Sunday, October 21, 2012

Melissa's Fan Club

Last Monday evening during my daily drive home from work, I made a slight detour so that I could stop into the lobby of the local School of Music.  Seems during my 15-year old daughter Melissa's lesson the previous Friday, she had packed away her guitar, and left her capo behind.

Now, I will tell you, one year ago, if you had asked me to describe the function of a "capo", I might have thought about explaining how to cook a type of poultry. (No Lisa, that's a capon.)  However, today I can proudly tell you that a capo is some kind of contraption that Melissa puts on her guitar to give it a different sound.  Oh alright, if you insist on knowing the actual definition, according to Wikipedia, a capo is a device used on the neck of a stringed instrument to shorten the playable length of the strings, hence raising the pitch. (Although I liked my explanation better).

Since my daughter embraced the guitar a couple of years ago, I am slowly but surely finding a cure for my musical illiteracy.  I now understand the difference between regular chords and bar chords (Something to do with where you place your fingers...I think).  Plus, I can honestly differentiate between finger picking and strumming.

Melissa's incredible musical talent obviously passed to her through the Y chromosome.   During my husband Bob's teen years, he and his buddies formed the infamous garage band they creatively dubbed, "Orange Ash".  Sadly, after touring the junior high school dance circuit, the members of "Orange Ash" went their separate ways.  However, the love of music stayed with Bob, and he passed that love onto Melissa.

In addition to Bob's influence, Melissa's evolution into a guitar-player extraordinaire began at the onset of 5th grade, when she decided to join the school band, for the logical reason that all of her friends were doing it.  Her instrument of choice - the flute -  a decision made thanks to her sister Jessica, who had also dabbled with that reedless wind instrument that produces its sound from the flow of air across an opening. (Aren't you impressed that I knew that?)  (Oh ok, I admit, I looked it up on Wikipedia again.)

Playing the flute taught Melissa the basics about reading music and performing.  Bob, motivated by her new found passion, dusted the cobwebs off his 30-year old guitar and placed the instrument in her waiting hands.  Now the cobwebs began to form on the flute, as Melissa traded in the wind instrument for the strings, and eagerly looked forward to Bob's daily instructions on where to place her fingers on the guitar, how to play chords, and eventually, how to perform a handful of Beatles songs.  (If you are learning to play an instrument in the Weinstein household - playing the Beatles is a prerequisite to anything else.)  She supplemented Bob's instruction with online lessons, courtesy of some very cool, self-directed learning websites.

As Melissa's natural skill for guitar continued to blossom, she also honed her talents as an alto vocalists.  Middle school chorus concerts helped her prepare for a successful audition for the All South Jersey Chorus.  Now, a veritable expert both as a singer and guitarist, the only thing left to do...combine those two musical skills.

Every Friday night for the past year, Melissa fine tuned her craft thanks to private instruction at the School of Music.  Still, for Melissa, playing and singing at the same time seemed like an out of reach goal.   Despite her beautiful rendition of Green Day's "Times of Your Life" performed in the safety and privacy of our living room, she became a bundle of nerves when asked to actually sing and play that song at the same time in public.

Enter the now infamous...."Monday Night Band".

Why the catchy name, you ask?

Quite simply, they rehearse at the School of Music on Monday nights.

During the summer, the owner of the School Of Music, looking to replace two teenage boys who had dared to quit the band in favor of going away to college, approached Melissa about becoming the newest member of the "Monday Night Band".  The instructor, Dave, had given up hope of ever having his all boy band perform hits from Pat Benetar, Stevie Nicks, or Taylor Swift.  But wait, a teenage girl wanted to join the band!!!  And she can sing!!!  Hallelujah!  A match made in heaven!

At first, Melissa seemed a bit hesitant about becoming an actual band member.  She felt a bit awkward and shy, and convinced herself that the other members had to be, by far, much better musicians.  I walked her down the hall to her first rehearsal, where she arrived 10 minutes early.  Like any good teenager, she promptly shooed me away, rather than risk the embarrassment of having the all male band members see her there with her mother.

Following the hour-long rehearsal, Bob and I anxiously awaited her reaction.  The larger than life smile that lit up her face told us all we needed to know.  Our kid was hooked!

For six weeks, the "Monday Night Band" dutifully practiced together, getting to know one another's style, and preparing to perform in a local street festival.   Bob and I became accustomed to the sound of the guitar as pleasant background noise throughout the house, as Melissa practiced 'till her fingers burned.

As the day of the concert drew nearer, only one question still remained.....which members of Melissa's circle of friends would find the time to cheer her on.  She had been talking about the performance for days, and, to her dismay, received a less than enthusiastic response from the teenage boys and girls who roam the halls of high school with her each day.  Some had other plans, family functions, prior commitments, etc.  A dark cloud of disappointment threatened to ruin my baby girl's positive spirit.  Desperate times called for desperate measures!

I put on my "Super Sleuth Spy Hat" and emailed the moms!  They all agreed to bring their kids to the designated time and place....and to keep it a surprise.  In the meantime, Melissa's friends, knowing full well that they would be attending her show, still remained evasive when asked if they were coming!

Autumn sunshine in all its glory greeted us on the morning of the concert.  A picture perfect day for an outdoor show!  As Melissa took to the stage, she looked out to see her mom and dad, her Aunt Bev and Uncle Rick, and a large group of teenage boys and girls screaming,

"We love you Melissa!"

She looked out at her friends, smiled, winked, and, channeling all of the rock stars who came before her, spoke into the microphone and said, quite simply, "I love you too!"

Then, my child sang and played the guitar as she performed the world's best version of Taylor Swift's "Picture to Burn"....EVER!  (Not that I am biased).

Proud doesn't even begin to describe my feelings in that moment, but another emotion also took hold.  Looking at this group of teenage boys and girls who had come out to show their support, I felt truly touched, deep within my heart.

Melissa's fan club made the day!

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Friday, October 12, 2012

Friendships Lost and Friendships Found

In the summer of 1996, my husband Bob and I spent our days in a small apartment in the heart of Queens, one of the five boroughs that comprise New York City.  Born and raised in Philadelphia, I made peace with the move to the Big Apple not out of happiness, but pure necessity.   Bob had been transferred, and, well....we needed to pay the bills.

Throughout that long, hot summer, I longed to move to a more suburban home closer to my friends and family in Philadelphia...and I also longed to start a family.  For quite some time, neither objective seemed achievable, until finally, luck drew us to a townhouse community in central New Jersey.  The owner of the tiny, two bedroom home could not wait to find tenants, while Bob and I were more than willing to move right in!  Several weeks later, we learned that in nine month's time, we would happily welcome our baby daughter Melissa to the world!

In the summer of 1997, a new baby in tow, our days should have been full of delight...however, new challenges forced us to rethink our lives.  His sales job produced limited earnings, while I brought home a tiny slab of the bacon through a part-time public relations job.  We juggled the bills, raided our change jar to buy groceries, traded in our car for a used lemon, and begged and borrowed from sympathetic family members.

The bright spot in our lives...our townhouse community!  Full of fellow young parents, Melissa joined a team of toddlers in daily play on our close knit street.  Eventually, my job turned into full-time employment, and Bob started his own business, a move that, a few years later, began to pay off.  By the time Melissa turned four, we were more than ready to change our status from home "renters" to home "owners".  Our meager savings bought us a slightly larger townhouse a couple miles away.  I hated saying goodbye to my neighbors, but happily embraced my new home, equipped with three bedrooms instead of two, and..wait for it, an actual dining room - which my former townhouse lacked!

Any doubt I harbored that my new neighbors would not be just as nice as the old floated away the day I moved in.  For there, standing outside on her front steps, stood our new next door neighbor Angelica, who gave me a truly warm "welcome to the neighborhood" greeting while holding a chubby cheeked, adorable two-year old baby boy.

Angelica and I bonded instantly.  The baby, Brandon, I soon learned, was the younger of her two boys.   Her first-born, Chris, at five years old, became a ready-made play mate for my four-year old Melissa.  We took turns hosting dinners at each other's homes, whiling away the hours with wine and conversation while the kids, safely tucked away in the playroom, tackled puzzles, and videos, and board games, and TV.

The friendship grew over the ensuing months.  From trick-or-treating, to holiday dinners (I hosted Hanukkah, while she treated us to a Christmas feast), to playing in the snow, to swimming at the town home association's pool, to standing together, cameras in hand, as Chris and Melissa boarded the bus for their first day of kindergarten.

I silently cried inside the day she told me that she would no longer be my next door neighbor.

Fate took Angelica and her family to North Carolina, but a small silver lining landed them just a few miles from Bob's parents.  When we traveled to my in-laws the following year, our trip included a visit to Angelica.  We had breakfast, and reminisced....then we got in the car for the 10-hour long drive home.....and then...well...

we lost touch.

Thanks to a new job, we moved away from the old neighborhood a year after Angelica left, and traded in our town house for the family home we always dreamed of in a suburban community about two hours away.  I don't know why, but I never contacted Angelica to tell her we had moved.

And then.....

Two years ago, on a chilly December evening, Melissa and I sat in our living room, busying ourselves, as usual, on our respective computers while Bob sat comfortably watching TV in the family room.  I honestly don't know what made me think of Angelica, but I suddenly turned to Melissa and asked her if she remembered Chris and Brandon, even though she had been so young. She, like me, had not forgotten.

A search for the boys on Facebook ended with no luck.  I then discovered I had an old email address for Angelica, perhaps it still worked.

I asked if she remembered me.  I told her that we tried to get down to see Bob's parents at least once a year, and that perhaps during our next visit, we could get together.  Her reply came about an hour later.  Of course she remembered me, and, she said we didn't have to come to North Carolina to visit, because they had returned to New Jersey.  Unbeknownst to both of us, she now lived a mere 10 minutes away!

I called her immediately and we scheduled lunch the next day!  Everything had changed, yet nothing had changed!  That weekend we reunited with the kids, who, despite their obvious evolution into teenagers, still looked the same!

Since that fateful December evening two years ago, we have, once again, shared holiday dinners, lunch dates, movie nights, and countless hours together talking, laughing, and sometimes, even crying.

When Angelica told her mother about our reunion, she had a simple explanation...she said it was God.

As for me, I'm not sure whether to thank God, or fate, or telepathy for my sudden desire to send Angelica an email.....I'm just so glad I did!

Bob, me, Brandon, Chris, Angelica, and happy we reunited!

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Sunday, October 7, 2012

Back to School Night: High School Edition!

It is 6:30 pm on a Wednesday evening.  My tired bones have been plodding along since 6 am.  My brain is trying to siphon out the stress of a standard work day.  The temperature hovers around 80 degrees, with the humidity at 3,974% and rising  - a strange forecast for October, but nonetheless, a forecast we must accept.  I want nothing more than to pull my humidity-induced flattened hair into a ponytail, throw on a tattered t-shirt and shorts, fill a giant bowl with ice cream, situate myself in front of the TV and enter a vegetative state of nothingness.

I am unable to put these fantasy plans into motion however, for tonight is back to school night - high school edition!

Yes, it is my 15-year old daughter Melissa's first foray into that land where childhood notions are left behind and adolescent expectations take hold.  A world where sleeping teens board the bus before the sun rises and then attempt to digest and retain information from nine different teachers, all while navigating the maze-like halls of this behemoth of a building.

I ask Melissa for the better option, short sleeves or long.  Both, she explains.  Some classrooms are broiling hot, while others mimic the arctic circle.  I soon discover she speaks the truth.  A short sleeve shirt and a jacket solves the dilemma.

I arrive 25 minutes early, but so do 1,927 other parents.  Luck is with me as the seas part and a parking space suddenly appears before my eyes, a mere three feet from the front doors of Behemoth High School.  I turn off the ignition and look around.  Dozens of hesitant parents are sitting in their cars, attempting to determine the appropriate time to actually exit their vehicle and walk into the school.  As for me, I throw caution to the wind and leave my car in preparation for the short journey.  The humidity has not loosened its grip on the area......the jacket comes off.

I walk into the building and am greeted by a blast of cool air....the jacket goes on.   I glance at the poor excuse for a map that my dear child had attempted to make easier to read by color-coding all of her classrooms.  My first stop, room B100 is in the aptly named "B" wing.  I begin my hallway navigation and much to my surprise, arrive early with no difficulty whatsoever.  Only trouble is, I am now too early.  I can see Melissa's home room teacher through the small window getting the room ready for the influx of moms and dads.  I lean against the wall, trying not to appear awkward, until I am accosted by two teen boys, one carrying a microphone, the other a video camera.

Oh no.

"Would you like to say a few words for the camera," asks teen boy 1.

"Sure!" I say with enthusiasm, fully aware that this video has a higher than average chance of embarrassing my daughter to such an extreme that she may just have to run away and join the circus.

"What is your student's name?" asks teen boy 2.

"Melissa Weinstein," I happily reply.

"Would you like to say anything to Melissa?" asks teen boy 1.

"Melissa, I am so happy to be here at Back to School Night.  I know I will have fun and I am sure all of your teachers will think you are wonderful!"

Teens 1 and 2 thank me and move on.  I walk into home room, fully aware my actions may have just cost me all of my limbs.

During home room, we watch a prerecorded video of the principal, the superintendent, and the school board all telling us in a cue-card reading monotone how excited they are for the new school year.  I feel my eyelids getting bed is calling to me....I am drifting...drifting...


My eyes instinctively open in response to the sound of the bell.  Time to move on.

My next task is to find my way to Melissa's health class in room D122.  The home room teacher provides helpful directions.

"Make a left out of the classroom, then an immediate right, then a left, then a right, then a left, then a right, then a right, then a right, then another left, then go up the stairs and make a right, a left, a right,  a left, a right, a right, a right, and another left."

Predictably, I am now lost and running the risk of being late for health class.

I turn right, then left, then right and find myself in the "C" wing.  I spot a small sign, with an arrow indicating the elusive "D" wing is to the right.  I start walking, and walking, and walking....until finally I come across a group of students.

"Which way is the "D" wing," I ask in desperation.

The girls point to the left.

I silently curse the sign and rejoin the sea of befuddled parents until I finally find my way to the "D" wing.  I begin the walk down the long hallway, strategically following the signs on the classroom doors.

D116.  Ok, seems I'm heading in the right direction.

D117. This is good, just keep going.

D118. Almost there.

D119. Should only be three more doors.

D120.  So close I can feel it.

D100. Wait?

D101. WHAT?

Where in the &*@#$ is D122!?

A security guard points me in the right direction and I arrive in health, catch my breath, and shrink against the wall in the now standing room only class room.  Five minutes later, the bell rings again, giving the helpless parents the signal that it is now time to claw their way to second period, which, in my case, is Honors English.

I practically run down the hall, ignoring the friendly greetings from moms and dads I've known since our kids started every morning with circle time in first grade.  I would not be late this time!

The English teacher, like those before and after him, attempt to explain the 10-month long curriculum in the allotted 10 minutes time.

"This year we are going to ......"


Time to move on.

And so it went.  For 2 long hours.

Spanish class...jacket comes off.

Science class.......jacket goes on.

Algebra class........jacket comes off.

Lunch.  Hooray!  Snacks in the cafeteria.  I drink a bottle of water in one gulp and  inhale a soft pretzel.


Photography class....jacket goes on.

Finally, it is time to leave Behemoth High School and journey home......... to my bed.

As I walk in the door, Melissa eagerly wants to know what I think about her school and her teachers.  "I got lost," comes my best attempt at describing the evening.

She nods in agreement.  "I knew you would," she laughs.

I then try to share my impressions from the brief flashes of information shared by nine different teachers.  Suddenly I remember the video.  I consider not telling her, but then, if I appear on Behemoth High School's morning news without a warning, well, I'll just have to learn to cope without arms or legs.


Thus ends my first high school back to school night.  Who needs limbs anyway?

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