Friday, April 28, 2017

Listen To Your Mother- The Final Show & Preparing For The Next Phase

I co-produce a storytelling show in Detroit. It is part of a national show called Listen To Your Mother.

For the last four years, I have worked with my friend Angela to bring stories about motherhood to a stage for a live audience. 
We call ourselves The Angelas and dude, if we were in Hollywood we might even start a production company with the same name. Who knows, even though we live in the Midwest, maybe we still will someday? 

We book a venue, secure funding, build relationships with sponsors, knock on doors, make calls and emails, we write, we tweet, we post, we take pictures, we sell tickets. AND we host auditions, edit, rehearse, coach, sound check, direct, support and enjoy a cast of writers.

Each year has been different in some way. There have been fires to put out, problems to solve and lessons to learn. Every story that has been told has been about an aspect of motherhood, but every story has been unique and original. Just like every storyteller that has taken the stage to be a part of the show.

Before this show my experience on stage included only a couple talent shows in elementary school. 
My very first time on a stage circa 1984. I choreographed my own dance to the song Fame by Irene Cara. And yup I brought my own prop, the stool from my bathroom. lol

I had no idea how much I would fall in love with being on stage as a middle age woman. But I did. 

My frist LTYM show.No bathroom stool,
but same awesome feeling as in 1984.

For a minute it made me a little sad because I wondered why in the world it took me so long to figure out how much I loved it. I mean, I couldn't help but think about all the time I could have been doing something that made me feel so alive and creative and fulfilled, and not feel a little bitter. Then I thought about what if I had never discovered it at all....

Right after the first show was done in the dressing room at our rad venue, St. Andrew's Hall. After my first time on stage, I discovered I had this inner bad ass rock star persona that was dying to come out. Who knew?!

Listen To Your Mother actually came into my life at just the right time. Four years ago I was a stay-at-home mother in my late thirties trying to figure out how to ease into the next phase of my life. I didn't want things to change. I'm not really someone who eases into anything--there's a lot of over analyzing, worrying, resisting, mourning, questioning, stomping around, grimacing. I don't like change unless I'm in charge of it, and my children growing up and time were things I couldn't control.

Working on this show, discovering a passion, meeting incredible men and women, building friendships, learning to say no and be okay with not making everyone happy, developing a pretty kick-ass skill set that I never knew I would have (um writing "live stage show producer" on a resume, what?!), connecting with creative people with so much talent it made my head explode and hearing stories from people that made my heart explode with compassion and wonder and inspiration and love....this show, this experience, has changed my life and me. 
One of my favorite pictures from the last four is from our first rehearsal ever. This show has shown me how important and powerful support and love and mothering each other can be. We REALLY are in this together.

As I prepare for the grand finale this Sunday and get ready for a new phase, a post Listen To Your Mother phase, I am of course feeling all reflective and resisit-y per usual. But I'm also feeling stronger and more sure of myself about what's next, even if I'm not sure what that is. I feel ready to take on time, embrace the ups and downs of aging and perimenopause (there are ups, right? Jesus I hope there is an up), feel all the feelings, know that I can be strong and vulnerable at the same time, be okay with needing Xanax sometimes,  make the most of time with my children who are growing up so fast and enjoy more of being in the right now/the moment. I am going to think about the women I've met and the stories I've heard and the lessons I've learned. I've listened to all the mothers and I know that whatever happens next, is going to make a great story someday.

Our first cast in 2014!

Cast number 2 circa 2015!
Cast number 3 last year!

This year's show is heavy and powerful. After the rehearsals I couldn't stop thinking about these women and what they've lived through. It is about loss, but also about surviving. It is about the beauty of moving forward with compassion and community and love. It is about finding light in the darkness and letting go and being okay. It feels like the perfect last show for this Listen To Your Mother journey and moving into whatever the next phase is.

One of our rehearsals for this year's show.
These women are incredible.

It's never to late to discover something that you love to do. 

This year's show is on Sunday, April 30, at 3 p.m. at St.Andrew's Hall in Detroit. To buy tickets for this year's show click here:

Check out these wrap up posts from LTYM shows in Detroit over the years:


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

I Appreciate You

He looked right at me and with a warm, genuine smile that made his whole face beam with kindness said, "I appreciate you."

I wanted to cry. It felt so good to be appreciated. I said thank you and good-bye, then left and got in the minivan waiting for me outside.

Some people might say he was just a kind, old southern man working at Walgreen's who says that to all the customers and that I'm a little (or a lot) emotionally needy. Those people are probably absolutely right. And I don't care. The kindness of that stranger at that moment meant everything.


One time my uncle told me that there was no prettier place than northern Alabama. As we drove over the state line,
I felt like he might be right.

I was in Alabama for a funeral, my Aunt Nancy's funeral. At the cemetery, we made a semicircle around the casket. The minister asked if people wanted to share any words that described Aunt Nancy. 

"A virtuous woman," an older woman said with a strong southern drawl and confident certainty. That really was a right on description of Aunt Nancy. She had a such a strong faith. She loved unconditionally. She was dedicated, loyal, generous, hard-working. Virtuous? Yes, I nodded in agreement.

"Bossy," said a familiar voice that sounded slurry. It was my mother, Aunt Nancy's younger sister. My older sister, Dana, and I looked at each other with wide eyes. "We have to stop her," I whispered. Dana made her way through the crowd of family and friends. She put her hand on our mother's shoulder.

We were in charge of our mother that day. It was a two-person job. 

Over the years, the mental illness and all the drugs have taken a toll on our mother. One time a doctor told me that her pain receptors didn't work because after taking so very many pain killers over the years, her body was completely out of  whack. She suffers from a lot of confused pain. Not to mention her reaction time and the way she responds to people. My mother can be wildly inappropriate. She overreacts more than the average over-reactor. She doesn't really read a room well or people's feelings. Sometimes she says or does anything to start a fight or get a reaction. Especially if she herself is feeling emotional or sad, like at her sister's funeral.

Earlier that morning, Dana and I drove to her apartment to pick her up. We went through a list of things she could say that would hurt our feelings. Our mother has this weird sixth sense kind of power of knowing exactly what you might be feeling insecure or worried about and brings it up. Over and over mercilessly. I decided she would probably make comments about my weight and finances because those are my two big things right now. 

When we pulled into the parking lot, she was standing at the top of the stairs waiting and waving. She had on two and a half inch heels. Her ankles wobbled back and forth just like her hand waving.  We sort of held our breath when we saw her. I knew we were both thinking of the last time we saw her standing at the top of any stairs, when she fell and broke her neck one Thanksgiving at Dana's house just as we took out the turkey. My mother got through that much like she's gotten through everything in her life, with a shit ton of drugs. But it haunts both Dana and me.

We convinced her to change shoes. She wobbled back into her apartment and led us into her dark den of stuff. Much like her other homes, she has managed to fit 578,992 things into a small space. Wreaths, candles, pictures, furniture, books, dishes, shoes everywhere, silk flowers and so much more. It is incredibly overwhelming. It made me sad and anxious and feels like someone is sitting on my chest. 

It smelled like she was still smoking even though last summer she told me she doesn't anymore. After a doctor said she might have to get an oxygen tank, she told me she'd become "a fan of vaping and Jesus." Not sure how those two things go together, but her apartment now smelled like she maybe had fallen off the vaping wagon, not sure about Jesus.

As soon as we opened the door, her dog Kiki who grunts like an Ewok from Return of the Jedi rather than barking these days, bolted outside. My mother screamed "oh no!" Dana threw off her heels and had to run to catch the little Ewok dog. She brought Kiki back. Mother put on flats. First couple crises avoided, Dana and I were feeling like maybe we could do this.

We got to the church and decided we couldn't leave her by herself. She needed help walking, even in her flats. Together we helped our mother shuffle up the steps of the church full of family history--it's where she married our father in 1968 and all of her children were baptized--and where she would say good-bye to her sister. 

The scene was like something out of the movie Steel Magnolias. Sweet southern men getting teary and emotional honoring my aunt. Beautifully dressed women talking and holding each other up. Hugs were hellos. One older gentleman came up to me and said, "I'm Bucky, I played basketball with your daddy in high school. He was one smooth basketball player. Tell him I said hi." I saw relatives I hadn't seen since I was 13 years old. I felt young even though I'm not. Some people seemed surprised that I turned out okay, I get it. We reminisced. They asked about my mother in hushed, but concerned, tones. Every now and then mother would shuffle away and Dana and I would guide her back to our pew. 

The service was moving and meaningful, it was a wonderful tribute to my aunt. When we left the church to go to the cemetery, we went out the side door that led to the line of cars behind the hearse. My mother was struggling down the stairs. I put my arm around her waist to help her stand up. All of sudden she gasped for air and looked at me like she was terrified. "This is where your dad and I walked out after our wedding Angie, right here, I can't," she said frantically. She said it like my dad just left her. Like it wasn't over 30 years ago that he left. She looked terrified. She looked like her pain was confusing her and it was too much for her to bear. It broke my heart, again, like those moments with her do. I hugged her and told her "it's going to be okay," that "I know, I know." 

The morning before the funeral my uncle told me he how much my aunt loved me. He talked about how much she loved all of us, my mother too. I probably changed the subject and told a story trying to be funny, trying to bring some levity to the moment. I felt guilty about having complicated feelings about my mother and faith and life.  "Sorry for being so silly," I said. I felt bad that I was trying to bring levity. "It's good to be silly," he smiled at me warmly. "We all need more silliness and dancing in our lives." Then he hugged me and told me he was glad we were there. Even in his moment of grief, my uncle was being kind to me and just like the stranger at Walgreen's he made me feel seen and appreciated.

That's what we all need. Understanding even for just a moment. A moment of kindness and appreciation. A moment of saying "I know. I know." A moment to be seen. A moment to make sense of all the complicated-ness of people and life and history and death. It's not just my mom who suffers from confused pain, we all do in one way or another. These moments of compassion and goodness from family, friends or strangers give us peace and hope in this wild, ruthless, wonderful world.
On our way back home, we saw a rainbow
and enjoyed the heck out of it.
A perfect sign of hope, joy and everything will be okay.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

If My Life/Spring Break Were A TV Show

This past week was our spring break. 

"Where are we going?," Lucy asked me. 
"We aren't going anywhere, but we are going to have so much fun," I told her with a very strained smile that was met with an eye roll. "You shouldn't be surprised, we never go anywhere for spring break," I reminded her. "But we always have fun," I added, again with the strained, trying-too-hard smile. 

The weeks leading up to spring break sucked. There is no other way to say it that would describe it more accurately. It was full of a bad back, sinus infections, a few cavities filled, a case of the flu, unexpected bills, a flat tire, rejection from both potential sponsors of my show and from my own teenagers not wanting to spend time with me. It was full of over sensitivity and hormones and hurt feelings and exhaustion.

I admit to feeling very sorry for myself. Social media didn't help. I was falling victim to what I desperately try to keep my kids from doing...comparing my life to the pictures of my friends on Instagram and Facebook. I mean, waaaaaaa. Ugh.

It wasn't just people going on trips however. It was EVERYTHING and EVERYWHERE. We live in a very nice area. The homes are beautiful. It is safe. The schools are amazing. It's a great place to live. But it sometimes feels like an episode of HBO's Big Little Lies. And duh, I'm Jane, the character played by Shailene Woodley. If you didn't watch the series, just know it's about a bunch of complicated but fabulous women with fabulous homes and lives. Jane is the character that isn't quite as fabulous as the other women. 

When I'm feeling sick and tired and a little sorry for myself and it's Spring Break and I check Facebook or Instagram, it is the perfect recipe to feel like I'm less than. Like I'm not enough. Then it builds and I feel like I'm not providing enough for the kids, my job, or anyone. I feel like a BIG FAT FAILURE. And then I cry.

This year's spring break wasn't the first time I've felt this way. Just like I told Lucy, I should not have been surprised. It's like the recurring storyline on your favorite long-running TV show. You know when the writers keep going back to the same plot line and you get annoyed and say things like "can't they come up with any new material" under your breath. I need new material. Or maybe those truly talented TV writers are on to something. Maybe life has recurring plot lines all the time because maybe like another TV inspiration Dr. Phil says "we are getting something from it." What am I getting from feeling like a disaster that is failing at being a human? Why do I keep feeling like I'm fucking up and failing everybody that I love and society in general every few months?  Why does it seem to reach a breaking point again and again at Christmas time and spring break time?

Here's what I know:

Sticking with the TV theme, the timing is a like a very special episode or maybe a two-part episode of your favorite prime time soap opera. The holiday show and the season finale. The build up of the regular episodes, I mean life, and the expectations of gifts and spirituality and busy schedules and busy lives and trips (or no trips) and all the rest lead to these episodes, I mean breaking points. 

This spring break, just like a TV show, the weather helped support the plot line. It was cold and rainy/snowy most of our spring break. But as the week ended, just as I was figuring out how grateful I am and how much I love my life, the sun came out from the clouds and it warmed up.

Looking back at pictures I took over the week, I don't look miserable. I look happy. I was happy. It actually felt really good to get a break from everything sucking, even if it wasn't on the beach. Maybe I needed this break to really remember all the good stuff.

At the beginning of the week, my sister asked us to come to Kentucky where she lives and I'm so glad we made it work. We drove down for a couple days and it was so nice to be together, see my sister and her family and just to get away.

We did sparklers in her driveway because why not?

 My sister is really into working out now and it's awesome. We used to sit and talk and take care of all of our babies and small kids together. Now we hit stuff at the local boxing center together and talk and laugh and sweat it out while our big kids sleep in. My older sister has always been pretty awesome/perfect at everything she does. I think Nicole Kidman would probably play her in a show. She told me she feels younger and stronger now than in her 20s. I can't even wrap my head around that because I'm fatter, slower and throw my back out when I move funny and that was NOT the case in my 20s. But just like I feel about Nicole Kidman, I can't not like her. I even came up with a new nickname for her "Benjamin Button." Ha! My big sister is pretty great and does not judge me for my failures or insecurities. 
It was a good visit.

This was how the boys watched Rogue One together on the couch.
I love them.

I slept in a few days and then stayed in bed and watched TV, and I liked it.

 When the kids were younger and we couldn't afford a fancy trip to the beach, I would distract them with craft projects. Since they are older now, they aren't as distracted or impressed by glitter and glue. So instead of crafts, I put them to work. One night dinner was their responsibility. They had to pick the recipe online and shop for the ingredients. Of course they picked a super expensive recipe that stressed me out a bit. BUT they did it. They shopped, they worked together, they made dinner. And it was really, really good. 

At one point we talked about getting tickets to all the games in our area for our stay-cation--Pistons, Tigers and maybe even Red Wings. But guys, those tickets are super expensive. So instead we celebrated the home opener at home. It was fun. 

Lucy and I had a fun mom/daughter date one night. We saw Beauty and the Beast. The theater was in a mall. I hate malls. Lucy loves them. She was happy. She bought stuff with her babysitting money. It made me happy that she was happy and then we took selfies.

Toward the end of the week, JT and I went to volunteer at an organization in Detroit. We met Isaac. He was unemployed and homeless but through this organization got a job and is working hard. Now he is also college student studying to be a social worker. Together the three of us made mud mats out of recycled tires and we talked about the environment, our neighborhoods, God, positive energy and love.

Isaac was a great listener. I told him I'd been feeling overwhelmed and unworthy and just like I was letting people down and wasn't doing enough in the world and how maybe I'm not living in the right town. I felt ridiculous telling this man who had seen so much hard life, how I was feeling. I apologized. "Nah life is funny that way," he said. "Maybe God put you right where you need to be, around people that you need to learn from and that need to learn from you. Lessons are everywhere. Keep putting that love out there. You might just be where you need to be."

See what God/universe/TV show director did right there? Inserted a wise, compassionate character that spoke some truth just at the right moment.

Maybe what I'm getting from these breaking points/special episodes where I feel like I'm not enough is appreciation for all of it. It's like the whole you have to see/experience the darkness to appreciate the light kind of thing. Maybe.

Whatever it is I guess after this episode, I just feel gratitude and a little more peace. This spring break I was able to take a few minutes and take a few breaths and try to give myself a break (ish). I look at the pictures and think about the good stuff that happened. I'm definitely the less fabulous character in my town but maybe I am where I'm supposed to be. Keeping it real. Fucking up. Having a blast. Doing the best I can. Getting overwhelmed. Dancing in my kitchen. Feeling it all. Putting the love out there. I don't think I will ever stop worrying and feeling like I didn't do enough for my family, or the world. But boy, I am always trying and most importantly I know that my kids know that I love them more than anything. And maybe that's enough.

The last Saturday before spring break ended it was beautiful outside. The kids begged to play a family baseball game at the field close to our house. "It's a real three strikes you are out game," exclaimed Wade excitedly. 

Just like a scene before the credits roll, we all played three versus three. A few people stopped and watched us play. We laughed. We encouraged each other and we trash talked each other. We had a blast. It was like we had figured some shit out and were just enjoying each other and the day and being alive.

My team won!

End scene.

Credits roll on this very special episode while we have our first bonfire of the season.

Maybe this song would roll during the baseball scene? I love it.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Getting Political & Hopeful--I'm Ready

“I’ve never been very political,” said one woman nervously as she waited to shake Gretchen Whitmer’s hand. “But this is so exciting.” After shaking hands, she and her friend laughed and posed for a picture with the woman they hope will be the next governor of Michigan.

This scene repeated itself over and over after Gretchen Whitmer spoke to a crowd of 150 at Rivercrest Banquet Hall in Rochester Hills. It was the annual Eleanor Roosevelt Dinner hosted by the Women’s Democratic Club of Greater Rochester.

It is an annual event, but this year was different. This year the event sold out for the first time. This year people that had never considered themselves political showed up eager to learn, support and get involved.

Diane Young, from the clubkicked off the event welcoming everyone and immediately inviting them to run for office locally. “We need people to step up to the plate and run for office,” she said.

During dinner people got to know each other by sharing stories about their kids and their jobs. They also shared stories about how they reacted right after the election. They bonded over how anxious they feel everyday watching the news out of Washington, but agreed that events like this one with so many people showing up wanting to take action gave them hope.

Gretchen Whitmer echoed those sentiments when she got to the podium. She said after the election she decided to turn her tears into determination to fight back. She decided to run for governor of the state of Michigan. Whitmer is now traveling to events all over the state.

People are turning out in bigger numbers than ever in all 83 counties of Michigan, she told the crowd packed into the room at Rivercrest. “Perhaps in a world that you don’t even want to turn away from CNN because you’ll miss the next bad thing to happen, this is maybe a wonderful silver lining,” she said. “Something that we need to hold onto and encourage and foster and channel as we go into a much longer campaign ahead of us. This 2018 election is a fantastic opportunity for us to show the state and the nation what real leadership that puts people first looks like.”

Whitmer told the crowd about her experiences serving in the state legislature for 14 years, six years in the House and eight years in the State Senate. About getting her “teeth kicked in” and about the time she looked around and realized there were more men named John in the state Senate than there were women [4 out of 38 were women].  She talked about the importance of representation and real connection, quality education, and respect and trust.

She was real, passionate, energetic and had everyone applauding and on their feet giving her a standing ovation. Whitmer connected with the women, and men, in the room. She related with their anxiety and also their urgency to see real progressive change. “We don’t just want to win an election,” she told the crowd. “We want to govern and help people.”

During a question and answer session at the end of the night, someone mentioned that it was going to be a tough fight. “I’m ready,” she said, her face lighting up with a big smile. “I can’t wait.” 

It looks like Whitmer gained quite a few supporters at the event, if the line to shake her hand after is any indication. People here in the greater Rochester area are ready too.

I'm ready too!

The  Women’s Democratic Club of Rochester is a group of progressive women who are dedicated to healthy discussions of important political issues that face our community. They meet throughout the year at various restaurants and invite a variety of speakers. For more information about the club go to For more information about Gretchen Whitmer’s campaign go to