Gloria Estefan and The Miami Sound Machine.

It doesn’t matter what kind of funk in which I find myself, I can almost always get out of it if I have access to a Gloria Estefan and The Miami Sound Machine song.

Let me take you back to the summer of 1987, which according to my memory,  was one of the happiest times of my life.  I was 11-years-old and heading into the 6th grade.  It was the era of over-sized sweaters covered in geometric patterns, chunky neon jewelry, swatch watches and hair so high and hair-sprayed it looked like stray tumbleweeds had landed on the heads of every teenage girl out there.  I would spend a half-hour at a minimum sitting in front of my full-length mirror with a comb, hair spray and blow-dryer.

Tease.

Spray.

Blow-dry.

Repeat.   Over and over and over and over.

I spent countless hours sitting on my pink bedspread listening to the radio and slowly and deliberately leafing through Teen Beat. Whenever one of them arrived in the mail, I was beyond excited to hole myself up in my room and learn about what essentials to pack in my  beach bag, how to add natural highlights to my hair with lemon juice, how to mix and match my headbands and bracelets, and what Ralph Macchio looked for in a girl:  “cool”, “chill” and “funny”.

Guess I’m out.

Being summertime, it was also the time of countless pool parties, playing tag until dark and covering miles on your bike while wearing a damp bathing suit.  I had an aqua-and white pin-striped one with ruffles around the waist that my mom bought at the local JC Penney.  I loved it.   And during all of these care-free and stress-free memories, Gloria Estefan and The Miami Sound Machine, who released their album “Let It Loose” in May of that year, was my background music.

She was everywhere.  She came through the speakers in my mom’s car as she drove me to my friends’ houses.  There was a warm summer breeze coming through the car windows as we passed a group of boys on their bikes, crowds of people congregated at the Ice Cream shop, or kids sprinting through sprinklers as Gloria sang Rhythm is Gonna Get You during the whole drive through town.  My poor mom was probably headed to the boring bank and the post office , running errands, while I was on my way to Diana’s house to swim.

She sang Can’t Stay Away From You through little transistor radios perched in the shadows of an umbrella-covered table, surrounded by bottles of sunscreen, sunglasses, damp towels, Vogue magazines and earrings that you didn’t want to get lost in the pool.

At home, on a Saturday, as my parents puttered around the house and I wandered around feeling bored, she came through the Boom Box on our back porch.  1-2-3-4 Come On Baby Say You Love Me 5-6-7 Times.  It was such a catchy song.

She was the backdrop music to the last summer I’d have where I was still more girl than teenager.  Before hormones and boys and plummeting Self-Esteem threw me head-first into the tumultuous waters called Adolescence.   The last summer I’d wear my pin-striped bathing suit with the ruffles without feeling self-conscious about my body, or comparing myself to the other, bustier girls.   I was more into diving for coins than getting a tan and more into the idea of a boyfriend than an actual one.

I could never have known that 25 years later hearing these songs come through my car radio would evoke such happy and reminiscent feelings.  For a few minutes, I forget about the lunches that have to be made, and the dinners that have to be planned and the fact that my car needs to be re-aligned or that I keep forgetting to get in touch with the babysitter about this summer and should I, or should I not, give the boys a flu vaccine this year even though last year I did and they both still got the worst flu I’ve ever seen in my life.

For a few minutes Gloria Estefan takes me back to The Breakfast Club and experimenting with make-up and teasing the hell out of my bangs and carving my and my crush’s initials in the Red Maple on my front lawn even though he had no idea I existed.  It seems like yesterday and a lifetime ago, simultaneously.

What’s slightly upsetting about the fact that I love to come across a Gloria song in my car is that she is only played on our local “Oldies” station, which I have now had to program into my radio station rotation.    The Oldies?   Really?

I’ve officially become my father.

What brings you back?  Foods?  Songs?  Smells?  And where does it bring you?

About A Dad.

When I was a young girl, my dad would tuck me in to bed almost every night.  I’d lay, for what seemed like forever, as I heard my sister’s and his muffled talking and laughter coming from her room, until finally it was my turn.   He’d kneel by the side of my bed and we’d talk about our day, laugh, and occasionally have serious conversations.  Sometimes, he’d scare the shit out of me with his scary Wide-Eyes as I hid under my covers terrified and giggling, but either way, bedtime never really felt complete without our long good-nights.

When I was a little older, he’d either take me out back of our house or across the street to the little league field and practice my softball pitching with me.  We’d make small talk about things as I pitched and he caught, unless I really whizzed one in there, and then he’d yelp and hop around on one foot trying to get rid of the sting.  Sometimes, he’d try pitching to me and I’d end up laughing at him until I cried because it really seemed to take a lot out of him.   After games, all of my friends wanted to ride with me because my dad was so cool and so fun, and would blare his late 70’s-early 80’s music so loud you could feel it beating right through to your chest.

Abba, Jefferson Starship, Loverboy.  A gaggle of pubescent girls, each one of us wearing a ball cap and carrying a glove, hanging out the back window of my dad’s blue Oldsmobile Cutless Supreme belting out “Turn Me Loose”.

When I was in college, we’d call each other during Final Jeopardy and compete to see who could get the answer correct.  He’d almost always win.   We’d have debates about politics or philosophy and he’d always take such an interest in what I was learning.   He’d read and critique my papers, then play Devils Advocate.

At times like these, we were like two peas in a pod.

And in between these times, there were epic fights.  We could easily clear out a room as he was the passionate, quick-tempered dad, and I was his passionate quick-tempered daughter.  I have many a memory of us throwing daggers at each other from across the dining room table.   We were both overly concerned with being “right” no matter the topic, and were unable to resist the temptation to try to sway each other to our way of thinking.  Or at least to just have a good rumble.  We would yell and argue and swear and sometimes not speak for a while.

Twenty years later, we’re both older and in very different places.   I became a parent, he grew a bit more tired, and he and I became more like friends.  I’ve gotten much busier in my life while he has hearing aids and can no longer drive due to his failing eyesight.  We don’t get to spend as much time together anymore and Final Jeopardy happens smack in the middle of our bedtime routine here at home.  Not only has our time together dwindled, but our fights have become fewer and further between.  Arguing about right-wing vs. left-wing mentality is no longer a priority for either of us.   Now, we’re lucky if we can get in a few “friendly debates”, in between which, we can laugh and commiserate like old friends.

Recently, at his 66th birthday party, which included me, my sister, our spouses and kids and my step-mother, I was telling him something as we were all standing in the kitchen.   He couldn’t quite hear me, as is often the case when he won’t wear his hearing aids, and I found myself feeling exasperated.  I may have even rolled my eyes, although I’m ashamed to admit it now.   My younger sister yanked me aside unceremoniously and snapped, “you need to be patient.  It’s his birthday!”.  (As a side-note, she’s always been the sweeter, nicer and more well-liked sister.)  I, being the ‘older’ sister who is supposed to be more mature,  felt embarrassed by my behavior.  Of course she was right.  It was his birthday for God’s sake.  After swallowing my pride and thanking my sister for giving me a verbal slap in the face,  I ended up giving him a long hug on impulse a little while later, which took him off guard.  I’m not the most affectionate of his four daughters.

On the way home that night, I thought about why I had acted like such an ass, especially since I used to watch him act the same way with his parents.   I can remember feeling so annoyed with him as I watched him argue with his father or be impatient with my grandma and here I was, behaving the same way.

Why could I be so patient with my grandparents and not my own dad?

And then it hit me:  I miss him.   I miss us.    I miss him sitting at the dining room table with me at 10:00 at night helping me with my math homework until I just start throwing out numbers at random wanting it to be over as soon as possible because I just don’t get Geometry.   I miss him breaking out in an air guitar to a Bon Jovi song during one of my slumber parties.  I miss his infectious laugh as he sat in his chair after work and watched Cheers.  I miss him driving me around in the car singing to the Doobie Brothers.    I miss how feisty our relationship was, the good and the bad.    I get impatient with him because we’ve both changed and I think I’m a bit sad and maybe a little scared.   Our roles are different now, as they should be.  He needs me more now, like I needed him then, and it’s time I manned up and stopped rolling my eyes.  It’s not easy to grow old, but it’s also not easy to watch someone you love grow old either.  You both change, your relationship changes and it can sometimes take a while to acclimate.

Luckily for us, all is not lost.  We did get into it over the phone a few months ago, hung up with one another in a huff, kept our distance for a couple of weeks and then resumed as usual.  And we just had a nice friendly debate about the school systems, which I’m still thinking about today.  I’ve come up with some great comebacks I’m hoping to spring on him during the next family gathering.  I also wish to God he’d wear his hearing aids more often so I don’t have to go hoarse when at his house.  Oh, and just a few days ago, he sent me this wonderfully helpful critique of my previous blog post:

Your grammar in this sentence caught me off guard until I re-read it and now I’m just not sure.  If you had written, “…that it would be fun if he and I were to go into my clubhouse…, that wouldn’t have raised a red flag (ooh, major incident 🙂 ).  Using the (subordinate) conjunction ‘if’ would allow you to use the nominative case of ‘he and I’.  But, by using the preposition ‘for’, it requires there be an ‘object(s) of a preposition’, meaning you should use the objective case (him and me) as opposed to ‘he and I’.  Capisce?”

And, we can still listen to music, only just a little louder.  And now, I’m always the one in the driver’s seat.

See!?  His Wide Eyes were terrifying!  Aside from that, he was an awesome dad at Halloween.
See!? His Wide Eyes were terrifying! Aside from that, he was an awesome dad at Halloween.

The Good Men In My Life.

The men in my life melt my heart.

First, my older son has a new crush on a sweet little girl in his class.  We’ll call her Kylee.  She’s a quiet one, just like him.  A few nights ago, he asked if he should tell her he likes her, or tell her he loves her, basically trying to figure out this whole crush thing.   It was the first time he had ever really asked for my advice on something (sniff, sniff). I said that I thought any girl would feel flattered if someone told her they liked her.   “Love” might be a little too stalker-ish (and no one likes a creepy stalker, am I right?)  We talked about it, giggled about it and he blushed about it.  It literally makes my heart swell every time I see him giddy.

Then, this morning, as my husband was leaving for work, he pulled our son aside and said, “Hey, when you’re getting ready to leave school this afternoon for your winter vacation, you should say to Kylee ‘I hope you have a good vacation Kylee’.

Melting!

Because that is just how my shy and humble husband was to me when we were young:  sweet, polite, thoughtful.     And I love that he’s teaching our son to be the same way.  That one simple interaction between the two of them basically made my whole day–and it’s only 8:00am.

We need more boys and men like them in the world.

Stay tuned because I taught 4 Winds in my son’s class again.  I basically had to try to corral 20 first graders as we roamed outside looking for animal tracks.  You can imagine my blood pressure.

I swear, 1st grade teachers are Saints.