective future onto your young shoulders. You’ll need to fix the environment and health care and race relations because it’s too hard and we can’t do it.

You’ll have to fix education – good luck since we messed that up pretty good (see above re: prohibitive)! We’ve known for a long time what keeps you healthy, but sorry – we’ve put sugar and garbage in everything you consume.

We haven’t fixed equity or equality of any kind. Sorry! We have only anecdotally modeled volunteerism, civic engagement, patience, kindness, generosity, and creative freedom. We haven’t let you explore your neighborhood, goofy hobbies, free time, play time or diversity.

You need to overcome a lot – us – to get to where you need to go….and not just where you need to go, but where you want to go. Because, let’s face it, we don’t know what you need.  If we did, you sure wouldn’t be in this pickle! However, I do know that WE NEED YOU!

You’ve gone from being the children entrusted to us, to being our new co-workers, team members, fellow citizens and allies.

When you moved your tassel to the other side of your fancy flat hat, that’s what you got…a graduation party, and a seat at the table that should have been occupied by you all along.

Thank God for us, it looks like you nerds know what you are doing.

You’re smart, in spite of us, kind in spite of us, connected in spite of us. And yes, though you may not want our help anymore, we are in it together. We obviously can’t do it for you, but maybe if we work together, we can move the needle.

Hope you enjoyed your two days of sleeping in, you’re needed on the floor.

 

 

 

 

Imagine This

 

 

I KNOW IT’S BEEN A VERY LONG TIME since I’ve written anything here. My return has the potential to be like walking into the gym after a year’s absence, arms raised in triumph, proclaiming “I’m back! Sorry to keep you guys hanging!” But the people at the front desk are new, and your favorite gym characters like the grunting guy in the shorty shorts or the lady who lounges on whatever machine you need while checking her email, have been replaced by new characters in unfamiliar shorty shorts. Nobody knows who you are or how long you have been gone, and they really truly do not care that you are back.

However, in case you are curious and have a couple of minutes, there have been some interesting developments over the past year. Our family added a second dog, Minnie, to our menagerie. I posted here long ago about how I did not want a dog, but as my oldest son prepares for high school graduation, and the youngest is entrenched in middle school, I see why people in our particular stage of life get dogs. Dogs – unlike your children and the people at the gym – are excited to see you, and you realize you’ve forgotten what that feels like.

I’ve toned down the highlights and my hair is a little browner.

I’ve found I don’t like sushi as much as I used to and I’ve miraculously fulfilled my goal of regularly making pasta from scratch.

I’ve become more serious about my skincare routine and I’ve started listening to news radio and podcasts…all natural outcomes of turning 43.

Oh, and hot darn, I wrote a book.

Released in September, “The IFs” is my first novel, and the entire experience has freaked me out in very good and very scary ways. But mostly it’s been great…fun, exciting… a dream come true, that has allowed me the coolest opportunities to talk with people about not just the process, but the story itself.

If this is the first you’re hearing about it, “The IFs” is about otherwise fully functioning adults forced by the demise of social media to create imaginary friends in order to battle their loneliness and survive a foreign social landscape. It just so happens, in real life, I’m the mom of a Y2K baby and the book takes a speculative peek into the future, when the Y2K babies are venturing out into the world as new adults. I regularly categorize “The IFs” as a quirky beach read, but at its core, the book is about friendship and human connection and what might happen if we’re suddenly deprived of both.

So through a three-plus-year process with the book, I thought a lot about loneliness, isolation, friendship and our reliance on staying electronically tethered to each other. I often stared at my phone and wondered if the thing was making me happy or miserable. I stared at my children and their friends, and wondered if they were happy or miserable as they sat silently together staring into their phones. I sat on our local commuter train staring at people as they stared into their phones, startling them when they looked up to find me, a strange psycho offering uninterrupted eye contact from afar.

A few days ago, as I was parking my car, news radio cranked and thumping from my speakers, I sat just a little longer because one non-traffic story caught my attention. The UK has just introduced the Minister of Loneliness. Named for Jo Cox, the late, dynamic British politician who established the UK’s Commission on Loneliness, the position is designed to address the issues caused by social isolation. Loneliness is a recognized epidemic in the UK, and here in the US even though we don’t yet have a minister for it. (Find out more about it here and here)

This is what I thought about and wrote about and dreamt about for years. Not the minister part, and spoiler alert, I didn’t come up with a widespread solution for how the world should deal with our connection problem. But seriously, WHAT WOULD HAPPEN?  WHAT WOULD HAPPEN if we experienced a radical shift in our surroundings that once again changed how we formed our relationships? Would our collectively deteriorating social acumen be enough to help us find our way?

We don’t know how the world will change next, or what we humans will have to do to adapt. But we’ve all had, at our luckiest, glimpses of loneliness and isolation. For those surrounded by people most of the time, an evening of solitude sounds ok, because you can eat a baguette for dinner and binge watch true crime shows. Soon enough though, you feel gross about the baguette and paranoid from the true crime shows and solitude loses whatever weird appeal it may have momentarily held.

Writing is the perfect way to repeatedly plunge into a messed up kind of solitude. You have to take yourself out of social media or you won’t write a word. You stare into space. You think about what snack you will have next and why your thumbs bend the way that they do. You look at your cat as nothing less than co-author of your work. One day, you think what you’ve written doesn’t completely suck, the next day, you’re ready to throw in the towel and never write again, not even your name. You’re operating in a vacuum. Giddy, depressed, numb, repeat.

And then, when the dang thing finally goes out into the world, you physically can’t sit there wondering if people are reading and liking it or maybe hating it so you occupy your brain and hands by reorganizing every nook and cranny of your house, trying on every piece of clothing you own to see if it brings you joy. Oh, and people…you find where the people are, and you go there.

Have you noticed a change in the nature of your relationships? What you seek in a friendship? These aren’t hypotheticals – I’m truly asking you, yeah YOU.

We need to ignore each others’ ill-fitting shorty shorts and connect. The future of the planet depends on it.

If you’re interested in the book – you can find it here or here. If you’ve read it, thank you! And if you liked it, could you like mention it to a friend who’s looking for a quirky beach read? 

That photo up there on the left is me and my book club. I was terrified for them to read it, because they are all so smart and well-read and discerning. But they were incredibly gracious and supportive and amazing.

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And allow me to introduce you to Moe and Minnie

present tense


Since October 4, 2016, I’ve written the occasional Facebook update, Instagram caption, email, tweet, journal entry, and Christmas card. However, I have been unable to write write. Well, more accurately, I have chosen not to write write. But with 2016 mercifully making way for 2017, I feel like it’s time to stop avoiding the unavoidable. I simply can’t write about anything, until I write about this.

My mom died on October 4; the very same mom I was able to write about here in present tense, just this spring. Back then, ten lifetimes ago, she was still working and laughing and sassy and loving and generous and wise and wonderful. As I wrote about her, I was acutely aware of just how present tense she was. I cried the first time I read the essay out loud, fully aware that the things I had written were usually saved for eulogies. The essay was better than a eulogy, I reasoned, because she was able to read it and see how much I admired her. And she did read it, and she loved it, and she printed it out and showed her friends.

Then without warning, I was including parts of that essay in her actual eulogy, reading it with my brother at my side, next to her casket, in front of my dad, family, friends, and strangers in a church that was built on the site of the school where my mother served as the last school secretary, and where my husband the preacher was orchestrating a tender, beautiful, perfect-for-Mom service.

Mom’s passing was sudden and wildly unexpected, which of course made for a total nightmare.

(I’m not using “you” to creep you out, but because “I” sounds as if I think I’m the only person this has ever happened to. I’m using the big common “you,” that selfishly provides some comfort from having shared in the universal human experience of life and death, but, really, don’t worry, the “you” here is really me.)

You immediately lament the goodbyes you never had. So many other people get goodbyes, why didn’t you? Then you realize that in order to get the goodbye, your loved one needs to be dying, and that is the last thing in the world you would want. So instead, your jealousy turned to gratitude, and then immediately to disbelief tinged with a teensy bit of resentment that you are in the position of having to be grateful for such a terrible thing. But you are…you are so thankful this woman you loved was fully in the present tense to the very end. And she would have hated being sick; she was good at a lot of things, but being sick was not one of them.

The first hours after the unimaginable becomes real, are fuzzy and clear all at the same time. You’re numb, but you notice every single thing. The days run together, and you are unsure of what to do about anything, or how to manage your horrible thoughts, or your unwieldy emotions or the weirdness of your surroundings. You notice the tears come at strange intervals, which makes you self-conscious about how you are grieving. You understand you are still in shock, and that the worst part is still to come and you sporadically entertain the thought that this was all just a terrible mix-up, and your mother is perfectly fine somewhere, and just wants to come home. You feel sorry for yourself and think about how life will never be the same, and you’ll never be the same, and why are we even born if we’re just going to die? You and your family swap memories, and you cling to each other because you have to, and because you can, and you haven’t been together in this intense of a way, well, ever.

At the very same time you’re wallowing in the muck, you somehow find yourself on the receiving end of the best things humanity has to offer. The purest love and kindness pour over you from your friends and family, and you muster the strength to pour it right back without obligation. But also somehow, some of your greatest comfort and practical help comes from the strangest places…From the man who keeps his shop open late so he can fit your dad for a suit then offers to press his shirt for free before the memorial. From the neighbors who bring wine and the other neighbors who bring breakfast and the other neighbors who haul out the garbage for you. From the cousin you don’t really remember having who finds you a church to use for the memorial since Mom and Dad’s church is getting renovated. From the endless string of people responsible for coffee cakes and hams and pizzas and flowers and the tiny little lady you’ve never seen before who delivers a pot of chili that’s nearly as big as her. From the diner waitress who saw the obituary and came to the service because your parents were her customers and always so nice to her. From the bank teller and the pharmacist who were crushed to hear about Mom, because she was always so nice to them. From Mom’s teenage co-workers who showed up– one even riding his bicycle all over town to get there– because, guess what, Mom was so nice to them.

When you’re perfectly entitled to disappear into grief, you can’t.  It’s still not about you. You are suddenly connected to the world in a new way through the absence of someone you loved.

You’re thankful against your will again, because you are overwhelmed with evidence that you were justified in loving and admiring this person, because she impacted people throughout her whole life in ways she never even knew. And you got to be her daughter. And you still get to be her daughter. Present tense.

moms: taking care of business since the beginning of time

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Me and Mary Jo, circa 1985

She was a blur of suntan nylons, pink lipstick, and curly hair tamed into a D.A. that came courtesy of a JC Penney salon stylist that knew “D.A.” stood for “duck’s @$$.”

In our small house, there was no mistaking when Mary Jo was leaving for work.  She click-clacked across our tile in her sling-back pumps; her dozens of keys jingling with a celebratory clatter announcing to the world that all was well, the keys had been located, probably in a side pocket of a 40-pound purse or under the pile of mail on the kitchen counter.

In our tight-knit neighborhood, there was no mistaking when Mary Jo was leaving for work. The echoes of her signature door slam and engine rev, pin-balled between the tract houses. If you were lucky enough to be standing in your yard when she tore out of the driveway, you were on the receiving end of an enthusiastic wave, and had a good view of her careening around the corner in our Chrysler Cordoba…a vehicle so long, my friends thought our family had a limousine.

She was not much older then, than I am now. Like me, she was a mom to two kids constructed of 80% freckles, and 20% defiance; and again like me, married to a great husband/awesome dad who adored her, but wished she could relax, just a little bit.

She made breakfast, lunch and dinner each day, breaking sometimes for Sunday outings to Sizzler or Kentucky Fried Chicken. She ironed every piece of clothing that touched my body. She reminded me often, that she’d won an ironing contest when she was in high school.

I didn’t babysit or mow the lawn. “You don’t need that,” she’d say, “You’ll have to work soon enough.”

She changed Rod Stewart’s sexy lyrics so convincingly, it was years before I realized the words weren’t “If you want my money, and you want my money.”

She let me roller skate in the house.

She fought her speeding ticket in traffic court, and won.

She was concerned, when at 14, I watched a VHS copy of “Heathers” or “Gleaming the Cube” every day after school.

Before there were rules about parents yelling from the sidelines at kids’ sporting events, she yelled from the sidelines…but only because she was my number one fan.

For a while, she told every grocery checker where her kids went to college. These days, she shows those same checkers pictures of her four grandkids, and of the roast my husband cooked on Christmas.

I was 24 when I finally apologized to her for how I acted when I was 18. I was 26, and only weeks into motherhood, when I acknowledged that being a mom was not exactly easy, and it must have been…not exactly easy for her either. I thought of her when I careened out of work to get a kid to baseball practice. And somewhere over the course of my almost 16 years of motherhood so far, there was a precise moment when I realized my children weren’t spending their every waking moment marveling at all that I get done in a day. It was that precise moment when I became Mary Jo’s number one fan.

I always knew her as a working mom. Not a high profile executive. Not a woman bent on dynamiting the glass ceiling… a suburban mom, taking care of business, so her daughter could do whatever she wanted when the time came.

Mary Jo was just a kid when she learned shorthand and bookkeeping. I remember her perched at our kitchen counter working late into the night. Her fingers, strong from years on a manual typewriter, flew over the keys of her Selectric.

She worked for the railroad, a loan company, and an elementary school. Her bosses had mustaches, cowboy boots and long cars, too.

She worked hard and cared hard and she did it all without needing to blog about it or escape into sacred girls’ nights out.

And now, at 81, she’s still a working mom. When she’s tired, I tell her she she should quit her job, and she tells me she’ll quit when she’s good and ready. She’s tougher than I am, and always will be. Chances are your mom’s tougher than you too. They were tough so we wouldn’t have to be.

Motherhood is taking care of business. It’s careening. It’s click-clacking through the house and caring what your kids watch after school. It’s bragging about them to people who don’t care. It’s making sure Taco Tuesdays happen on Tuesdays. It’s wanting to yell from the sidelines, stopping yourself, then yelling just a little bit. It’s deciding only to quit when you’re good and ready. Motherhood is being somebody’s number one fan.

This is just a snapshot of what Mother’s Day means to me…my hard working mom and hard-working mom-in-law Ruthie…two awesome broads who are taking care of business and loving their families fiercely. Mothers Day might be something else to you. A hard day. A sad day. Here’s to everybody out there who’s taking care of someone – showing compassion, working hard, putting on a bandage, listening, loving, praying, feeding, guiding, giving, hugging, bragging, and changing the lyrics when necessary.

My paradise is your prison: a trip to The Container Store

“Please don’t make us go. We’ll be so good starting right now. Please. Please. Please, don’t make us go.”

Where could I have been dragging the children, that was such a nightmare? What on earth could have evoked such desperation and sheer terror?

Not prison. Not a hard labor camp. Not the dentist. It was The Container Store.

While the children begged for clemency, I tried to contain how excited I was to have a perfectly valid, legitimate reason for going to The Container Store…not even one of my usual made-up reasons. I needed a laundry drying rack…. a big industrial-sized model, because I am never not doing laundry. I had nothing but the welfare of our family in mind. My last drying rack had just collapsed in defeat, a stack of plastic knobs and metal pipes, finally done in by the weight of yet another uniform, and another pair of jeans I was trying to preserve for their human occupant who was just going to fall in mud or grow two feet the next day, anyway.

I needed a drying rack because I still haven’t figured out all of the weird sporty, wicking fabrics the males in this house wear. The material of all that gym/basketball/baseball/running stuff feels so delicate, though I could probably dry all of it by running over it with a tractor and it would be fine. I didn’t need a dorm-sized drying rack. I needed the one that professional football teams use. I’m a professional.

They pleaded their case, but it wasn’t enough. We were going to the store whether they liked it or not, which is one of the necessary realities of childhood, and of parenthood, too.

Just that morning, they had already woken up to beautiful sunshine, had been fed pancakes AND hot chocolate, and then suffered through another store where I had unsuccessfully looked for a laundry rack, yet successfully found a new lasagna pan, a pan I would soon use to make them a lasagna. Quelle horreur!

The Container Store contains more containers than I could ever use in my lifetime. They are colorful, lovely boxes and bins and bags stacked to the sky, each representing the hope of what could be…beauty and order harnessing the chaos. I don’t think that’s what my kids see.

And I guess I see something different in the stores they prefer.

Those stores represent the hope of what could be for them…zombies to be pursued, goals to be made, races won. Two months before my drying rack quest, I went into the video game store on the release day of “Some game with Zombies,” and I vowed loudly, “never again.” I’ve waited on the sidewalk when they go in ever since. I go with John to those stores that sells TVs and phone cases and wires of every shape and size, and my eyes glaze over. If I fall behind and lose him, I wonder around, saying “John?” to all the other brown haired guys in khakis and button down shirts.

“Sorry. You’re not John.”

“Yes, I am John.”

“Not my John.”

You can’t make someone love The Container Store, and you can’t make someone love the wire store or the video game store. It turns out a 41-year-old mom is – often, not always – different than a 10-year-old boy and a 15-year-old boy and a 42-year-old boy. And that’s fine, and that’s one of the reasons there are Girls Nights Out and Man Caves.

On that day in The Container Store, the boys knew what would happen, even when I didn’t. They knew I wasn’t just running in for an enormous best-drying-rack ever that would fill the car’s trunk. They knew it would be something else too. And there it was, the ultimate container…a huge plastic box designed to hold our artificial Christmas tree. The one they held on their laps without complaint as we drove the six minutes home.

 

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I’ve already vowed to hold the zombie game on my lap the next time we drive home from their store.

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sunburnt: a summer (cautionary) tale

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There are a few minor adult ailments that might be described as humbling. The first of the non-graphic variety rhymes with… tangover.

The second – a summer staple, perhaps next to the tangover – is the sunburn.

Maybe you are of Irish descent, and you have freckles, and you spent 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s summers with ineffective and/or expired SPF 4 slathered on your parts, only to have the lotion rinse immediately off on the first pass through the sprinklers, or with the first toe dipped in the pool, or with the first sweat broken. Maybe you decided you were better off with an unflattering oversized t-shirt covering your bathing suit – a shirt that became a 40-lb anchor once you jumped in the pool.

Maybe you are an olive skinned beach beauty who’s only had to look with pity at one of us less fortunate folks, roaming the sweltering grounds of the state fair, pink and defeated.

As a grown-up, I listen to my doctors. I wear sunscreen on my face every day. I wear a hat. I sit in the shade. I even went so far as to move to the foggy part of a notoriously foggy city. This ain’t my first rodeo – I’ve been burnt before. (I have been to a rodeo, but it was at night, so I was not actually burnt at the rodeo.)

I was burnt in the usual locales – the pool, the park, the passenger seat of a car, the driver’s seat of a car, the back yard, the front yard, and while sitting on a bench/blanket/lawn eating a sandwich/popsicle/cheeseburger.

In college and during that sliver of time in which I wore a bikini, my then-boyfriend/ now-husband and I uncharacteristically spent the day jet skiing on Lake Tahoe. It turns out Lake Tahoe is closer to the sun than I am used to. The jet-skiing part exposed enough parts of me – top, bottom, front, and back – to make sleep impossible as there was not one way to avoid resting on a throbbing purple and blistered patch of skin. I was out of commission for two days, calling in sick to my barista job, and freaking my mom out with sunburn fueled hallucinations.

In high school, I went to the mid-day Oakland A’s baseball game with friends.  Our upper deck seats put me at roughly the same elevation as Lake Tahoe. As I rode back home, rolling around in the back of my friend’s grandma’s old van, I knew I was in for a world of hurt. I couldn’t bend my knobby violently violet knees and the blisters were already presenting themselves. It was days before I could ride my bike.

Over the next 20 years my baseball outings were relegated to night games, or day games at the San Francisco Giants’ ball park where one usually freezes one’s rear end off, regardless of what weather is happening immediately outside the gates. But July 4, 2013 – armed with a hat, two tubes of sunscreen, and an additional precautionary spray from my friend Megan’s sunscreen can- I re-entered Oakland Coliseum at mid-day, ready for my show-down with the sun.

Our kids had been lined up in the parking lot and sprayed down with an additional protective layer of cream over their little faces, necks, and the oft-forgotten tops of ears.

Somewhere in the 2nd inning, I took off the knee brace that protects my wonky joint but makes my leg fall asleep when I sit for very long. Maybe it was my hops-based beverage in a souvenir mug. Maybe it was the nostalgic and patriotic delight of being with friends at a baseball game on the 4th of July. Whatever it was, I missed sun-screening my darn knee. On that day, in the stadium cleverly designed to focus the sun’s powerful rays on whatever seat my pale limbs occupy, the sun won.

Our friends from New Mexico emerged from the game looking as if they had been kissed by the sun. (Fun “fact”: New Mexico’s climate was designed to resemble that of the Oakland Coliseum, so they had the advantage going in.)

My little family unit walked to the car with 7 pink knees, and one familiar-looking, raging violet knee.  I knew I what I was in for.

Beginning with the failed attempt at prevention, your general sunburn experience might look a little like this:

  • You feel false confidence that you’ve done enough to protect yourself
  • As the sun goes to work on you, you remain blissfully ignorant
  • You congratulate yourself for wearing shorts and a tank top because it’s so hot
  • Your friend slides her sunglasses down her nose, peers at your afflicted area, alerts you to your pinkness, and pokes it with her finger
  • You put on another layer of sunscreen or move to the shade, knowing it’s already too late
  • You realize it’s going to hurt
  • It hurts
  • You wonder if it should really be as purple as it is
  • It hurts more than it did before
  • You vow never to wear a tank top and shorts again, let alone go in the sun
  • You love aloe
  • You love aloe so much
  • You consider filling the tub with aloe and sitting in there for a while
  • Nobody is allowed to touch you
  • You do not sleep
  • You can’t stop talking about your sunburn, as much as you want to
  • Your mom tells you not to worry, it will fade into a tan
  • You assure her that it most certainly will not fade into a tan
  • She remembers that she and your brother are the only family members who enjoy the “fades into a tan” phenomenon
  • You realize the burn does not hurt as bad as it did yesterday
  • It’s itchy now, a sure sign it will peel soon
  • It peels
  • It’s peeling and you feel like a lizard, and you have finally found the one thing that grosses out your boys so it’s kind of funny

All the while, and just like with a tangover (I’m guessing) you waiver between feeling sorry for yourself, and feeling like an idiot.

You should know better. You cooked your own goose. Or in this case, you cooked your own knees.

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* At the top is our actual sun prevention collection. It is strategically spaced through the house, so that by the time you reach the front door, you will have had three to four opportunities to remember it.

**This is me and my awesome friend Megan at that fateful game. I’m the one in the stripes. The one with the freckles. The one who’s legs are sizzling just out of frame.

tiny dancers: the show must go on…and on

Have you ever witnessed something that you immediately realized could only be experienced, and never adequately described?

I did, and let me describe it.

It was the end-of-the-year dance showcase that my youngest son just happened to be a part of. This dance extraveganza is a long-standing tradition for our neighborhood dance school and likely similar to shows in any town with a tap class and a kid with a dream.

Or maybe any town with a jazz class and a kid from one county over, where dancing isn’t allowed – so when Kevin Bacon the kid isn’t angry-dancing in the barn to the cassette in his tape deck, he’s sneaking over the county line to blow off steam the only way he knows how – with a kick ball change, pivot, barrel turn.

As for our 6-year-old, he simply wanted to unleash his hip hop moves onto an unsuspecting world. Just like most little boys are sure they are born naturals at martial arts, they are also “natural” breakdancers.

The first week in class, Zach realized his “natural” abilities could use some guidance and fine tuning, so week after week, he would run excitedly into the dance studio with his new buddies to grapevine, learn the snake and spin an imaginary record to JJ Fad’s classic, “Supersonic,” after the teacher with-the-patience-of-a-saint explained what a record was.

And week after week, the hip hop parents stood squished together in the hall watching every rehearsal through a window while complimenting each other for being way more chill than those other dance parents, like, oh I don’t know, maybe the ballet moms down the hall.

Weeks turned into months until the big day finally arrived.

With the costumes on, the hair done, and audience packed into the theater, the rest of the afternoon was uncomfortably out of our hands. There would be no last minute hugs or gentle reminders of which foot was in fact, the left one.

My older son Jacob sat next to me fidgeting in his seat undoubtedly uncomfortable with the acute lack of texting that was about to happen for him.

Every grandpa, uncle, neighbor, and big brother who flipped through the program, likely said, “Forty routines!! What the – can’t we just leave when MacKenzie/Avery/Abby is done?”

I couldn’t believe it either. I would not have exactly been first in line for a ticket if my kid weren’t in it. I have no patience for talent shows on TV. As a kid, I could hardly sit through an episode of “The Gong Show,” without having to leave the room when things got weird or uncomfortable. The embarrassment I felt on behalf of the contestants was simply too much to bear.

But, as the curtain rose, my breath caught in my throat, and in true Colleen fashion, the tears came. I was overwhelmed with emotion, and my own kid wasn’t anywhere in sight. He wouldn’t be for quite some time;  his 3-minute dance was 33rd in the line-up, near the very end of this 2+ hour operation.

But I didn’t have to know these kids to tear up for them.

From 3-year old cowgirls, to 10 year-olds tapping to Lady Gaga, and to the ethereal, lithe ballerinas who’d been training since they were the pint-size cowgirls – they showed the lucky ones in the audience what happens when you mix joy with talent and hard work.

These little stinkers were amazing.

Every dancer was shining up there. Jake, perhaps once the grumbliest of them all, sat transfixed. Maybe he was trying to understand the mechanics of tap dancing, or popping and locking. Maybe he was just noticing for the first time that a girl he’d known since 3rd grade, was not just a face in his class, but a truly talented, and graceful dancer… who was in like, 15 numbers. Jake leaned over during her 11th dance and whispered, “imagine how much money her parents had to drop on costumes.”

And there, close to the end, was Zach’s little group.  They were an instant hit, and danced their way through cheers and whoops and hollers. Sure, the Gen X parents went immediately bananas when they heard JJ Fad’s signature devastating beats; but these kids were not just cute,  they were having a blast, dancing their little hip hop-loving hearts out.

We didn’t buy tickets to see a parade of dance prodigies – the chances of these kids growing up to be professional dancers, were likely similar to those of the kids at any baseball field growing up to be Buster Posey. We didn’t even come to be entertained. We came to support our sweet, regular, goofy kids who happen to work very hard at their fun hobby – a hobby that also happily counts as exercise. We came to cheer and encourage and support. We came to be nervous for them, then excited, then relieved.

We also came because most of these kids can’t drive, and they needed rides.