Mama does Lolla

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Daytime crowds.

You’ve never seen crowds like this. This is all new.

You’re trying to make yourself as narrow as possible to sneak through a converging labyrinth of girls in high-waisted denim shorts and crop tops or sheer bodysuits, and shirtless guys sipping from CamelBaks. You don’t even bother to say “excuse me” because, at this point in the day, the teens are well into their molly, their cocaine, their smoke and no one cares. But they’re also not moving. Because, like you, they’re here to see The Weeknd, and they won’t budge.

You first started listening to The Weeknd three years ago, when one of your friends said he thought you should. So you did. To all his mixtapes, almost every day, but only when the kids were in bed and you were alone because he sings about sex and drugs and pain in a way so real and so raw that it feels private, like a secret you’re keeping for him.

This guy sings words and ideas you can’t believe one would admit so openly. He comes out with darkness—society’s and his own—in a way that slays you. You’re mesmerized and a little bit floored. The boldness! His music becomes your escape to a totally different life, not one you want, but one you want to understand. You’re intrigued by the “XO” (ecstasy + oxycodone) devil-may-care sensibility that The Weeknd embodies. It’s a middle finger to everything judgey and a thumbs up to recklessness. Essentially, a complete departure from your entire existence.

The intrigue is not about recklessness for you—it’s that you want to be that open. Wide open. Without a thought to who might care, and without a care of what they might think of you.

At the time, the only people you know who love him as much as you do are your friend in LA, the radiant chick rapper you met at the resale shop (Loretta Mars. Check her out.) and the rival gangbangers who showed up to your block party that one summer and scrolled through your iPod like, “Damn, mami!”

This night, though, thousands of kids are holding up XOs with their hands and talking about how much they hope he does “I can’t feel my face.”

First Aid Kit in the grove with your girls.

First Aid Kit in the grove with your girls, just before Sylvan Esso and, later, The Weeknd.

Bye-bye, buddy system.

One hour earlier, you were watching Sylvan Esso finish her set in the grove with two girlfriends. “I don’t care at ALL about The Weeknd,” one of them says and the other one just smiles. “You’re on your own for that show. See you at 11 at the Givers after show.” Your girls go to Paul McCartney to hang out with dad jeans, high fives and pyrotechnics. You plan to meet at a bar in Wicker Park to see a show at 11 p.m. You head a different direction.

You push through crowds of very young people until the density is such that you are in some way touching another human being on at least three sides of your body. You stay there.

You text this pic to your friends, who are at the Paul McCartney stage, with the words

You text this pic to your friends, who are at the Paul McCartney stage, with the words “Everyone is 20.” If you look closely, you’ll notice a shirtless male wearing a CamelBak. Take note. You’re about to meet him.

“Hey, um, why are you so dressed up?” a voice asks over your left shoulder. You look up to see a tall, shirtless guy wearing a CamelBak.

“Oh, am I dressed up?” you ask.

“Like, yeah. I mean all the other girls here are in like, bras with their asses hanging out of their shorts, and you’re in a full-on dress.”

“Oh, yeah. Looks like you’re right,” you say. “Maybe cuz I’m not 20?”

“Oh, ok,” he says, smiling. “Cool.” He’s adorable in his strapping, blond, youthful glory. And he seems nice. So you ask a question.

“So, hey, is The Weeknd, like, hugely popular with all the 20-year-olds? I mean, when did that happen?” You decide it’s best to go all in with the Old Lady bit. “I thought I might be able to get up closer 30 minutes out of his show. But this is crazy!”

You really had no idea. You just figured he got popular when he did that 50 Shades of Gray song. “I dunno. I’ve been listening to The Weeknd for about three years,” the guy says. “His music helps me focus. I love it.”

The young guy introduces himself, asks you why you’re there. How did you first hear about The Weeknd? What are your favorite songs? What do you hope he plays? Do you live in the city? What do you do for work? What do you write? How old are your kids? He’s just turned 21. He tells you that you don’t look “old.”

“Definitely not 35, not that that’s old at ALL. C’mon, you’re only 14 years older than me. That’s nothing. I mean, you’re really pretty, too. That’s why I first talked to you. I would NEVER have guessed you were as old as you are. Which isn’t old, for the record.” Two girls centimeters in front of your face turn around to survey you and smile-scowl. You think maybe they would like to be talking with him, so you smile at them and turn your body away from him to give them an in.

He moves in closer to you, says it’s so nice to have a conversation with a girl who’s not like all the other girls there. You tell him to keep an open mind to the younger girls. You’re sure there are young women his age who are devastatingly lovely, but sometimes being 20 is not about knowing or showing it. But 20 is good and fun and important.

You wonder if you should move, because you’re not there to get your swerve on with a 21 year old, but this guy and his friends are so cute and warm and good, so you stay put and chat casually until the sky goes dark.

Waiting for the show to start.

Waiting for the show to start.

The Weeknd comes out and opens with one of your favorites from “House of Balloons.” It’s almost exhilarating. You wish you were up closer, but the energy is still buzzing. Arms are up, everyone is dancing. You know all the words.

“Can you see ok?” the guy asks right in your ear.

“Yeah! I can. It’s great!” you say, still watching the stage.

“No, really. Can you see ok?” he’s yelling in your ear. “You love this guy. Don’t you want to see him better?”

“Ummmm? I think this is good,” you call back to him, eyes on the stage.

The guy leans down and his face drops in front of yours. “I’m asking if you want to get on my shoulders.”

What the hell? Those are words no one has EVER asked you. You burst out laughing.

“Oh, no way! You’re sweet to offer, but I’m a big girl and I’d probably hurt you. There’s no way. But thanks!”

He gives you a discerning look and steps back. You notice he’s ridiculously cut. (because he’s shirtless and wearing only a CamelBak. Right. How had you missed this till now?) “As long as you’re not more than 500 pounds, which is what I bench, I’ll be fine. And you’re nowhere close to that, so don’t worry about me. C’mon, Emily. It’ll be fun!”

You giggle nervously and fear streaks through you. Would it be fun? You wonder for a split second. No! The answer is no! Wait. It’s NOT appropriate for a woman your age to do such things. What would people say? No!

You emphatically decline again and you keep dancing. Nervously. You notice several girls on shoulders around you. But they’re 20. You are embarrassed and terrified that you even considered the invitation for a second, but he won’t leave you alone about it and deep down inside you really, really want to say yes.

“Emily. Everyone else is up, so you might as well get up, too. Come on. You’ll have fun.” He takes your hands in his and squats down in front of you.

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?

As if out of body, you watch yourself agreeing to this nonsense before you can stop it. Because you’ve wanted to go to Lollapalooza since Pearl Jam was there in 1992 and you’re fucking there and you are free to do as you please and you don’t know a soul in the crowd and as you place your thighs on either side of the back of his neck, you panic because you are just way too sweaty, way too heavy, way too sober, way too amazon, way too scandalous, way too old to actually do this and the next second you’re in the air, wobbling precariously—it’s seriously kinda scary for a couple ticks—till you find your balance on the shoulders of a 21-year-old body builder and the girls in front of you are looking up at you with absolute glee (must be the molly) and you know you look shameful perched above the crowd in your blue dress and 35-year-old-ness and you had your 7-year-old son there with you earlier in the day for goodness’ sake and it all feels obscene and deplorable and Absolutely. Fucking. Amaaaaazing.

For reference, see 7-year-old. (this is just before leaving for the show. he's pissed you did not get him a pack of gum at the store on your way to pick him up.)

For reference, see 7-year-old. (this is just before leaving for the show. he’s pissed you did not get him a pack of gum at the store on your way to pick him up.)

You cannot stop smiling. At first it’s out of embarrassment, but then you realize you are literally in the clouds, high above a sea of people all rocking to an artist you love. You note that The Weeknd would probably be extra proud of you for not caring what the people think. You laugh and relax slightly as the guy dances beneath you and you can’t help but think of the Guns & Roses concerts you watched when you were a kid and MTV still played videos, and when you confess this tale to your sister the next day she asks you if you flashed your boobs because that’s what you do on shoulders at concerts, right? (No. Der. It’s not 1985.) Up there on this adorable kid’s shoulders, it’s just you, arms outstretched, bathed by stage lights in front and a blue moon behind. A literal blue moon. You look up at the sky, at the stage and throw your head back in laughter. Then a couple euphoric minutes later, you ask the guy to kindly bring you back down. He doesn’t hear you, so you have to touch his face and repeat your request. Your cheeks MUST be as flushed as the hot pink lipstick you’re wearing. And you don’t even care.

The girls in front reach their hands out to help you land safely. “Why so soon? I could’ve held you for so much longer,” the guy says with a huge smile. “Did you have fun?!”

You had SO much fun.

“Any time you want to get back up, just let me know,” he grins.

You know you won’t ask him—or anyone—to hoist you up again. It was sort of like crowd surfing…it was awesome that one time in college, but you don’t need to do it again. The ground is fine for concert viewing, thank you. You feel strangely grateful to this guy and you wonder where he came from and why that just happened. And you’re still smiling. And you dance. And the night is young. And The Weeknd plays on.

###

Just because, here are pics that tell a different story from the day…

Emilee, her little man, Charlie and me taking in Cold War Kids.

Emilee, her little man, Charlie and me taking in Cold War Kids.

Rappin'

Just some cats rappin’

Mamas and boys

Mamas and boys

Drummin

Lil drummer boy

We actually had the best day ever together.

Silly faces.

Up front. Charlie's first rock concert. First Lolla for us both.

Up front for Cold War Kids. Charlie’s first rock show. First Lolla for us both.

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Enoughness Project Series #10: Old friends, my childhood home and one smiling rockstar

This post is part of a series about my experiences in uncovering my own innate enough-ness. For three months, I am abstaining from frivolous material purchases, accepting all blessings that come my way and focusing on gratitude for all that I have. The idea came to me in a meditation-induced haze and it has nothing to do with politics or morality. I’m just a girl who’s hoping to: separate the association between looking good and being good; get comfy with receiving; become a glowingly grateful human being; get acquainted with my own motives for material consumption; grow my understanding of when/why I buy things; and establish new habits that are more aligned with my values. We’ll see how this goes…

If you allow for pointy corners, my childhood bedroom is shaped like a heart. I just noticed this last week as my children slept soundly on its floor. My bed is somewhere near the right atrium. I was surprised never to have noticed this.

Glow-in-the-dark plastic stars sprinkle the ceiling, as do totally unscientifically placed planets. Jupiter here, Saturn there, Mercury over there, Venus right here, Pluto right over here, etc. I heard about kids who were motivated to recreate actual constellations and astronomically accurate planetary alignment on their ceilings back in the nineties, but the prospect quickened my pulse at the time. And so, to this day, it’s a right-brained solar system of which two recessed floodlights, in the two atriums of the angular heart, are the suns.

While in Kansas, I had dinner with some old friends one night. The magic of time-tested female friends is all-powerful, to be sure, and I reveled in it. We are women now, many of us moms, but these were the girls with whom I belted Madonna into brushes, danced into the night on beer-soaked cement floors, morphed study groups into memories, tried on outfits before a date, cried when my heart hurt and generally started shedding the skin of youth to uncover the woman I would become.

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Strangely, in this Facebook-happy world, I didn’t get a pic of my friends at dinner. But I did snap a few of our kids playing at the pool together the next day.

Old friends are a little bit of magic. When you haven’t seen each other in a while, you gaze at each other in wonder, you drink every word of their life like it’s nectar, you want to know literally everything that’s going on and they want to hear the same—even the ugly stuff. And you share it. You share it all, and you bounce around from person to person, topic to topic, getting almost everything out in soundbites, and receiving instant healing in the salve of a knowing, loving look before being honored with the next revelation of vulnerability from the friend across from you. Or next to you.

We talked a little bit about my Enoughness Project, and about how some of them had taken it on, too. “What was your big takeaway now that it’s all over?” Meg asked.

I’m not sure what I told her, but it wasn’t a complete answer. I’m pretty sure I said it wasn’t over at all. Yes, my moratorium on frivolous spending is technically lifted, and I haven’t gotten back on the shopping horse since, but the enoughness journey is ongoing for me.

I drove home that night with my windows down, the damp Kansas night blowing wisps of hair across my face as I sailed through green lights and past the neighborhood pools into which my girlfriends and I snuck, as teenagers, for late-night swims in our bras and panties. Past the highway I used to take to my grandma’s house in DeSoto. Past the coffee house I patronized as a high school senior to have really complex conversations with really deep people who were, like, so totally real.

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My grandma no longer lives in the sweet little house in DeSoto, Kan. Instead, she lives in a glistening senior living center, where she provided Russel Stover’s chocolate and storytelling to Charlie and Kip, who happened to relish both offerings almost equally. Almost.

My kids played for an hour on the playground where a wondrous blond boy whose memory still warms my heart used to park his Jeep so we could “talk.”

In Kansas, I’m not really sure how old I am. I have to keep looking in the mirror and at my children to remind myself I’m a grown-ass woman. My mind slips into the teenage years and I feel myself thinking of friends and family and boyfriends, slipping into patterns of a bygone era. If I’d never left my hometown, perhaps all these memories and such wouldn’t rush back with such clarity. If I’d come of adult age in suburban Kansas, perhaps this place would have grown up with me, taken on new memories, forgotten the old ones, not stayed 16 forever, not compelled me to feel hopeful every time I cruise 119th Street.

I can almost see Amber rolling up with a diet coke between her knees and bare feet on the pedals to take me to swim practice, or Kristen blaring “Anna Begins;” or Ryan careering up Nall Ave with metal blasting from his open t-tops; or Sam sitting at my parents’ kitchen stools asking questions that made me hysterical with love and laughter.

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If you were a young girl when I was a young girl, there is nothing–nothing–like sleeping in pink foam rollers to transport you back to your youth. (Aside: I took this pic to send to my sister that night but, embarrassing as it is, it is too germane not to post here.)

The boys and I left a day early to drive home. It was time to get back to our real life. It was a gorgeous day of blue skies, low-hanging cotton-ball clouds, millions of purple wildflower blossoms along the shoulder and enough sun to cast every farmer’s field in the richest of green. The highway was uncluttered, we mixed local radio stations with trusted ipod playlists, we talked a lot and we did our darnedest on a few occasions to pretend our car was a dance club.

Not too long after crossing the border into Illinois, probably a little more than half way into the 9-hour drive, Charlie announced he had to poop. We pulled over to gas up and find a potty. Two pumps down was a big, shiny, very fancy looking black van with a shimmery black trailer behind it. Two men walked toward the vehicle. One had long hair, steely eyes and one of those t-shirts that looks intentionally shabby but costs $75. The other was a meticulously groomed fellow, pristine in an all black getup that included a man-tank, tight jeans, a studded belt and well-shined boots.

“Hmm,” I said to the boys. “These guys look like musicians, don’t they? I wonder if they’re playing Chicago tonight.”

We rushed inside toward the bathroom and four additional guys—all skinny, all wearing nice clothes and a disproportionate number of statement rings per hand, all averting glances of other patrons and all sporting both overtly crafted rocker looks and cooler-than-thou airs—hovered at the register.

Three options: 1. They just happened to be regular guys from LA, 2. They were a highly contrived band of buddies hoping to get backstage at Lolla, or. 3. They were real-life rockstars. (For purposes of this story, let’s assume #3.)

Carrying Kip in one arm and leading Charlie by the hand, we walked briskly toward the back of the convenience store.

“Oh, Mommy,” Charlie called to me as though I were across a ravine. “I love you.”

“Yep, Mommy, I wiwy wuv you, too,” Kip echoed, also very loudly. “Dis is such a fun wode twip.”

We were almost to the bathrooms when Charlie made his next pronouncement. “Mommy? I really, really have to go poop!” he said, with plenty of feeling. I laughed out loud. “Mommy, can I go in the men’s room all by myself? I’m getting to be such a big kid. Or…maaaaaybe I can at least have my own stall in the girls bathroom? I can’t wait to get in there and go poop. I’ll feel so much better!”

Totally tickled and chuckling to myself, I happened to glance to my right and notice one of the rockers, in his smart little fedora and pointy boots, approaching down a perpendicular aisle, looking dead at me with an enormous grin on his face. He’d heard everything. Without a thought, I flashed him the biggest, happiest, flirtiest, most enchanting smile in my arsenal. I squeezed Charlie’s hand, kissed Kip’s head and, in the next second, pushed open the door to the ladies room, where we lingered for quite some time.

If anyone were to ask me today what came of my Enoughness Project, this story would have to be my best answer.

Barely any makeup, no glossy hair, dog-hairy yoga pants, worn t-shirt, kids slung all over me, conversing about poop and, when confronted with a dashing image of maleness and an otherworldly image of cool-ness, kissing my kids, batting my eyelashes and smiling like a starlet while walking into a gas station bathroom.

At that gas station on I-55 North, that was the enough-est version of me I know. Me being me without judgment. Me loving my loved ones, loving the present moment and loving myself such that no unfavorable ratio of me to “cool” could shake the fact that I am enough.

And that is exactly what I was going for with my Enoughness Project. Am still shooting for, because it’s ongoing. It wasn’t just about being mindful of and controlling my buying habits, it was mindfulness as my vehicle for reaching new awareness that I am enough, in every way. It’s not always easy, but at least I have a practice now. I know I have every second of every day to love myself and trust that what I innately am is exactly enough for this particular moment.

Perhaps you’ll have to come to this on your own, but this I do know: The same goes for you. You are exactly enough for this particular moment, every moment.

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Car dancing, naturally.