My Metro Parent essay about learning the truth about my aging father’s economic realities

Screen Shot 2019-12-05 at 12.59.17 PM.pngLast year, while visiting my 76-year-old father in North Carolina during the holidays, he casually mentioned that he’d taken out a reverse mortgage – which is to say, he’d taken out a loan against the value of his fully-paid-for home.

“Wait – you did?” I said, stunned.

Though I knew that money had become more of a worry for Dad in recent years – he sheepishly apologized for no longer sending checks in our birthday cards (which were, I’d noticed, those free ones you get when an organization is soliciting for donations by mail) – I hadn’t realized his finances had gotten as dire as all that.

When I asked my dad whether the mortgage was a result of health care costs, he said, “It’s just everything,” with a shrug in his voice.

He never imagined he’d be in this kind of position in his old age, and I guess I hadn’t, either. READ THE REST HERE

My Planet Detroit essay about parenting in the age of climate change

Screen Shot 2019-12-05 at 12.51.13 PM.pngNobody can hold your feet to the fire quite like an eight-year-old.

Seriously. My youngest daughter’s been pushing me on some pretty hard questions lately.

And I’m not talking about death (we covered that ground pretty thoroughly two years ago) or Santa (in whom she likes to believe, so she just doesn’t go there).

I’m talking about how, after I drove Neve to a day camp this past summer, and we heard an NPR story about a heatwave in Europe making its way to Greenland, she quietly asked from the backseat, “Is something bad happening to the earth?”

I mean, how do you, as a parent in 2019, respond to that?

You start with a lot of throat clearing. READ THE REST HERE

My Scary Mommy post about our family’s ongoing debate about when to get your child a phone

Screen Shot 2019-09-09 at 2.03.10 PM.pngFor the first time since my layoff in 2016, I published a personal essay on a site that wasn’t my blog.

That may have been because it’s the first time I’ve sent an essay out elsewhere, but – no matter! From here on in, I’ll be aiming to get more of my essay work out into the world.

Check out my essay (about the complicated question regarding WHEN to get your child a phone) here on Scary Mommy!

The curse of early success – in school and in softball

59660482_10156981864705801_7057403034296385536_o.jpgNeve’s in the midst of her first little league softball season, and although she adores all kinds of games, and very much enjoyed pre-season team practices, she’s been struggling recently.

To put it another way: as her fourth game approached, I was probably just as nervous, if not more so, than she was.

Not because her performance on the field is super-important to me, but because it’s so damn hard to watch your almost-8 year old kid collapse, again and again, in tearful disappointment.

And ironically, the drama has been heightened because in Neve’s first game, she was two-for-three at the plate, scored two runs, and earned one of the coaches’ post-game “Pringles Awards” for her contributions.

This gave Neve a huge boost of confidence, and made her think, “Oh, I’m good at this. This is how I’ll perform in every game.”

But that’s not how things have unfolded. She struck out each time she was approached the plate last game, and in game two, when she finally made contact, she was tagged at first to end the game – and Neve can’t, for the life of her, reconcile her early and immediate success with her current dry spell.

I call this “the curse of early success.”

Neve now, after each failed at-bat, leaves the dugout and slumps toward us, her face red with tears, her voice a weepy, pained monotone. She curls up on our laps, and we tell her all the things you’d expect. That professional players strike out all the time. That her team needs her to get back out there and keep going. That we love her whether she can get a hit or not. That if she wants to get better at hitting, and this is important to her, we’ll work on it together. That we know she can do it, but she has to keep trying.

None of this is what she wants to hear.

She just wants to get a hit and feel that thrill of accomplishment again. And until she does, she’ll torture herself with thoughts of, “I already showed myself and everyone else that I can do this. What’s wrong with me?” Continue reading

My 5th grader quit band, and I can’t stop feeling sad about it

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Lily last fall, with her rented trumpet.

A few weeks ago, Lily, our fifth grader, told us she wanted to quit band.

To most parents, this kind of announcement would be met with a shrug. OK. It’s not your thing. Onward.

But to me and Joe – who MET solely because we were both part of the Michigan Marching Band’s trombone section (after playing for years in our respective schools’ bands) – well, to say the announcement has knocked the wind out of us is an understatement.

I will say that part of the problem is clearly the way Lily started on her short-lived band journey. When I was in school, you started from scratch in sixth grade, when it was an elective class in middle school – so it was simply integrated into your regular school day.

In my daughter’s school, you instead start the process in fifth grade by arriving at school an hour early on Mondays and Wednesdays and learning some basics on your chosen instrument, by way of the local middle school’s band director (godspeed, brave soul, godspeed).

Lily chose trumpet last fall (because, you know, there are only about four trombones in our home, so why pick that?); she went uncomplainingly to practice for several months; had one “talking too much during class” incident; and then, a couple months later, made her decision to quit, citing her annoyance at getting up early; her dissatisfaction with the director (though, again, hardest job in show business, as I tried to explain to her); and the fact that “all her friends had quit.”

Not great reasons, to my mind, especially since the before-school thing is temporary, and the issue of her friends having quit would be mitigated when several schools feed into her middle school band next year, thus giving her a whole new set of people to befriend. But here we are.

“It just makes me sad,” I told her. “Your dad and I got so many really cool opportunities because of band. We got to travel to lots of neat places, and be part of things like the Rose Parade, and so many of our closest friends came from band.”

“I know, Mom,” said Lily. “But that was you, not me.” Continue reading

Why I’d like to enroll in Neve’s School for Unabashedly Expressing Joy

IMG_4002.JPGI’m pretty sure I was the world’s least fun kid. (Sorry, Mom and Dad.)

I wasn’t ticklish (except for mild sensitivity on the bottoms of my feet), so there were no bouts of me rolling around on the floor, giggling helplessly.

And from Jump Street, the details of the whole Santa/Easter Bunny thing just DIDN’T. ADD. UP. (Why would just some reindeer fly, while most did not? And going to everyone’s house in one night? That’s just not logistically possible, man. Ditto on carrying presents for everyone in a single sleigh. I mean, didn’t the physical laws of science still apply?)

As the family’s middle kid, I desperately wanted to be identified as super-smart and precocious. I longed to be listened to and taken as seriously as an adult (which I felt I was, albeit in a kid’s body). So I went through a second grade phase where I’d order coffee in restaurants (and add a billion packets of sugar just to get it down); and though I had a dry sense of humor and pretty solid mimicry skills, I was stingy with my own laughter – to the point that one of my more boisterous middle school teachers gave me the nickname “Dip-n-Stiff” (emphasis on the “stiff”) and regularly said things like, “Careful, McKee. Don’t smile, or your face will crack!”

So … yeah. Not your most happy-go-lucky kid.

By contrast, there’s Neve, my chirpy spark plug of a seven year old, who loved the “Mary Poppins Returns” movie and soundtrack so much that while listening to its closing number (“Nowhere to Go But Up”) for the billionth time on a recent afternoon, she could barely contain herself. She ran to the den for a piece of paper, starting drawing a hand with a finger pointing upward, and a balloon, and a few words that are points of emphasis in the song’s lyrics.

After furiously cutting around each item, Neve started the song again and danced around the kitchen, staying close to the table so she could grab the hand and point it skyward each time the word “up” was sung, and she skipped around with her small paper balloon over her head.  Continue reading

A critic’s quandary: Why did I give blueprint-reliant ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ a pass but not ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’?

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Let me start by saying I had one of my all-time favorite Christmases ever in 2018, in part because it was my first full-on Jewish Christmas.

That’s right. It finally happened for me, people.

After years of being an honorary Jew (by way of marriage), and hearing tales of casual Christmas Days spent eating Chinese food and going to a movie theater – two things, by the way, that would absolutely be included in the Jenn McKee version of “My Favorite Things” (though I rarely get to do either) – my time had come.

At long last, I noshed on takeout kung pao chicken with the fam (plus my mother-in-law) and watched “Mary Poppins Returns” from the vantage point of a comfy cinema recliner.

It was heaven.

Including the movie itself, which utterly charmed me, despite its song-for-song replication of the 1964 original film, “Mary Poppins.” I mean, it’s not subtle. At one point, I remember thinking, “Oh, a big production number with the leeries should be coming up, since this is about where the chimney sweeps go full-out via ‘Step in Time.’”

And sure enough, the opening notes of “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” soon sounded. Continue reading