personal in public

I’ve always found stadiums and sports arenas fascinating. Like their sadder, more workweek cousins Convention Centers, stadiums are concrete, generic vessels that come alive when people united by a team or a band stream through their entrances. If sports and music are religion to some, then yes, stadiums are churches, and each person shuffling through the restroom line an individual worshipper.

On a Friday night in early July, I stood on the floor of a stadium in Chicago with tens of thousands of other twirling, wrinkled, middle aged people watching The Grateful Dead reunite after 20 years. The following Friday found me at another massive venue in New Jersey with my 8 year-old daughter to see Taylor Swift perform for squads of tween, teen and other variously aged females, plus a few baffled dads and boyfriends.

These two epic summer musical events in the space of one week smacked me in the face with nostalgia, and filled me with a new parental feeling I’ve been struggling to define. I was buoyed by the primal indulgence of entertainment, and felt unironically #blessed for the dual chances to supersize my and my daughter’s joy.

At the Dead show I was with girlfriends from college, and ran into others from all facets of my life. I was giddy and thrilled to be a part of a temporary hippie throwback moment – no matter how constructed. It was a massive party and I was going for it. My pleasure when the music started was both deeply personal and perfectly public. I was free to dance badly with feeling.

I had last seen The Dead in 1995. What struck me as I watched the band and the fans revel 20 years later is how rarely it is that I lose myself in anything these days – and how much I used to take that kind of letting go for granted. Now my energy seems solely focused on solving problems and creating opportunities for my kids and my work. As the band played, I forgot the checklists and lost myself in singing out lyrics and woo-hooing.

My experience was deepened at the Taylor Swift show, as I witnessed my daughter absorb her first concert. Z’s shiny, widened eyes, her fist raised in the air as she mirrored others around her, the adorable poster she and her best bud schlepped to the show – it was all so beautiful and pure. I breathed it in and put a mental photograph in her girlhood scrapbook for both of us. It made me tear up, because I recognized that Z having a formative experience. I was there for this one, and got to share it with her, but I realized as I watched her mouth move and her eyes follow the spectacle of girl power and pop music, that she was already having the kind of interior life I had reconnected with a week before in Chicago.

As I hugged her and we shouted out the words to “Bad Blood,” “Trouble,” and “Style,” all around me I saw girls and women of all ages doing the same. I saw people, thousands of them, standing in their stadium seats with their blinking bracelets and their smiles, looking as happy to be there as we felt. I squeezed her tighter.

A few days later Z left for overnight camp. It is really weird not having her around, which is a non-writerly way to describe her spotless, empty room and the negative space in our home without her loud voice and big personality, but weird is really what it is. Last week she was here but now she’s somewhere in New Hampshire, climbing ropes and making friends and learning archery, and I’m not there for any of it. She is being propelled into the world, but her inner life will always be with her. I hope she nurtures it with lots of music and art and friendship and anything else that reminds her that she is her own person, with her own story, but is always amongst thousands of others right there with her in the stadium.

dead right

A week ago I was headed to Chicago to see the Grateful Dead. I returned from that experience a different person.

I KNOW. How totally absurd and super annoying of me to say that. Like the person who talks about juicing or their dog’s poops or their baby’s personality a little too much, I realize how self-absorbed and trite this sounds. But allow a sister a little hyperbole.

People have been writing all week about the shows in Chicago and in California, and how the 70,000 + crowds each night were lovely and unified and super kind veggie burrito-ish to each other. No pushing, no aggression, just peace, love and sativa. How the music was rich and potent and how time seemed to hover somewhere between 1995 when the Dead played their last show at Soldier Field, and present day, present moment when they took the stage again with a few tweaks to the band lineup and the appearance of the fans. Walking through the streets of Chicago to and from the show was as cozy, crazy, happy and summertime party-down festive as anything I’ve done in years. It brought me back to college and fun and freedom and nothing left to do but smile smile smile. (Sorry).

It was special to go with two dear friends who live far away but will always be my true sisters. I was without my husband and kids and felt worry free and light. I was utterly in the moment — running into friends, high-fiving strangers, and dancing the hippy dance – the one where you don’t move your feet and might whack someone with your roving arms. I liked having to explain to several people that sorry, I did not have mushrooms to sell, but was grinning and giggling like a maniac simply because I was happy.

Now it’s a week later in the life of a mom of two youngin’s going to two different camps with lunchboxes and lost water bottles and pajama day and doctor’s appointments and playdates and living in the most non-peaceful construction zone of a neighborhood in the world. A lot of things have gone down this week, but I’m still smiling and thinking in these bumper sticker-y Grateful Dead song lyrics. I’m waiting for it to wear off and to return to the pissed off weirdo mom person who yells at people looking at their phones while crossing the street.

I can’t fully explain the transformative effect that one concert had on my attitude, but I am internally vibrating. Something shifted while I was reveling in those songs that were so much a part of my teens and twenties. I was having this intimate relationship with the band as they sang, while around me everyone else was having their own personal experiences – equally as intense of course. I felt like a vessel for the music and for memory and for love.

I try so hard to get there — I meditate, I self-medicate, I try to be mindful towards the happy times and to equally feel the sadness, the anxiety, the anger and the disappointments. But this was a time where everything was working. And the blissful memory of that weekend will sustain me.

It is bizarre, but I’m running with it. If you see me you’ll know. It must have been the roses.