My letter to President Obama, as he leaves office

screen-shot-2017-01-20-at-9-58-05-amDear President Obama:

Hi! My name is Jenn McKee. I’m a Michigan-based arts reporter/critic who’s been scrabbling together a freelancing career since getting laid off about a year ago. I have two young daughters, Lily (8) and Neve (5), and I’m married to a good man I first befriended when we both played trombone in the University of Michigan Marching Band – back when a Rose Bowl trip was an almost annual occasion. 🙂

I know this letter, if you receive it at all, is late in coming.

I know by now you’re transitioning to civilian life, and moving, and de-compressing. And you should have all the time and space you need to do so. You’re definitely earned it.

For after years of long days and hard work, and feeling a responsibility to represent the interests of millions of Americans, I’m sure you’d like to just be a husband and a dad and a “regular person” for a while.

But I nonetheless felt compelled to write this letter to you. I’ve been meaning to do so for many weeks, but the craziness of the holidays (my husband’s Jewish, so we celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas), my tendency toward procrastination, and the fact that writing this letter would somehow make the end of your presidency more real all conspired to delay me until today – the day before the inauguration.

A day that fills me with anxiety and dread.

But I’m not writing to tell you about my concerns. I’m writing to thank you for your many years of service, and tell you how much I appreciate the dignity, intelligence, compassion, love, and openness you demonstrated in office. Even when I sometimes questioned your choices, my belief that you were a good man with a good heart, and that you were always seeking the best path forward for the country, never wavered. I trusted you, and as you leave office, I still do. Continue reading

Remembering Mom, 8 years after her death, by way of kitchen hair rinses and ‘House’

Screen Shot 2017-01-09 at 1.16.30 PM.pngLast night, Neve got out of the bath, and I realized that she hadn’t gotten all the shampoo out of her hair.

It was bedtime, and the kids had already driven me and Joe a bit crazy – they’d both been acting like Kelly Ripa on meth, all afternoon – so we needed a quick fix.

“Let’s go to the kitchen and do that thing where you lie down on the counter, and I rinse your hair out in the sink,” I said.

Neve happily agreed. She loves doing this. She thinks it’s fun. And she likes hearing about how my own mom washed my hair like this when I was little.

In my childhood home, my neck and lower head would rest on a folded up towel at the kitchen sink’s edge. My mom would cup one hand over my hairline, to shield my eyes, and work the sink’s nozzle with the other. Then, after massaging shampoo onto my scalp and rinsing it out, she’d squeeze as much water from my hair as she could and hold it bunched in her fist as I sat up on the counter. The dry-me-off-like-a-dog phase came next, where Mom opened up the towel onto my head, gripped it, and then vigorously rubbed my scalp, so that my whole body vibrated. I often uttered a low tone that would start to sound like a motor, and this would make me giggle.

As I rinsed Neve’s hair with our nozzle, she said, “Did you wash my hair in this sink when I was a baby?”

I said, “Sweetie, I gave you your first baths in this sink. Your whole body fit in here, and I’d soap you up and sing to you.”

“Was I this small?” she asked, holding her hands about 8 inches apart.

“You were bigger than that, but small enough to fit. OK, kiddo, the shampoo’s all rinsed out.”

I squeezed the water out of her hair and helped her sit up. “Now do the doggie thing,” Neve said, beaming.

After every bath now, Neve comes to me with a towel and asks me to dry her hair like my mom dried mine. I do. And she giggles helplessly. Continue reading

Reflecting on post-employment life, one year later

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It’s official: gas station coffee makes me sad.

Not because of the taste. (Don’t judge me for confessing that 7-11 specialty drinks are actually pretty yummy.) It’s because, when I was running errands in single digit temperatures a couple of weeks ago, and a mocha from the nearby Mobil station suddenly sounded irresistible, I realized, as the first sip singed my tongue, that I hadn’t had one of these drinks since before my layoff nearly a year ago.

This immediate sensory memory stunned me into a dark mood, despite the drink’s sweetness. A taste from the past viscerally reminded me that, whenever I’d savored this hot drink in my car in the past – the cloud of my chilled breath mixing with a latte’s steam – I’d been rushing to or from work, my days filled-to-bursting with purpose. After more than a decade at the job, I’d still felt so proud that a company recognized and appreciated my talents and paid me to write. I’d still felt lucky that I got to talk to artists, and experience and think about their work daily. And I’d still felt thankful that my daughters got to see their mom working at a job about which she was passionate.

Because it was never just a paycheck for me. Being an arts reporter felt like a mission. I believed in the value of what I did, even though it could get objectively silly at times (looking at you, fairy doors and “Bachelor” recaps).

But on that day, sitting in my cold car, I decided that instead of pathetically crying onto the plastic cap of my 7-11 mocha, I needed to just, well, “shake it off” and turn the ignition.

No, I’m not the harried working mom I was a year ago, but somehow, I still have a full schedule most of the time. It’s an unassailable truth, especially when you have kids, that whatever time you might carve out for yourself mysteriously, consistently fills up. The key, though, is whether the things that are taking up space in your calendar make you feel fulfilled. For me, the answer to that is a firm “sometimes.” Continue reading