(Nearly Empty) Ring of Keys

IMG_1536.JPGA couple of months ago, I lost my keys.

And like many an overwhelmed, middle-aged parent of young ones, I’d accumulated so many keys over the years that I didn’t even know what some of them were for anymore. A bike lock I’d lost years ago, maybe? Our old house (which has been rented out to others for more than a decade now)? Random luggage padlocks? One of those steering wheel locks that were absurdly ubiquitous in the 90s (a/k/a The Club)? A fob for the girls’ old preschool, and another for entering the now-defunct AnnArbor.com newsroom after-hours?

Yes, my over-packed, out-of-date key ring was the ticket for my daily trip down Befogged Memory Lane. It felt weighty and full and solid in my hand. It vaguely hinted at what lay behind me, as well as my more current responsibilities.

Of course, we all occasionally lose track of our keys, and usually, it’s a stressful-but-temporary blip. After frantic searching, we’ll find them hanging from the front door’s knob, or in a coat pocket. So I didn’t think much of it at first. In fact, I quickly determined what must have happened. Because my library card is on my key ring, too, I was sure that when I went down the street to check out a few books I’d had on reserve, I must have left the keys at the self-check-out counter.

But it turns out that I hadn’t. And I’d already checked everywhere else. Continue reading

Rest stop: my painfully slow path to apnea diagnosis & treatment

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Me in the sleep lab. Sorry, fellas, I’m taken!

This all started last spring, when I started waking in the morning to an empty bed. And contrary to my first guess, Joe hadn’t gotten up early to work. Instead, I found him wrapped up in a blanket on the living room couch, asleep.

“I’d gotten up to use the bathroom at about 4 in the morning,” he’d told me, “and I just couldn’t get back to sleep because you were snoring so loudly.”

Whaaaaaa? Me, snoring?

I’d never been a snorer before. That was what we’d made fun of my dad for, when we were kids crammed in a hotel room, or when he snoozed on the couch after dinner. That wasn’t ME.

“Really?” I winced, initially resisting this adjustment in my sense of self. “Huh. That’s weird.”

Joe’s pre-dawn exodus quickly became an established pattern, though, rather than a seemingly flukey occurrence. I felt guilty and embarrassed and humiliated and helpless about it, often starting to cry while apologizing. (I’m not particularly girly, yet there’s still something profoundly un-feminine and boorish and ugly about snoring your partner right out of your bedroom each night.)

Why was this suddenly happening, on top of my layoff? I asked myself. Considering the stress-induced root canal I just had, was this yet another way that my body manifested my job-loss?

Because this one particular piece of the puzzle has always been clear. I carry loads of tension around in my body, especially in my shoulders and neck, and weekly yoga classes over the past decade or so have done little to change that; in addition, I’ve been grinding my teeth while sleeping (a/k/a bruxism) since I was a kid. So while I may succeed in presenting a low-key face to the world much of the time, behind that facade is a panicked woman in a compressed air booth, desperately clawing at to-do list items and family calendar entries.

Also, when I occasionally cash in a gift certificate or just treat myself to a professional massage, the masseuse, upon first touching my upper back, always says, “Oh” or “Wow,” in a tone that reads, “I don’t know if I can work all these kinks out in the time we have.”

So as miserable as I was about the snoring, I thought, Well, give yourself a break. Maybe after you push through this rough patch in your life and come out the other side, it will leave as suddenly as it came.

Spoiler alert: it didn’t. Continue reading

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

Letter to my daughters during an emotionally fraught election week

14925760_10154214115062632_9220519340659118834_n (1).jpgDear Lily and Neve:

I wanted to write you a letter about this past week, because although you’re sentient little humans now, not babies, you’re still young enough that you haven’t absorbed the full impact of what’s happened.

In some ways, of course, that’s a blessing. But it also makes me feel as though one day, you may approach me and ask, “What did you do? What did that election feel like?” Because you likely won’t remember much about it yourselves.

You won’t remember how you slept in last Tuesday, because your school was closed for election day.

Neve was first to rise. Wrapped in a blanket, I held your hand as we made our way downstairs. You sat at the kitchen table, eating Gogurts, and then we splayed ourselves across the living room floor, playing Sleeping Queens until Lily woke and appeared in the doorway. Once she’d had breakfast, too, you guys watched your allotted half hour of cartoons while I went upstairs to get ready for the day.

It was the first time in my life that I’ve ever dressed up to vote.

I was inspired.

I paired black pants with a black blazer. I felt a little giddy in that moment, feeling the starched fabric upon my arms, my legs. My body hummed with a quiet electricity like hope. Election day was finally, finally here, and a potential moment for change, and perhaps the shattering of a glass ceiling, had arrived. Continue reading