Me picking a favorite band or musician feels like me picking a favorite book or author – impossible! But I have always loved live music and I’ve been fortunate enough to see some really awesome artists live and in person around the Midwest. This includes my very first concert which included seeing my beloved N*SYNC at the SoDak State Fair (how?!) in the late 90’s, but my tastes and shows have gotten a lot less pop-y since then.
In college I got a little more jam-band minded and managed to check Dave Matthews Band off my list during grad school. Some girlfriends and I drove to Kansas City to see them perform, which had been my dream for years at that point, and the show was super fun even if it made for an awfully long week of classes to follow all that there-and-back travel over the weekend. There was also a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert in there somewhere, a trip to see Spoon at First Ave. in Minneapolis, MN, and a free Five for Fighting show at a friend’s college in Omaha, too.
Since then I’ve let my musical tastes wander where they’d like, and while I still have a lot of bucket list artists, just like DMB was, my list of “Already Seen”s is pretty fantastic.
It’s a toss up between Guster and Nahko on who I’ve seen more times live, but Guster has definitely been my longest love that’s gone the distance of both time and miles traveled to see. I saw them first in my early 20s both in Minne where they opened for John Mayer (meh; I was there for Guster, all the way) and somewhere in NE or IA shortly before we got married in 2006. Then it was seeing them with both the Omaha Symphony and then the Denver Symphony (in each respective city) with Ben, which happened to be his first concert experience and then his first Red Rocks trip, and with both shows being absolutely stellar. Guster never disappoints!
In more recent years, yoga brought me many a live music interest, including MC Yogi, Xavier Rudd, Trevor Hall (multiple shows), and eventually, for my first post-COVID concert, Rising Appalachia with LVDY as the opener in Denver. I probably would have cried anyway just to be at a live show again, but wow, both groups were incredible and I was so grateful to be in those open air spaces with such gorgeous music all around me.
Of course I don’t always have to travel very far to see my favorite musicians – sometimes they come right to me in good old Hastings, via The Listening Room at The Lark or the Flatwater Musical Festival at Prairie Loft. And of course I’m talking about The Talbott Brothers who are much loved by much of Hastings and thankfully they love us back by coming quite often to perform at both venues. While I love the outdoor vibe at Flatwater, there’s something really amazing about being at The Lark where you’re just right there next to the stage and everyone’s literally listening and being quiet while the music envelops the whole space and night. Plus Nick and Tyler are fun humans and good sports with their fans, including posing for pictures and also taking birthday requests which Ben did for me in March 2020 right as we were starting out with COVID lockdowns. The Talbott Brothers did an online show and he got them to sing “Happy Birthday” to me, “Jenni from Hastings” in the middle of it and I tell you what, even though a lot of life was hard at that time, that did not suck.
In writing this, I realize I’ve been to a lot of concerts and it excites me to think about just who I might see next; there are so many incredible choices out there!
Being teachers with one and a quarter incomes between us, not to mention five young kids, pretty much means everything in life feels expensive while actual expensive purchases “just for us” are totally out of the question. While I sometimes daydream of what it would be like to be not skating by month to month, I’m equally grateful for the life and home we have and the fact that I’ve been able to stay home with our babies all these years. This is Wilson’s last year before starting Kindergarten and while I don’t know what life with five kids in full-time school holds for me and my work, I do wonder if some shifts are on the horizon for me that might ease some of that financial strain.
All that said, we’ve still dropped some pretty pennies in this lifetime, one chunk on an experience via overseas travel and another chunk on an investment in our home via the form of a good old-fashioned, gray-hair-inducing, renovation project.
2008 was our first big spender moment when we decided to postpone a house project in our first home (redoing the front porch and steps which we eventually did before selling it a few years later) to spend three weeks traveling with fellow Doane alumni in Africa instead. I was lucky enough to get an entire semester doing that in college and the experience profoundly shaped my life. Being able to then share two of those same locations, Kenya and Tanzania, with Ben, and experience a new one, Rwanda, together profoundly shaped our marriage and was an excellent adventure to take prior to starting our family in 2009.
While we did multiple safari drives and nature walks throughout our 2008 trip, the most costly ($500.00 per person) but also the most amazing was hiking up into Volcanoes National Park to seek (and, lucky us, find!) mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. The awe of observing and following them for a brief bit of time stays with me. It takes no effort to recall the gorgeous male silverback we saw snacking away on rainforest foliage or the mama with a baby clinging to her (foreshadowing much?!) as she ambled about the trees and sloped terrain. I remain forever grateful that we took that trip and spent our money on the travel and activities that helped open our eyes to new places and people while also learning more about each other and how to travel/work together as a team early on in our marriage.
We needed that team mindset 10 years later when we embarked on a home remodel in 2018 after discovering that we couldn’t find any houses locally that were big/nice/affordable enough for our large family; this left us in the “stay-and-make-it-work-for-us” position of hiring contractors, busting down walls, and riding the roller coaster of all that comes with renovating an old house over the next 18+ months (COVID life did not help our wrapping up of the whole process but instead slowed us down even more as we tried to navigate pandemic life + having people in our house to finish projects).
Turns out, a stay-at-home adventure can be much, much more expensive than one that takes you over an ocean, as we found out when extra “To do”s popped up along the way, like needing to tear out an extra shower/replace subflooring and then, oh yeah, ripping out and replacing our entire Hastings-classic (i.e. extra long) driveway and pouring all new concrete to protect our newly remodeled basement from water seepage. Concrete, it just so happens, is not cheap. Nor is putting in a bunch of new wiring and all new plumbing which we also did, but once you start, you can’t just stop unless you want to keep living out of your living room with no kitchen for the rest of your life instead just 9 awful weeks (with five little Littles) like we did.
But now our house is gorgeous and functional and our driveway is so smooth, the kids can all ride bikes and scooters on it all the live-long day (which they do; Mama, too!). And even though we’ll be paying for it for many days (years) to come, this investment also feels worth it because our big family can really use darn near every square inch of our house now for living and being a family together which is of course the best adventure of all.
When Ben and I started dating in 2005, shipped names for couples were definitely a thing but definitely not called that yet. Still, Brangelina, TomKat, and Bennifer were all over celebrity news at that time, so it didn’t take long for people to merge Ben and I’s names together, too. Except, we didn’t want to copycat and become another Bennifer so we flipped the script and made ours Jenjamin instead. Hilarity ensued when one of my friends actually wrote us a check for a wedding gift made out to Jenjmain Welsch!
Beyond the funny name combination, though, we’ve always had a great deal in common that’s lead us to this point of 16 years married: 1) Planning. My goodness, do we both love to plan. I wouldn’t call it daydreaming because we’re both a little too serious and intense for the stereotypical approach to that act, but we can future cast like no one else it seems. We can also plan and pull off quite a bit in our actual daily lives, too (even though raising five Littles also makes it feel like we never actually accomplish much more than just getting through the day’s schedule). Of course, sometimes our plans go up in smoke but that’s just life I guess. Somehow we keep each other balanced and grounded enough to keep trying and keep our chins up when things don’t work out and celebrating when they do. 2) Running. This is something we both did as teenagers in high school and young adults in college, except Ben’s was for actual college athletics and mine was for occasional exercise by then. It was also one of our favorite activities to share pre-kids when we trained for and completed two half marathons in 2007/2008. Then we started having babies and even though I’ve dabbled here and there with running since, it’s not been a couple thing for us again until this year (2022). We certainly don’t run far or fast, or even that consistently yet, but it’s good to be back at it together, even if our older, wiser bodies are wondering what we’re doing to them each time we hit the pavement. 3) Music Appreciation. For those who wonder why our kids play so many instruments (we have four piano players, two cello players, one saxophone, and one flutist so far), it’s because B and I have always had music in our lives, too. I played three different instruments as a kid (violin, just one year; trumpet, for five years, and piano, for who knows – several years at least) and Ben was active with choirs/singing at school and church. The funny part of our musical history stems from being in a Doane College choir together for an entire year and still never actually meeting each other, which is one of the biggest misconceptions about our relationship. Despite that shared class/concerts and three years roaming the small campus at the same time, we didn’t meet until a year after I had graduated and left Doane. But sure enough, once we started dating, his mom found an old concert program with a choir group photo on it and there we both were – several rows apart but not all that far from each other, even. I’m the one who brings the music into our daily lives with now my playlists and pushing us to see live music, but Ben’s always been down for a good lyric and/or the rare turn at karaoke. 4) Childhood. Even though our school and growing up on a farm experiences were different both in state location and methodology (conventional vs. organic), we understand a lot about each other due to our remarkably similar experiences growing up in the Midwest of the 80s and 90s. We’re just under a year apart in age from one another and our family dynamics were the same in that we each had one sibling of the opposite gender. We even attended the same church denomination (Methodist) for our primary education years before my family joined the U.C.C. instead. We’re also both the first born, and in three out of four cases, the oldest grandchild as well, so we get a lot of what that role was like and how it shaped us into the people we are today. 5) Homebodies. Once upon a lifetime ago, we traveled halfway around the world together but now our favorite place to be is at home. Maybe it’s the long distance runner/farm kids in us, but we both tend to crave quiet and room to think which folks often associate with their homes. The irony is that during this particular stage and season of life and parenting, it’s rarely ever quiet in our house but neither one of us is big on going out or being away which still makes our less-than-peaceful abode our primary destination of choice.
We’re opposites in many ways and complement each other in so many of them (his math to my English, for example), but clearly we are two peas in a married pod as well. Here’s to Sweet 16 (and many more runs)!
Minus the time that I remember him chasing me down the hallway in the upper story of our old farmhouse where he corned me in the spare bedroom and I had just enough time to slam the door in his face before the hard plastic teeth of the toy T-Rex in his hands took a chunk out of the wood as he swung it at me, my little brother John and I have always been friends.
Dramatics and possible embellishments aside (I used to love hiding at the top of the stairs and jumping out to scare the BuhJesus out of him whether he was coming or going, so it’s possible I deserved the dinosaur chase), we really have always gotten along. This is a fortunate outcome because had we not been buds, we would have been SOL as kids living out in the country in the dark ages before internet and cellphones (or at least I would have been because there were no other little girls anywhere close to our house to consider neighborhood friends of mine).
As it was, John and I enjoyed the heck out of our childhood together and were content to join each other for play time (think LEGO and Ninja Turtles), watching a show (PBS because what other choice did we have, but also, because we loved it), and farm exploration (digging up rocks, riding bikes on the gravel driveway, and exploring the grove – especially when it filled up with snow in the winter). I also spent a rather inordinate amount of time as a kid at our grandparent’s house watching him play Grandma Gert’s original Nintendo. Why I didn’t join him in the games, I have no clue, but my kids would find it hilarious now (given how much I don’t touch our Switch or watch their gaming) to know just how many hours I logged watching him play Mario and Legend of Zelda back in the day.
Games in general have always been our family’s thing so be it board- or card-based, I have always liked versing John in such because he’s a good competitor. He’s also whip smart with trivia and has long been my go-to person for politics and music recs, including some of my favorite bands like Guster that came to me via his burned CDs back in the day. These days I’d need about a dozen of those CDs to get me through the long drive to TX to see him but recently my kids have followed in my footsteps and found a way to stay connected with their uncle via gaming. It started with creativity during COVID times and Zoom dates so they could play Minecraft and Mario Party together from our respective houses. Not quite the same as me curling up on Gertie’s love seat to see if he could save Princess Peach (or Zelda) like back in the day, but fun all the same and really cool to witness that transfer to a new generation.
To the folks who tell me that I only get 18 summers with my kids, I say, “I know.” I get that such statements are meant to inspire me to be a better mom, to enjoy the most of every single possible fleeting moment because 18 is nothing, a blip that races by in a split second. And while that is true, those 18 years also contain some of the hardest stages and ages of parenting and I’m not just doing this once or even twice, I’m doing this five times over AND consecutively which perhaps explains why I feel so bowled over by this summer in particular.
In case you’ve forgotten, parents of little Littles have been in extreme survival mode for some time now. Our particular family was already In It after adding Baby No.5 and then embarking on a house remodel that would not die (but kind of tried to kill us in the process), and then COVID hit leaving us completely adrift in ways that we still haven’t quite recovered from even though life at this point has totally returned to the hub and the bub of pre-COVD times.
Maybe that’s what makes this summer so rough, too – we haven’t been this busy in years, haven’t gone this many places or seen this many people, haven’t been this social in years. So of course we feel more run down than we have in, well, years.
If you’re keeping up with my English major version of math, that means this summer we’re living in 2022 while making up for the last two years times five kids which is really three summers times five (that’s leaving out the parents who are both having-ish lives of their own, so really, this could/should be seven, not five) which puts us at 15. I’m living 15 summers this summer, so no, I really don’t get to slow down and enjoy every second of every summer with my kids because in a good year, I’m living five summers in one, and in this year, I’m living 15 (or maybe 21) in just three months (that feel forever long and way too freaking short).
But it’s not just me who is feeling this crush, it’s my kids, too. I think we all feel out of sorts without really knowing why and so there have been what feels like more meltdowns and problems than ever before, too. If we’re going with the logic that math makes sense (my poor husband – he’s going to be so insulted by the shade I am throwing at his subject matter throughout this post), it tracks that the along with the heightened activity comes heightened emotion and thereby all of those extra moments of struggle, be it between us and the kids or the kids and each other.
Honestly, I don’t know what to do about it. I’m simply recording it here because it’s what is right now and this has always been my space to make note of such things. Will we survive this rough patch? I think so, but in another moment of honesty, I don’t quite know what will get us there. We’ve still got two-and-a-half weeks until school starts which, again, according to my math, is like is damn near like having three months left of wandering in the land of no set schedule, too many screens and snack requests, weird bedtimes, and sibling bickering (this needs to be a post of lament all its own because holy wow, have they landed in a cranky place as a group). We’ll Little Engine this and keep trying, but please keep in mind that telling someone like me that she only has 18 summers sounds more like a dangerous mountain crossing than a walk in the park to be enjoyed.
Instead I’ve got to keep my focus on the here and now, the glimmers of peace that occasionally pop up in the middle of these endless summer days, like this – all five kids willing to be in a picture together after an hour at the park where we walked to burn off some much needed steam and fussiness that started their (and my) day.
That’s it. That’s all I’ve got. Glimmer moments and a very astute awareness that I can’t force 18 straight years of magical summers (times 5).
Late in my Junior year of high school, I got involved with our yearbook staff. No idea now why I decided to do that or why I was late to the game, but I remember spending a lot of time that spring and then during the summer after eleventh grade in the journalism office – a small computer lab in the English Wing of Yankton High School that housed the technology and gear used by the yearbook staff to produce the annual Arikara volume and the journalism students to produce the school newspaper, the Woksape. A different student had been spearheading the yearbook during that school year but somehow she ghosted and I found myself, along with two friends, as the de facto Editors-in-Chief, suddenly responsible for completing and submitting the yearbook for that year. So, I did just that and ended up as the solo editor our Senior year.
I loved yearbook in part because it was a big project that was taken on by a small number of students which meant I had quite a bit of control in how it was laid out and looked. Although we could do quite a bit with computer programming in the tail-end of the 1990s, we still had to use red grease pencils to mark crop lines on photos and hope that we labeled them correctly with submission envelopes of each page, otherwise our final print version would be a mess. So much time was spent in that little computer lab as we worked on pages while listening to a sleeve of random CDs someone left behind and eating our favorite snacks, provided by our dear yearbook advisor, Mr. Fischer.
To look at Mr. Fischer one might first think “Santa” (fair) and to be around him, one might first think “curmudgeon” because of his whole aesthetic, but he was really a total softie and treated us well as a staff (see above about keeping us in stock of our beloved Doritos and Twizlers). He had a super sharp sense of humor and a great smile behind that big old beard. And we were always just early enough to beat him to the staff parking lot during the summer that we could practice our backwards parking skills while we waited (I got intensely good at this during that time). For the most part he left us to our own devices with the yearbook but I remember enjoying his advise and advisorship as I rounded out my Senior year and high school career and I was honored to have him at my graduation party in May, 2000.
Flash forward 20+ years and I found those same yearbook scramble skills suddenly called back into action via my role with own kids’ elementary school which was in need of its own new editor after the previous mom-in-charge’s kids aged out of Longfellow. Taking on the actual job wasn’t a scramble (I volunteered for it years in advance, actually, but COVID Life got in the way of me learning directly from her during her last two years of service); it was the navigating and learning of the ropes on the fly that became a mad dash to the finish in late winter/early spring 2022.
Did I need her help and ask her dozens upon dozens of questions my first year to figure it out? Sure did! Did I procrastinate and then freak out about a month-and-a-half before the pages deadline? Totally! But did the job get done and turn out great? Yep, because apparently yearbook editing is like riding a bicycle in that you can pick it up, dust it off, and still compile a lovely little collection of photos and memories for students to look back on for years to come, even as a small little staff of one. Except now it’s gluten-free Oreos and pistachios getting me through the long hours of collecting photos and designing layouts which are, thank heavens, allll online now and much less clunky to navigate than back in the day!
In my hometown, middle school was just 7th and 8th grades but was still called middle school, not junior high. Early into my middle school career (we’re talking a week or two in), after-school meetings were scheduled so kids could sign up for fall sports such as basketball (girls), football (boys), and cross country (both). These meetings were held on the same afternoon and I asked my mom to pick me up late after school instead of me riding the bus home because I wanted to sign up for basketball (or was it volleyball? lol- doesn’t matter because I didn’t do it!). Imagine her surprise when I hopped in the van later that afternoon and told her I, never a serious runner, had signed up for cross country instead!
How’d that happen? Because a cute boy in my CHIGA class (Computers, Home Ec, Industrial Arts, German, and Art – our version of rotating specials that we did in five parts of each school year) said he was going to sign up for cross country and apparently I thought that also sounded like a good idea and did the same.
To be honest, I have no idea if he even went to that meeting, but I sure did and I then spent the next five years as a YMS/YHS Cross Country Gazelle (the female mascot pairing to our boys’ teams, called the Bucks). Did I love it? Well, maybe not the actual running but I loved the co-ed team and friendships and comradery that came from being part of team sport that was also uniquely an individual effort at every single practice and meet. The running itself was a constant challenge that I didn’t really come to appreciate until much later.
When you run XC, you’re in it for the literal long game. You train each day (in high school, 2x a day, sometimes) by putting running shoes to the pavement in warm ups, team stretching, and then a work out of several miles as a little pack of runners off to weave their way around town OR, God forbid, run hills for the day. Then, at week’s end, you load up on a bus and head to some golf course or park, suit up in your little running shorts and singlet and set yourself up at the starting line so you can take off and jockey for position to run your 2.5 miles (girls; 3.1 for boys) both as fast as you can but while also not running out of gas before you cross the finish line.
This may not be surprising given my initial reasoning for signing up, but I was a pretty social runner, i.e. chatty. I always ran with friends during practices and sometimes even during meets, to the consternation of my coaches (Coach Harr in MS and Coaches Fitz and Bormann in HS). I remember after one particular meet being told that if I could carry an entire conversation with my teammate during the race, I could run more than just a wee bit faster if I kept my mouth focused on breathing instead of talking. Whoopsies!
Eventually I started to take that advice and the running more seriously. My sophomore year, after a rough and rather disastrous year of running as a flighty freshmen, I decided to buckle down and train with more focus and dedication. For the first time I ran country roads the summer between those school years and sought to stay closer to the Pack (the best runners on our teams) during practice runs after (and before) school.
A fair bit of my motivation for this switch came from one particular race, or rather, course location that I can still see pretty clearly in my head, almost 25 years later: Norfolk, NE. Being just across the river from Nebraska meant we traveled there for some meets, including an annual trip to run on a rather hilly golf course in Norfolk. Cross Country season spanned the heat of late summer all the way to the cool days of mid-to-late fall, but the Norfolk meet always came early in the season which meant HOT and SUN in addition to those hills.
My freshmen year, this was one of my very first meets and it crushed me. I struggled with the weather, the course, and my breath, and ended up coming in dead last for the meet. It felt horrible on so many levels. This was my third year of running and that experience eventually flipped a switch in me that lead to a year-long transformation of attitude and effort leading up to my return to Norfolk as a sophomore, ready to kick butt on that same dang golf course.
The weather was much the same as the year prior with full sun and heat, but I was ready for it. I also had the best earworm in my brain that day – “Flagpole Sitter” by Harvey Danger (look it up; it’s weird) – that was also weather appropriate with the line: “I’m not sick but I’m not well. And I’m so hot ‘cause I’m in hell” which played on a loop in my brain as I took off from the starting line and popped out in the front, not the trailing stragglers, of the JV race. The song served me well in that total reversal of position as later lines sing, “Paranoia, paranoia, everybody’s coming to get me. Just say you never met me. I’m running under ground with the moles, digging holes.” that also looped with my breath as I realized that I was running with the lead pack and was going to end up doing so much better than my freshman flop.
While I didn’t come in with an exact opposite ending of winning the race, I did place 7th which was one of my highest finishes ever and put me on Cloud 9 because it was tangible proof of how my efforts paid off over those 12 months. I continued to crush it that year and was invited to stay on as an alternate for the State Team which would train for an additional few weeks after the regular season and allowed me to travel with the pack on State Day in case someone got sick or hurt and our coaches needed a fill-in runner. I got to do the same as a junior and I loved those final weeks of training in part because, as an alternate, I got all the benefits of team and training but without the stress of actually running at State, although that would have been fun, too, had it happened.
In time, XC taught me a lot about being in my body and my brain because even though you can run and chat with others, you really are your own best cheerleader, and if you really buckle down and focus on the task at hand, you can achieve remarkable results. For me, it was the joy of the finish that kept me hustling in my last two years of participating (my senior year I decided to focus on other activities and finishing my YHS academic career instead of running). I loved a good sprint to the finish line and would often have enough oomph left in my legs to pass at least a couple girls in the last 1/4 mile of the course. My coaches tried to get me to expend a bit more of that earlier/throughout the races but I liked the thrill of the chase a little too much and kept that trend going for as long as I ran those meets.
For our team, it was a pre-race chant that really got us going and stuck with me both on and off the courses throughout high school. After our warm ups and stretches, drinks and final bathroom breaks, and practice sprints off the starting line, we would huddle up, hands together in the center of our circle, and cheer “P.M.A.K.A.! Go! Great! Gazelles!” We never told people what it meant and I couldn’t tell you who started it or how long it had been going, but I’ll break the rules and share with you now that it stood for Positive Mental Attitude Kicks Ass which is just slightly subversive but exactly the right mentality for a runner (and a pretty good life motto as well).
As it turned out, my own P.M.A.K.A. and efforts in my sophomore year didn’t go unnoticed. At our end-of-season banquet that fall, I not only lettered in XC, but my coaches also awarded me the Most Improved girl on the team, an honor I appreciated and felt such pride in because I knew how hard I worked to get there.
Running has come and gone for me several times in my life, but each time it returns, I recognize the gifts of spirit and body it brings (and sometimes, if you’re feeling chatty, some good conversations, too).
Apparently I was never destined to be a Jennifer. My mom had completely different names selected for me but then I was born and my dad was suddenly given the opportunity to bestow me with my forever name and that name was not Rebecca (my mom’s choice and my now sister-in-law’s first name) or Alena (my mom’s other choice that was a mash up of her grandparents’ names, Albert and Lena, that her own dad vetoed), it was Jennifer. Why? 40 years later, my dad has no idea (nor does my mom) as to how it came to be that he did the picking or why he picked it (beyond its popularity at the time).
Growing up as a Jennifer of the 80s, I had to have my last initial tacked on to my name to distinguish myself from the 27 other Jennifers (another song you must hear – “27 Jennifers” by Mike Doughty) in my class, but I found the way to distinguish myself, eventually, by changing the spelling of my nickname, Jenny, to Jenni. Of course you can’t actually *hear* that difference when you speak my name, so to this day 30+ years later, people still don’t always spell it correctly, but Jenni-with-an-I is me through and through, so much so that Jenny-with-an-Y doesn’t even seem like it could possibly be me when I see it in writing.
While I didn’t love having such a common name growing up, I did like the story behind my middle name, Rae. It is a feminized version of Ray, short for Raymond, which was my maternal grandfather’s middle name (Clifford Raymond). Grandpa Cliff and I shared that middle name with pride and I knew that if/when I had a daughter of my own someday, I too would want to take my dad’s middle name (Thomas Lee) and give it to her with a feminine spelling.
Lucky me, I got to do just that! But even better, I also got to take my “Rae” and incorporate it into our presidentially-named-babies theme and create Raegan (instead of Reagan) Leigh when my first sweet girl was born. I love her name so much because it has pieces of me which includes pieces of my grandpa, but then it also includes pieces of her maternal grandpa, just like I wanted, and the layers and symmetry to that are just my favorite.
But the poor girl has run into a similar conundrum as her mama because everyone everywhere spells her name wrong and it drives her nuts. While I understand her annoyance, I hope she’ll come to see how special her name is, even if other people can’t remember how she spells it and they assume hers is spelled just like the former president’s which clearly it is not. I trust that, in time, she’ll know the uniqueness that is her own naming story makes the confusion worthwhile. Will she continue the trend of oldest daughter naming the oldest daughter after the maternal grandfather into the next generation? Well, that depends on a whole lot of circumstances, so I guess we’ll see!
Over the years I’ve collected quite a bit of unique jewelry including a gorgeous array of malas, bracelets, and necklaces. While I do still wear rings, it’s only when I’m out and about, not just around the house, so those don’t get pulled into rotation as much as the other pieces. And even though two dear friends tried in the same year to gift me beautiful earrings for Christmas (they were totally different styles and yet both totally me), I haven’t worn earring since HD was a baby and mamahood got in the way of keeping my holes open to the point that now I don’t have a say in the matter. Wrists and neck, it is and is it!
I consider this jewelry collection some of my most prized possessions not because they are worth loads in monetary ways but because of how and where the pieces were made or curated in addition to the stories and facets of my life that they represent. But also, I wear and love them because each little one becomes a layer of what I call armor when I need an extra visual of strength, persistence, and resistance:
* The extra rings (beyond my wedding ring) that I wear on rare occasion are all family hand-me-downs, including a birthstone ring of my Great Aunt Opal’s (who’s birth-month matches mine), another birthstone ring of my Grandma Gert’s that matches both of my own sweet daughters also born in the month of November, and a mother’s ring that belonged to my Great Grandmother (Martha) Ruth which includes four stones, one of which was for my Grandma Orph. I love these strong female connections to my lineage and ancestors, and even though I never got to know any of them as individual women as much as I would have liked, I appreciate carrying them with me in these ways.
* My bracelet/mala collection is too extensive to list in detail, but they each come with their own power and origin story. Several have been gifts from friends. Several have been gifts to myself. Some have words etched into their metal, meant to be read by others, and some have secret (swearing) messages tucked away on the underside, meant to be quiet reminders just for me when I wear them. With the natural stone beads, I know many of the makers behind the designs. None of them have been made by me although I used to wear many of my own embroidery floss tie-knot creations back in the day. I grab certain ones to wear on certain days because of their color, their meaning, their origin (and occasionally because of their location – i.e. what I can find quickly before I head out the door).
* The two most-heavily worn necklaces are my Mother’s Birthstone bar, made by my friend Liz, and featuring all five little Welschie birthstones in birth order, and my RBG dissent necklace, which is a small, metal recreation of Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s famous collar that she would wear whenever she had a dissenting opinion on the SCOTUS. After that I have my breastmilk necklace which is something I had made with leftover, frozen milk from Wilson’s infancy, but apparently I’m still in young-mama-mentality even though I haven’t had a baby in almost five years because necklaces still seem like risky wardrobe choices around kids who might somehow break them. Still, these are my most worn pieces because they signal my identity and ideals as a mother and as a human in this world.
Call me a RBG+Madeline Albright wanna-be, but I like to use my jewelry to speak a message, sometimes in subtle ways and sometimes in quite loud ones. For Christmas the year RBG died, I got myself an actual full-size Dissent necklace and while I mostly wear it for Christmas to be fancy (not dissent), I have been known to pull it out for moments of actual disagreement with societal happenings. These days, in the aftermath of the overturning of Roe, I’m armoring up on a regular basis, not with the big collar but with lots of variety in the smaller pieces. For the road is long and protection of spirit and energy is going to be necessary as we move ourselves into the world that RBG worked so notoriously to establish and knew that we both deserved and could be.
The spring I turned 21, my aunt Tammy and her husband Tom were living in New Jersey, just a stone’s throw(ish) away from New York City. As an incredible birthday gift, I got to go visit them and do all kinds of amazing big city experiences including shopping, fancy restaurants, and my first-ever musical which just so happened to be on Broadway. We picked Aida as our show and even though I didn’t really know much about it going in, I absolutely fell in love with all aspects of it. I was already a semi-fan of Broadway with Rent being my most favorite soundtrack and that day sealed the deal for my appreciation of great lyrics, beautiful costumes, and storytelling through a combination of dance, song, word, and stage; ironically, during that performance of Aida, I knew I recognized the voice of the man playing Radames; turns out it was Adam Pascal, the man who originally played Roger in Rent! I couldn’t believe my luck to see him live on stage.
While I haven’t been able to catch RENT in person yet in the almost 20 years since my first live show, I have seen a number of musicals in the time since, including Wicked, Hamilton, and Waitress, all of which I love so dearly, for the music and the messages they carry, as well as the people and performers behind their creation like Idina Menzel, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Sarah Bareilles. All three of those shows I saw with Ben and we enjoyed them in part because I learned an important lesson after my Aida experience: familiarize yourself with the music in advance!
Even though I can still see images in my brain of the stage and costumes from Aida, I remember being so confused because I didn’t know the score and storyline at all prior to attending. That made it hard to keep up with all the (literal) moving parts, and so even though I loved every second of it, I know I missed a lot, too.
Since then, I’ve applied my new rule of getting to know the music well prior to show night (or day) and that has served me very well. For Wicked, it was listening to the CDs in my car as I commuted to Palmer, NE and back each day for my first public school teaching job in 2008/2009. When we saw the musical that spring, I was very pregnant with the babe who turned out to be HD, (which perhaps explains his own love for music and good plot). For Hamilton and Waitress, it was listening through Spotify again and again to those lovely earworms and heart-tugging lyrics that both shows contain. And then it was iTunes, as HD and I pregamed for what would be his very first show (and my second viewing of) – Hamilton, his 13th Birthday Extraordinaire Experience, which is something we started planning in Spring 2020 during COVID lockdown.
The B.E.E. is a title of my own creation but a concept I stole from writer Jen Hatmaker, also a mom of five, who gave each of her kids an extra special birthday trip/experience when they turned 13. For us, that looks like picking an activity in a neighboring state and getting to go for a couple nights with the parent of their picking. This was a lovely idea to start brainstorming when we were so cooped up and frustrated during early COVID life and then, in a blink of an eye, it was time for Harrison to B.E.E. first (see what I did there? lol)!
We landed on Des Moines, IA for our destination because we weren’t sure anywhere in NE would host the tour this year and even though HD’s birthday is still a couple months away, we did this trip up in style with great seats, awesome food, and an excellent visit with friends in Omaha on the way home. My kids so rarely get to have solo time like this where they also get to call the shots which also makes this initial B.E.E. a win.
I hope this is just the first of many shows for my Music Man and that he remembers it with as much fondness as I do my first show. I certainly know he didn’t have any trouble understanding the lyrics or storyline because our favorite sparing game these days is to turn statements any person makes into Hamilton references. Case in point; the kid picked a mug for his merch purchase and later showed it to his dad, saying, “Raise a glass to freedom!” Love my almost teenager and his top-notch brain so much!