7 Songs From the 80s: When Angst Was A Good Friend


I was recently asked by a friend — with whom I spent a lot of time in the 80s — to share seven memorable songs from that time. I enjoy any chance to think about music and how it has shaped me. And it would be no surprise to anyone who looked inside my journal from that decade to see these songs are all about longing and angst and heartbreak. I've always felt connected to others by music and knowing others felt the same way was comforting. 

Nothing magical happened to me during those years. I never got the boy, I wasn't popular, I wasn't all that memorable. It was hard then, but I'm glad went through it. I remember those days as a time I was caught between two versions of myself: the nervous observer the outer world saw and the dramatic and bold girl who only made herself known inside the sanctuary of a candy-coloured bedroom. I spent a lot of time on my own, writing the lyrics to songs in my best cursive and folding them over and over on themselves, so I could glue them into that journal. Maybe I thought it was better to let someone else tell my story during that time; it was easier than trying to figure out how to tell it myself. 

In that way, not much has changed. I am still the kind of music fan that identifies with and becomes attached to lyrics and storytelling in songs. I still fall head over heels in love with moody, sad songs and play them on repeat until my family begs me to stop. As for which version of myself I eventually became, I think I landed somewhere in the middle. And I'm glad about that, too.

I've listened to these songs in cars with the windows rolled all the way down, in darkened school gyms during awkward dances, and on repeat through the foam-covered headphones of my Sony Walkman.

In the 80s, I was the same age as my two oldest children are now. Hearing these songs today, I don't feel any regret it wasn't a more spectacular decade for me. I've kept the journal to remind myself it's okay to be confused about who you are, and it's okay to spend time alone figuring it out. I look at it sometimes to remind myself how big my feelings were, when I'm trying to help my kids navigate their own big feelings. And I always feel such a sweet gratitude for these songs when I see those handwritten lyrics.

They knew the words when I didn't and they invited me to sing along.

CARS: Who's Gonna Drive You Home? (1984)

BILLY VERA & THE BEATERS: At This Moment (1981)

HEART: Alone (1987)

DEPECHE MODE: Somebody (1984)

BANGLES: Eternal Flame (1989)

PETER GABRIEL: Don't Give Up (1986)

KATE BUSH: This Woman's Work (1989)



Mom Guilt, Be Gone!


I didn't really believe it was going to happen until I was waving in the driveway while the kids were pulling away with JB at the wheel. And then it took me a few minutes longer to command my body to turn around and go back into the house, instead of chasing the minivan down the road and asking to jump inside. 

For the past couple of days, I've been in seclusion. JB tells me whenever I have a very rare snippet of quiet time, I give it away to others and other things. And he thinks I should make it more of a priority to give some of that quiet time to myself. He makes sense, but I have a hard time following through on his advice. I've come to understand that I'm a person who feels like I'm doing a good job when I'm doing too much. Until I start to make mistakes or get overwhelmed and then end up feeling like I'm not doing such a good job, after all. I'm not without gratitude for my many fortunes, but sometimes I let it get too noisy to be able to appreciate them.

He packed up the kids and took them to his family three hours away for the long weekend. He told me not to do anything for anyone but myself. I think he's hopeful I'll tackle some of the projects that have been staring us down for the past several months (office renovation and messy basement and overstuffed freezer), but he won't be upset if I don't. And he definitely won't say anything when he gets back and sees everything that didn't get done — at least not in a way that's meant to make me feel bad (even though I'll probably let it make me feel bad).

Like anyone else with a hectic life and young children, the house gets cluttered and messy. And we do a pretty good job of stepping around it, until we try to tackle a home reno project or 10 months worth of schoolwork arrives on our dining room table at once. Then I find myself standing helplessly in front of all of it wondering how I can make it disappear. And, admittedly, I feel resentment because I let myself think a failure to do so is a failure on my part.

Last week, I wrote a piece for Today's Parent on being the scheduler-in-chief for our family, not necessarily because I always want to, but because I feel obligated to. I really wish I was better at letting myself off the hook. And I want to be a good role model for my kids. I want them to jump into parenthood with their whole beings, because there is so much joy to be found in doing that, but I don't want them to feel it has to come at the cost of their own well-being or success (as so well said by my friend, Ali). 

I know I'm at the start of a busy summer and JB's gesture of easing me into it is very appreciated. So are the texts and messages from my fellow parents telling me to ignore the chores and sleep in late. Yes, there is a lot that needs to get done around this house, but there's a lot I need to do for myself, too. 

I've read two newspapers on the same day they arrived, fed myself hot breakfasts with bottomless coffee, taken several long walks, listened to and bought records, repotted all the houseplants, sewed up some tattered stuffed animals, helped my parents with the Bluetooth in their car, cleaned the garage, returned a pile of merchandise that was too small or not the right colour, vacuumed, Netflixed, slept, and let go of the guilt. 

I hope I'll get to the towering clutter in our dining room before the kids pull into the driveway tonight. But if I don't, it's okay. I have dinner plans with my parents tonight and that's more important. And clutter isn't so bad anyway. Sparsely decorated, clutter-free homes will always tug at my conscience and nudge the guilt button, but my life isn't sparse — it doesn't make sense that my home would be.

This quiet, me-centred weekend is exactly what I needed to face down the mayhem of summer that begins tomorrow. And it was exactly what I needed to remind myself I don't have to do it all, that no one expects me to, and that a messy and cluttered home is the picture of everything I've ever wanted. 

And, JB? 

You get to sleep in tomorrow.





Five Years Later


Oh hello there, five-year-old photo. Fancy seeing you here. Today you came and danced in front of my eyes, woke up my memories, and tripped up my heart.

You are a photo from so long ago — if I'm to count the years in baby days. Because baby days are long aren't they? And yet baby days are also mysterious and magical, because I can remember this day and what I was feeling as though it just happened. The hardest days of motherhood were also the ones that had my senses most turned up. It's why the memories are so vivid. 

I had four kids under the age of eight. It was the last day of school for the oldest three. JB was working out of town, like he did every week. The idea of stepping out of our well-structured routine was always daunting back then, and I often avoided any attempts. A pre-dinner trip to the ice cream shop wasn't anywhere on my agenda. 

Yet, off the yellow school bus came hopeful and excited faces. Much more grown up than they had been when I loaded them onto that same bus in September. They didn't show any signs of worry or dread about the long days of summer that lay ahead. 

And something shifted inside of me then. I realized how much my kids had been the ones carry me through the year. Perhaps much more than I had carried them. How patient they had been with the changes that always come with a new baby. How hard they worked to care for each other. How much they stepped up their independence when Daddy wasn't home to help. 

Who wants to go for ice cream for dinner? I heard myself saying. 

They were so thrilled and excited to see me "break the rules". I could see their chests puff out with pride knowing they must have done something to deserve this treat. And I could see they were proud of me for taking them somewhere I normally would have said needed a second adult. Even if we dropped our ice cream on the floor (we did) or the baby cried (she did) or we didn't have enough room for dinner (we didn't), we were going to do it together, and it would be okay.

If there's one great lesson I've learned in the five years since my weary self snapped this photo, it's that when I make my kids feel like we are a team, we really are. And as much as the necessary rules and boundaries have made them thrive in the game of life in a big family, running gleefully in the opposite direction has too.  


I wish it hadn't taken me so long to worry less about how one moment would impact the long-term goals I hold onto as a parent. Because they don't. Kids are wise. They know when colouring out of the lines is for fun. And they respond to it in the most beautiful ways.

This afternoon, five years after our first attempt, hopeful faces came off the yellow school buses again. So much more grown up than they had been when I put them onto the bus in September. And even though it has now become an annual tradition, each of them waited for me to say it first.

Who wants to go for ice cream for dinner?