Open Letter to This Week’s New Parents

You're gonna need more than this!

You’re gonna need more than this!

Welcome new parents! Now that my oldest child has turned twelve, I feel like a veteran… or rather a “seasoned professional” who has some advice on launching your new career in raising children. Think of me as that older (but not “old”) woman with the corner office down the hall. You know, the one with the personal shopper at Nordstrom who leaves a bit early every Friday for a fabulous weekend in San Francisco or New York or Montreal with her hot husband. But subtract the wardrobe and the travel… and add a couple of kids. Oh, and the office is no longer on the corner, but if you push aside the pile of back-to-school forms, bills and unfiled this-and-that, there is a nice view out the window.

At any rate, to those of you reporting for your first day as parents, what I am about to tell you may go against the grain of other things you’ll hear. You can take it or leave it, but I share it in the hopes that someone somewhere is spared at least one slap-to-the-forehead mistake that they might make in their new job.

Let’s start with compensation…

The pay isn’t great, but the rewards are________. Insert whatever dreamy adjective you’d like, but the fact is that people will say this to you, and it will not make you feel better… at all… and it just might make you more miserable.

The world is filled with well-meaning men and, especially, women who are a good 10 years past the active child-rearing phase whose memory has spared them the agony of recollection of the “fourth trimester.” (This is actually a good thing, because you’ll need grandparents to be willing to watch your little one(s) when you celebrate your 40th in the Virgin Islands.)

Sometimes the rewards of parenting aren’t good. Sometimes they are non-existent. It’s okay to believe this. It doesn’t matter that someday you will know what they mean. If today sucks, then it sucks. Just like any other days that suck, you live with it and move on. You do not need to carry the extra burden of thinking there’s something wrong with you for not experiencing constant joy. So unload that baggage. You have permission to not treasure every moment.

The time off policy…

You will sleep again, but not soon enough for your liking. When I was pregnant, I was told that “babies don’t sleep.” Now, unless you have some insight into infanthood, there is no way that this phrase makes sense. Of course babies sleep, right? How often do you see sleeping babies snuggled in their portable car seats (aka buckets) atop shopping carts in Target and at the grocery store? Plenty. So that warning that “babies don’t sleep,” can’t possibly be true.

The problem with “babies don’t sleep,” is that the words don’t adequately serve the situation, kind of like reading an instruction manual for IKEA furniture. What people should say is that “babies don’t sleep when you need to eat, use the bathroom or do anything that sustains you as a human being” or “babies only sleep when immersed in the white noise of a busy restaurant” or “babies don’t sleep for longer than 20 minutes at a time and only at intervals of once every two hours.”

A few of you will have babies who don’t appear to sleep at all. You will lay them in their car seats (because there is a high correlation between babies who don’t sleep and those who will tolerate a bassinet for only three seconds), and as you listen to the tension-inducing sounds of their snorting and whimpering, you will enter some kind of semi-conscious state where you will have visions (can’t call them dreams if you aren’t sleeping) of eating banana splits from from a trough or Joey from “Friends” refusing to give you back your baby, only to be snapped into reality (and you’ll question how real it really is) by full-blown wailing. You’ll doubt if anyone was, in fact, sleeping during that strange period of time which might only amount to seven minutes on the clock.

How long does it take to get over this kind of psychological torture? It depends. But eventually kids sleep, or they get to an age when you can better manipulate the situation. Though this may not result in your sleeping. The worries are parenthood are excellent contributors to insomnia.

Indulge in binge viewing. Yeah, maybe you should be sleeping. Yeah, maybe you should be making your own baby food with one of the three food mills you received at your shower. But in the future, you won’t have the energy to watch six straight hours of anything, let alone the hottest new series you haven’t yet seen because reruns of “Will & Grace” are on during the baby’s feeding time and/or you are now saving for college and purging your lifestyle of anything “frivilously expensive,” like HBO (a drop in the bucket, BTW). My husband and I look back on those Saturday nights we spent rolling through six whole seasons of “Sex & The City,” with fondness. It was kind of like date night but without the expense of a babysitter or the necessity of trying to squeeze back into my pre-pregnancy clothes.

Colleagues you can count on…

Resale is your friend. Trust me, when you get more than a decade into parenting and it is time to clean out that toy room or basement (or both) once again, you are going to feel fairly sick to your stomach at all the money that could have gone into your children’s educational fund but instead was invested in parade of primary-colored plastic objects that is about to march out your door to the Goodwill. If you are like me, you will experience the horror of having to toss any number of those broken toys into the garbage, thus contributing to the Plastic Ocean. Save yourself, the planet and your bank account — buy as much as you can second-hand.

Some of you will be a bit troubled by the idea of your baby engaging with something that is less than pristine. You will learn quickly that these kids do all sorts of things to spread germs, dirt and unidentifiable smudges. It becomes hard to tell what is “foreign.” Thanks to people like myself, there are loads of child paraphernalia in excellent condition from smoke-free homes. You’ll have no problem finding things that are more than adequate. Tell the grandparents, aunts and uncles — especially those who have a knack for buying the last thing you would want your child to have — to pad the education account. That’s one thing that never seems plentiful enough.

Your instincts won’t always serve you well. Trust them anyway. It was confusing when people told me to trust my instincts as I approached my final weeks of pregnancy. How in the world could I possibly have “instincts” for something with which I had no experience? What do “instincts” feel like anyway? What do “instincts” tell you?

Instincts under the influence of new parenthood will tell you all sorts of things, including plenty that are completely over-the-top and incredulous. One minute you’re convinced that the snorting and sniffling of your newborn indicates a breathing problem. The next you are certain that the absence of those sounds means the absence of breath. You just know your baby isn’t eating the right amount, until he/she drinks enough to begin choking. Then you fear precocious gluttony. You start the car after someone left the stereo cranked really high, and your baby will now suffer from hearing loss from the 0.7 second blast of sound.

But the thing is, your instincts are one of the best tools you’ve got. All the other resources you can tap into — books, grandparents, physicians, nurses, lactation consultants, parenting gurus, friends on social media, random commenters on mommy/daddy blogs, moms who cross four aisles in CVS to hear your newborn’s tender cry — they aren’t water-tight either. There will be that one time when you’re swimming upstream against everyone else, that one time when someone dares to utter the word “paranoia” to describe your “concern”… and it turns out that you will be right.

So, next time you reach for your phone to call your pediatrician’s office for the fifth time that day, remember that if it’s instinct that’s driving you, even if you are overreacting, you are doing your job.

Performance standards…

Especially for moms… it’s okay to not be good at “motherly” things. Enter motherhood and you will find there are many things the world automatically expects you to be into. Granted, you’ll spend more time than you ever imagined discussing things like nipple confusion. You may never have expected to pay such close attention how often another human being has a “BM,” and then share that information with others.

But not everything “motherly” will appeal to you, and this makes you no less capable in your role. For example, walking around Michael’s, your feelings of inadequacy increasing with every aisle of scrapbooking doo-dads and cake decorating what-nots you pass, because you feel compelled to do something “crafty” for Halloween may amount to nothing but a waste of time. Birthing a human being does not make one skilled with glitter, glue or even iron-on things.

By the way, it also doesn’t mean that you have an internal tracking system for every object in the house (though this perception only gets worse as your children and husband get older). Becoming a mother doesn’t mean that you will magically learn how to cook. And deciding that you’ll learn to cook during your maternity leave isn’t a good idea either, unless you want your lactation consultant to scold you for eating nothing but handfuls of dried fruit (too much acidity).

The culture…

“They have their whole lives to show the world how smart they are but only one time to be a kid.” I borrowed this from another parent of a 12-year-old I spoke with a few years ago. It has become my guide on so many decisions. Especially in this modern world of curated Facebook feeds and junior superstar everything, it’s tempting to want to respond to any glimmer of special skill or talent your child has. You may be sitting here thinking I won’t fall victim to this kind of thing. And maybe you won’t. But we live in a world of measurement and comparisons, and the compulsion to give your child opportunities is strong. You can read dozens of New York Times articles quoting psychologists who warn against the dangers of over-scheduling and lack of free play, but many of you will still waver over that sign-up sheet for just one more activity because you want them to be socialized, ready for the fourth-grade soccer team, have a shot at the youth symphony or any number of other things.

It’s definitely good to celebrate your child’s successes and support their growth. Just make sure that your child wants to and can own them.

Good luck out there, new parents! This baby thing might be overwhelming, but the on-the-job training is amazing, and you will always be challenged with something new.

Eco-guilt protects my wallet

This piece originally destined for this blog takes a fortunate detour through Mutterhood.com, a fabulous magazine featuring thoughtful non-fiction and photography on all manner of topics. In this issue, Industry, I talk about a modern weapon for my kids’ assault on my wallet in “Beware the Plastic Ocean” on page 55. Check it out here…

Alliterative Memes Won’t Ban Bossy

When I first saw #banbossy, I dismissed it as a marketing ploy for Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean-In empire-in-the-making. The participation of the Girl Scouts surprised me only a bit, because I can see where such an organization would want to partner with the likes of Sheryl and her campaign. On the surface, it makes sense.

But the sense stops there, and as I saw and heard others considering it more seriously, I began to give it more thought. I’m the parent of a school-age daughter (and son), and through them and my own experiences as a child, I’ve had a decent amount of exposure to the term bossy as applied to young girls.

Sheryl may be a talented corporate executive, but when it comes to something like this, she’s misguided. As stated on the Girl Scout website, Ban Bossy is a “campaign that helps girls flex their leadership muscles.” When I clicked through to the materials the campaign offers, I found content that is on target. It’s unfortunate that they chose such a term to package it.

Bossy is a real word, and just because a person has the resources and wherewithal to organize an entire campaign to ban a word, it still exists. And it still has a place in childhood.

One of the most difficult challenges of being a parent today is facing the criticism that we are too soft on our kids. We don’t want them to suffer failure. We don’t want them to be labeled. We don’t want any other adults to say anything disparaging about them.

I once sat in a meeting with a teacher who told me that she didn’t use the word “bully” in her class. Why? One of her students was a girl who was bullying multiple children in the classroom, and she was “sensitive” about that word. I suppose we could have used the term “bossy” to describe her behavior — leveraging alliances, pitting girls against each other, hitting, campaigning to have certain girls excluded at various different times to get what she wanted. But according to the Ban Bossy campaign, that wouldn’t be appropriate either.

The thing is, there is a gulf between bossy behavior and assertive behavior, and most of us get that. Banning the term bossy really should be banning the idea that girls don’t have something valuable to contribute. But if Sheryl had visited a classroom lately and really paid attention, she’d find that many are set up to support the needs of girls more than boys.

All of this ties back to Sheryl’s Lean In campaign that promotes women achieving their goals and not being held back in their ambitions. I think there are more impactful ways than banning bossy to make that happen.

How about #baninadequatematernityleaves? Or #banthe60hourworkweek? How about doing something about the concentration of wealth to a small percentage or the Walmartization of our economy? These things may not affect Sheryl personally, but they are realities, and frequently barriers, for many women in this country who would be more than happy to pursue their dreams.

Perhaps she could support the things that are disappearing from schools that help build confidence in kids, such as art and music programs. Maybe she could use her influence to convince the entertainment industry to present better role models and more quality shows for tweens (because I can tell you that shows like “Jessie” and “Dog with a Blog” are working against the likes of Ban Bossy). Here’s an idea — create a campaign that addresses the rise in teen bullying and intimidation on social media, because if there’s anything that will hold a girl back from sharing her ideas, it’s ridicule from her peers.

If Sheryl Sandberg and the folks at Lean In are serious about making a difference for future women leaders, it’s time to ban alliterative memes that gloss over the real issues. The problems women face in leadership deserve more than just catchy phrases.

A Black Celebration for Valentine’s Day

Flaming HeartsA couple decades or so back in time, my friends and I celebrated Valentine’s Day in a way that was freeing in both its interpretation of the holiday and its obligations. We organized a Black Valentine’s Day party and invited everyone we knew to attend (not a big crowd, as we were on an overseas study program). The only requirement was that one dress in black and not hijack the event with their own romantic notions.

This kind of celebration was a relief to most of us, including me. After graduating from valentine collection boxes wrapped in red and pink construction paper, I spent Valentine’s Day in some interesting ways, including almost getting hit by a car on an icy highway, receiving flowers from a boyfriend a few days after we broke up (he had already ordered them), and receiving flowers from a stranger who had the same name as another “friend,” who awkwardly confessed to me that he didn’t send them when I called to thank him. (Months later I found out that the sender was some random guy from a party I attended who sent them on a whim.)

Armed with our party parameters, a boom box, and some lager, wine and junk food, we took over a big common room and threw one of the best Valentine’s Day parties we’d ever attended since the days of drinking Hawaiian Punch from Dixie Cups in grade school. I have a few incriminating photos of people breaking the “no romance” rule, but that was after a beverage or two, so it was possible that it had little to do with Cupid.

I would bet just about any amount of money that our playlist for that evening included New Order, Depeche Mode, U2 and Terence Trent D’Arby, among others. We popped cassettes in and out of the boom box all night long, yelling, “Wait a second,” while we fast-forwarded and rewound to our selections, the gap between songs filled by the clinking of bottles and glasses and the chatter of 30 or so people who were united by a common goal — to leave Valentine’s Day with a lighter heart.

If you were to put such a playlist together today, what would you include? Let me offer you some inspiration with something from that original Black Valentine’s Day celebration.

The Beatles Anniversary Special Celebrated More Than Just 1964

The Beatles in 1964I have to admit that even as a Beatles fan, I was slightly skeptical of the 50th anniversary special commemorating their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. It’s not that I didn’t think it’d be filled with good performances. Rather, I was wary of it not capturing the essence of The Beatles, which means something very different, I’m sure, to a fan born several years after 1964 versus someone who watched the Ed Sullivan Show live that February 9th.

When I talk with other people about The Beatles, those who aren’t fans — and there are many more than I expect– automatically bring up “I Want To Hold Your Hand” or another one of their early hits. (It’s probably much like what Beach Boys fans hear from people who mention “I Get Around”.) They think of Beatlemania and the screaming girls and the matching suits. This is a far place from where I am, having “discovered” The Beatles through Sgt. Pepper and The White Album.

Rather than rehash that early period, last night’s show transcended that time of frenzy and wove many aspects of The Beatles’ contributions in a way that paid homage to the foundation of their influence on music. It didn’t all begin 50 years ago, and it has continued long after, but that event from 1964 made all that came after possible.

Wow — FIFTY years ago. That’s incredible when you see how relevant The Beatles still are — as last night’s special showed — and the degree to which they remain an influence on pop and rock music. Not every artist handled their assignments well, but there were some highlights, and it was in those that love for the music really shone. Maybe you agree with some of these:

Imagine Dragons did an incredible rendition of “Revolution”. They chose a more R&B treatment, kind of like what the skiffle bands of The Beatles’ origins would have done. It was interesting to see a young band use an old sound for a truly fresh take that didn’t stray too far from the originals.

Ed Sheeran paid beautiful tribute to “In My Life,” a song so amazing that everyone should learn the words and melodies the way we know Happy Birthday. Few have expressed love of any and every kind so well.

Dave Grohl, Joe Walsh and Gary Clark, Jr., really warmed up the theater with “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” before Ringo Starr came out as the lead-in to the finale featuring him and Paul. By then, everyone was loose and moving. Usually when you see televised performances like this (the Grammys, etc.), only a few of the artists get up and really enjoy the music. Last night, we saw no stiff faces or self-conscious masks of boredom.

Both Ringo and Paul McCartney turned out solid performances. While Ringo was never known for his singing voice, he’s clearly an entertainer in front of and behind the drums. McCartney is always amazing. He may not have the vocal range he once did, but he is present for every minute of every song.

The (remaining) Beatles showed tonight why they are, in fact, The Beatles… why they occupy that echelon above all others. By the end of the evening, the audience was engrossed. Almost every performer who played one of their songs displayed a sense of gratitude to the music. (My one criticism about the evening was that artists who clearly weren’t inspired had the opportunity to perform. With all the talent available, they could have found an alternative to Alicia Keys, who seemed almost dismissive.) Not only have The Beatles inspired people to love their music, they’ve inspired people to love all kinds of music. Who can deny this after seeing that whole theater under the influence of “Yellow Submarine”?

Drill down to a single person sitting on her couch in Illinois. My opening Facebook comment about the performance was that I did a better job singing “Ticket To Ride” on my couch than Adam Levine. I don’t think that I am a better singer than him. Rather, there’s a passion in loving a song, in having sung a song thousands of times (quite possibly more than Adam Levine) that makes the difference.

That is The Beatles’ legacy. And to my surprise, the 50th anniversary special captured it. Click here for a great recap from Billboard, including the set list.

I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing All Over Again

Courtesy of keen.com

Courtesy of keen.com

Remember that Coca-Cola ad from the early 70s featuring the song, “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing”? This latest one from the Super Bowl captures that same spirit, and I find myself both skeptical and touched by it.

When I saw the ad during the Super Bowl, I didn’t register what was really happening. The song starts off in English, and I was at a party where people were talking, so I didn’t actually hear that there were parts sung in foreign languages. And why would I take special note of the various cultures represented visually? We are, thankfully, well past the point when seeing people with different skin color, hair and clothes draws attention.

So when I viewed the commercial yesterday as a result of all of the buzz, my initial reaction was to dismiss it as a ploy. But then I remembered the old commercial from my childhood — the one with “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” — and I thought about what might have been behind this idea.

We live in a time that seems less conformist but also more polarized than that of my childhood and the preceding decades. Although we hope that it’s because people are more open-minded about differences now, I think that what is considered acceptable behavior has shifted. Previously, a racist comment uttered at the office or in line at the grocery store might have been met with tentative uncommitted nods or obligatory silence by people who disagreed. Now, those making the comments are outing themselves as ignorant — even if their intended audience only thinks so because of how inappropriate such remarks are. Prejudice will always exist, unfortunately, though not necessarily along lines of race or nationality. There seems to be plenty of prejudice today about political parties and religion, among other things.

What struck me about the Coca-Cola commercial is how they motivated themselves to do something so bold. Obviously, they know that their money will come from a more diverse population from here on out. Those who complained on social media that “America The Beautiful” is our national anthem and that Coca-Cola blasphemed by having it sung in different languages are in the minority. (Let’s not be prejudiced against their intelligence, though. Chances are that their initial outrage got the best of them, and they really do know what our national anthem is.)

Still, it was a risky move — people who support the old status quo are very loud. Perhaps Coke’s execs were inspired by the Cheerios ad from earlier this year that featured a bi-racial family. Maybe they just wanted to be talked about… after all, they paid good money for that spot.

I’d like to think that there was a creative type sitting in his or her office several months back who had this idea… to extend the brand’s history of unity vs. division and bring it into the present in a way that is obvious and unafraid. It’s not enough to teach the world to sing anymore. We need and want unity on a different level. It would be wonderful if someday acceptance could go beyond race, nationality and culture to include those who feel more intensely, struggle in ways that can’t be defined by our narrow definition of disability and just happen to think differently.

We’re not there yet. In our schools, conformity is a sought-after quality in many ways, from test scores to fashions. The Disney Channel may feature ethnically diverse casts, but they are funneling kids in one direction (no pun intended) when it comes to things like behavior, respect (for self and others) and personal choices. Any parent raising a child who “marches to their own beat” knows what it feels like to walk the tightrope of supporting their need to be who they are and the desire to protect them from others’ opinions.

The irony is that while we want our pop culture to celebrate differences, we aren’t entirely ready to bring them into our day-to-day world… even we GenXers whose legacy of skepticism is strong.

The lyrics from Rush’s “Subdivisions” — conform or be cast out — remain relevant, but maybe less so than they used to be, which would be a very good thing. I hope a company like Coca-Cola knows that to the rest of us, acceptance is about more than selling soft drinks.

1984 Never Ends

1984It’s a sweltering August evening. I’m in the front passenger seat of a sleek black sports car listening to music at high volume in a parking lot somewhere in Northeast Indiana. It’s 1984.

Not the year 1984… rather, the CD my husband and I were cranking after coming from an anniversary dinner to the resort where we were married.

But it could easily have been 1984 in the same vicinity, in the same month, on a similar hot night, in a (much likely) less impressive car with the same CD playing. In fact, that anniversary evening, I had that sensation that is not quite deja vu and not quite flashback, a cocktail of past and present that reminds you that some moments line up on a parallel. There are things in your life that don’t just remain the same… they keep popping in at various points, layering on new meaning each time.

I remember the weeks before 1984 was released. There was all manner of speculation about what the album would be. It was a bold statement to name the album after the year, as if it would be the artistic statement that summed up the era. I would be surprised if that was the band’s intention. The real big news was that Eddie played keyboards on it.

When I first saw the video for “Jump” on MTV, it was actually kind of disappointing, because I listened (and still do) to Van Halen for a harder, more swinging sound. But as soon as I heard the rest of the album, I could overlook it. The one thing it did was open the band up to broader air play, which used to be a much more important thing for a fan than it is now.

There’s something about Van Halen, and especially 1984, that reminds me of being young, more than any other music from that time. In a way it enables me to experience that feeling even now. So, while listening to 1984 might not seem an obvious choice for celebrating a wedding anniversary, it was perfect for my husband and me.

Coincidentally, today is Eddie Van Halen’s birthday. It’s a fitting way to wrap up my week of birthday blog posts on songs that shaped my life.

Rock-tales live posting on Facebook for Grammy broadcast

Grammy AwardIf you’re a music fan, head over to the left side of this page and like Rock-tales on Facebook!

Join the Rock-tales Community tomorrow night for live commentary about the 2014 Grammy Awards, covering everything from who deserved to win to who should have won, from stunning performances to “interesting” choices of all manner of things. There’s nobody better than folks just like yourselves to share the play-by-play of one of music’s most high-profile events.

Faithful follower or casual viewer, we would love to hear what you have to say!

Justin Bieber — A Modern Day David Cassidy or Leif Garrett?

We interrupt Songs That Shaped A Life week to comment on news of the day regarding Justin Bieber and his arrest for driving under the influence of substances, illegal it appears, as he is apparently only 19 years old.

From my cursory review of pop culture coverage seeing the Yahoo! homepage while checking my email, scrolling through my Facebook feed and watching the muted televisions at Super Nails while enjoying a birthday pedicure, this story rivals the break-up of the Captain & Tennille’s 39-year marriage.

It seems that some people are fairly bothered — almost outraged — by Mr. Bieber’s poor decisions. But I wonder if this was intentional. After all, the blueprint for emerging from teen-idol-hood with controversy has existed for more than 40 years, ever since David Cassidy decided to pose naked on the cover of Rolling Stone.

David Cassidy all grown up on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.

David Cassidy all grown up on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.

By now, most of us have watched enough episodes of Behind the Music and E! True Hollywood Story to know that transitioning from the bedroom walls of 11-year-old girls to iTunes accounts of a more sedate and mixed-gender fan base is a challenge. I know little of Mr. Bieber’s musical talent, so I can’t guess at how much of a stretch this might be for him, but there must be some measure of discomfort at having your image on the toothbrushes of fourth-graders when you are approaching your twenties. (If we were talking, you might note that Gene Simmons shows no embarrassment of the KISS merchandise marketed to 9-year-old boys back in the day, but he was never a teen star and appears to have little shame about anything, including starring in a reality television show titled Gene Simmons Family Jewels.)

The question I have though — aside from whether or not he and Miley Cyrus are twins separated at birth — is if he’s trending more David Cassidy or Leif Garrett. A few years back, the same Facebook feed, Yahoo! homepage and soundless flat screens in public places showed a Justin Bieber who had a watchful parent and well-mannered mentor. This might give him the David Cassidy edge — a guy shaking loose a goody-two-shoes image who otherwise has it together. But getting charged with a DUI and resisting arrest after drag racing your Lamborghini through a residential neighborhood seems a bit more Leif Garrett in its recklessness. (Click on the link, and you’ll see that Leif has already shared his wisdom on this subject.) Granted, today’s public is more indifferent about naked Rolling Stone covers, and teen idols looking for that kind of attention have to work (or twerk) much harder.

Comments, comments, please! What do you think? Is Justin more David or Leif? I haven’t yet made up my mind.

Music as a Time Machine

One of my uncles with the next generation at Lake Michigan.

One of my uncles with the next generation at Lake Michigan.

I’ve heard that smell is the strongest sense for memory, but for me it’s hearing, specifically music. Songs are like snapshots, and there are certain ones that every time I hear them, it’s like a photo has slipped out of an album onto the floor, and when I pick it up, my mind is flushed with memory.

This is different from hearing a song that was played at your wedding or a favorite album from high school. These songs have meaning only so far as they remind me of an certain era of my life and are otherwise unrelated to what was happening at the time. Chicago’s “If You Leave Me Now,” is such a song.

When I was a child, my brothers, especially the older of the two, and I were the most spoiled niece and nephews on the planet. My mom was the oldest of six kids. She was from what I later understood to be a stereotypical big Irish family, all packed in a post-World-War-II tract house in Merrillville, Indiana — a place where the door was open to all manner of friends and future family and people parked their cars on the lawn, because there wasn’t enough room in the driveway. It was a working-class neighborhood where people didn’t care about the impropriety of such a thing.  There was lots of noise and teasing and competition and love.

The house was tiny. When we stayed overnight, people were either displaced to the living room couch and floor, or we ended up there, where we were woken at probably something like 1 a.m. by my just-over-legal-drinking-age uncles upon their return from The Chatterbox. They were funny guys with an affinity for the kind of humor that amused school-age kids, and we’d laugh so hard that we’d beg them to stop because our stomach muscles hurt.

Each summer we’d spend a week there, visiting the drive-in theater, McDonald’s, the Venture store for toys and the beaches at Indiana Dunes. One my uncles had an old blue car, the kind with bench seats, and whenever I hear “If You Leave Me Now,” I am back in that car again, on my way to Lake Michigan where my brother and I are going to be tossed into the water dozens of times and given the largest soft-serve ice cream cone we could imagine on the way home. I’m looking down at the floor mats, my hand on the back of the passenger side of the front seat, leaning forward in expectation. I’m barefoot, and there are grains of sand that roll around under my big toe because it’s August, and the car has already made the trip to the lake more than a few times that summer.

“If You Leave Me Now” was popular one particular summer (of many like this), but it wasn’t as if every time we turned on the radio we’d hear it. I knew it was meant to be sad, but it wasn’t to me. There were probably songs we heard more often, but it was that moment of awareness that pulled it all together like a finishing thread.

No one from my family lives in that house anymore. Everyone has moved on to places where parking on the front yard would elicit some very confused looks from neighbors and possibly even a visit from law enforcement (or the community’s security officer). I haven’t seen pictures from that time for a decade, at least. For now, I don’t need to. I have a song from the soundtrack.