“That Mom” Loves “That Kid”

My latest blog for Skirt.com.

Is your child “that kid”? The unsuspecting class clown in constant motion? The incessant talker/noise-maker with a built-in soundtrack? The weird kid? I remember them well. They never seemed to fit in socially yet were some of the most intelligent and creative people in class. They were awkward, strange, sometimes even talked funny and we all made fun of them for being different. Yet we were somewhat oddly attracted to their quirky behavior. Their differentness made us feel uncomfortably curious. But in the end, a bizarre fear seemed to overcome us and “that kid” was met with verbal lashings, kick-me signs and public mockings. We didn’t know the fear of the unusual was leading us down the path to unkindness. We only knew “that kid” was not like me. As a now mom of a “that kid”, I struggle to find acceptance for my son while not allowing him to feel different, weird or strange. He only knows that he’s special because he has ADHD.

I like to think of my son’s ADHD not as a special need but as a special gift. He thinks up the most incredible Lego creations and spends hours meticulously cultivating his projects. He is the boy who writes heart-warming, well thought out stories about a character born from love, Mr. Snail; a snail much like my son. He’s the interesting kid that everyone surrounds on the playground while he digs for rocks and buried treasure. The boy who thankfully has many friends because he is kind-hearted, funny and full of interesting facts. My son is the boy who helps out, who’s never made an enemy, who believes in good, who loves animals, loves his family and only wants to please. A sensitive, intuitive, creative little boy with a heart as big as anyone I know. And I’ve told him as much as his hyperactivity and lack of focus can be an issue, some of the most brilliant minds are wonderfully successful people. Do you ever wonder if “that kid” is the founder of Facebook, Google, Twitter, Microsoft or Apple…just think. Maybe it’s not so bad being “that kid”.

Don’t get me wrong, being a parent of an ADHD child is hard work. The constant reminding, re-reminding and well, re-reminding. Schedules. Frustrating conversations. Notes from the teacher. Struggling to keep them on task. And then there is the worrying you do at night about how you are going to help them achieve success living with ADHD. There are days you feel like a complete failure and throw your hands up in exhaustion and self-pity. The days you ask yourself, why my child? It’s not an easy life. And this morning slapped me right back into the reality of that life with “that kid”.

I look forward to Friday mornings. My husband and I have a weekly breakfast date at our favorite spot in West Midtown. We joke that our Friday morning breakfasts are even better than our Saturday night dates because, well, we’re actually awake! We both do our best work in the morning. However this morning was not like every other Friday. My husband had been sick all week and hadn’t run. So he was up at 5am to run 4 miles in the dark. Asking him to please wear his reflective vest, he snapped at me for nagging him. Naturally my feelings were hurt as my only intention was to keep him safe. He apologized but the tone was set. Not 10 minutes after he had left to run, my son was up (30 minutes early). I heard him in the kitchen rustling around in the pantry. I got up, asked him to go back to bed. Yet 5 minutes later, he was back in the kitchen. Again, I asked him to go back to bed. By the third time, I caught him standing on the counter, grabbing for his Valentine’s candy that we had strategically placed on top of the refrigerator. I knew this wasn’t going to be a good morning. Impulsivity at it’s unwanted finest. “Mom! I wasn’t getting candy, I was looking for the pencils!” Lies. I screamed for him to get down and told him that his favorite stuffed animal was gone for the day. This stuffed animal is the Linus’ blanket of stuffed animals. I know how to get his attention. “I hate you, Mom! I hate you! I’m going to kill you!” He hasn’t said those words to me in a long time. It’s progress. He continued his relentless verbal assault on my weary mind. It was too early for this. I had already been snapped at and now here it is only 6am and I’m arguing with my son. Ugh. Why Friday of all days?

The belligerence, disrespectfulness and downright stubbornness continued through breakfast and my shower until we left for school. I kept telling myself, Beth, he’s not done this in such a long time. Remember when it was almost daily? Remember how hard it was before you knew? Remember? I’ve worked hard to get him to a good place. I’ve found my son the most wonderful psychiatrist who has prescribed a balanced drug combination which retains his happy disposition and creativity. He has been through therapy, he attends a fantastic school, his teachers and I are in constant communication and the extended family follow the rules and routines we have set for him at home. My son is lucky. But even with a loving family, good school, therapy and medication, ADHD is still unpredictable. Outbursts like today happen for no apparent reason. The triggers vary and aren’t always apparent. You have to roll with it. These kids thrive on routine, structure and consistency. Discipline is key. Children with ADHD are usually highly intelligent, creative and manipulative. You give them an inch, they will take 10 miles or more and keep going long after you’ve lost the race. You have to have as much mental and physical energy as they do. Sometimes I have to give myself permission to fall with him. I am “that mom” today, struggling with “that kid”.

My son has overcome many obstacles in his short life with the suicide of his biological father, the death of my father 6 months later and moving three times in two years. Not to mention my remarriage. That’s enough to put most adults on Prozac! But being diagnosed with ADHD was the best gift he, and frankly I, could have received. We both now understand what he is dealing with, why he acts the way he does and best of all, how to combat the negativity that comes with the diagnosis. I remind him daily of his “special powers”. His creatively, beautiful, out-of-the-box mind and intelligence are all part of his package. My now husband and I both believe that if you choose to see the positives in life you are healthier, stronger and less likely to be cynical and negative. Positive parenting, positive living, breeds positive, happy children. Or at least that’s our theory. We, along with his therapist, teachers and extended family are all teaching him how to cope with his ADHD in a positive way. My son is learning to take his gifts and use them to his advantage while still allowing himself those now occasional irrational moments. I am still learning to allow myself those same irrational moments right along with him. A process we are learning together.

Even though this morning started out rough, I know my son. I know that’s not him. He was struggling. Struggling between his impulses and his rational mind. Like the angel and the devil on each shoulder, whispering in his ear. Who do you listen to? It’s hard. It’s hard even for those of us living with the brain of Toyota rather than a Ferrari. I know this. I try not to feed into it, but I’m only human. We learn from each moment and move forward. My son may have ADHD, and to the outside world beyond our home and family, he may seem strange or a bit off, but not to me. He is beautiful, even when he hates me. I’m “that mom” to “that kid” today, tomorrow, always. No one can take that away from us.

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I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar

My latest blog for skirt.com.

This will probably be one of my more emotional posts for Skirt. So I apologize in advance if I offend anyone as it is not my intention. My opinions are my own.

Few things upset me more than injustice, religious bullying, intolerance and complete ignorance. Today the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight conducted a hearing on birth control and how the Executive Branch of our government may have overstepped its bounds by compromising with religious groups regarding the Affordable Care Act. Basically the men of the GOP and the hard right religious groups believe the Obama Administration is “declaring war on religion”. And this is where I became enraged. Not because it’s the GOP vs. Obama…again (boring, get a life) but because our government and the people running it for us are continuing to abuse the First Amendment of our Constitution, in particular the Separation of Church and State. I believe in this whole-heartedly, and as person of Faith wish that both sides of the aisle as well as our “religious” institutions would LEAVE IT ALONE! Faith and politics do not play well together. They are like two children on the playground fighting for the same swing. Someone is going to get hurt, in this case “We the people”.

The First Amendment in regards to religion reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”. In laymen’s terms, it basically means the government will not impede upon the rights and freedoms of or endorse religious groups. Simple, right? Keep it separate. It’s not that hard. Yet repeatedly through our short history as a country this basic premise of our constitutional Bill of Rights is repeatedly violated by the very people sworn to uphold it and the fear-mongering religious organizations seeking the ear of the government to push their agendas. What part of that amendment do you not understand? Oh, I get it, just as the Bible can be interpreted to mean what you want it to, so can the Constitution. Ah. Sorry, my bad.

I am usually the voice of reason when it comes to religion and politics. I am the silent majority. The one that just wants everyone to shut up, get along and do their jobs. The one that loves God but doesn’t go around talking about it but actually lives the words I believe. Talk is cheap and so is the shot that the GOP and these so-called men of God are taking at the First Amendment and birth control. I do not want a bunch of men who do not possess the ability to have a baby because they are missing a key component, a uterus, deciding how I should choose to avoid getting pregnant. It’s my body not yours! Choose to cover the pill because it has other medicinal purposes including regulating hormones and a woman’s period. I took the pill for years for cramps long before I began having sex. My doctor recently wanted to put me back on the pill to regulate my period. There. A medically necessary reason. Boom. Healthcare. Problem solved. Yet five clergyMEN and a bunch of men who care nothing about the lives of millions of women much less the Constitution they are interpreting for their own political agendas are speaking on behalf of women because this new law would infringe upon their “religious liberty”. HA! Where are the women on this laughable panel of witnesses? Where are the political hardliners now to protect our beloved Constitution? Our country has become all about hidden earmarks, political infighting and religious fanatics screaming in the ears of the Washington elite. Thomas Jefferson would be cringing if he were alive today. But back to the latest religious political debacle.

Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) had this to say about the female college student brought forth by two Democratic women to give another perspective on this issue, “As the hearing is not about reproductive rights and contraception but instead about the Administration’s actions as they relate to freedom of religion and conscience, he believes that Ms. Fluke is not an appropriate witness.” Rep. Issa went on to say that she also did not “have the appropriate credentials”. Right. Ok, sure. Really he just didn’t want his committee tainted by the opinion of a person this Act would actually affect or hear that she might be a person of Faith with a different perspective.

Religion does not belong here. If you don’t believe in sex before marriage, contraception or abortion, don’t participate in it. Don’t buy condoms, the pill, or have an abortion if you get pregnant. What’s it to me if you choose not to do these things. No harm, no foul. Just like what’s it to you if I choose otherwise. Who am I hurting? Me? That’s my right, my human right, protected by both the laws of the Constitution of this nation as well as by God. I don’t feel hurt or ashamed because I had sex before I was married and use birth control. Maybe my view is simplistic. Maybe I am naïve for thinking that the Constitution should be honored and respected, not interpreted like a piece of literature to fit the needs of those in power. If there is a question of legality, take it to the Supreme Court. That’s what they are there for, to interpret the law, weigh right and wrong.

Separation of Church and State, learn it, remember it, live it. The nation would be a much more productive place if religion was simply not in the equation when it comes to the government. This is not to say that a moral code should not be followed, but let’s not confuse the two. When put together, religion and politics have caused wars, the Inquisition, the Salem Witch Trials, and the Holocaust not to mention a whole host of other insurrections and ethnic cleansings in the name of God and Country. Who suffers? The majority. In this case, women and those who believe in the First Amendment and all it stands for: religious freedom, separation of church and state, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, peaceful assembly and the right to protest. So get your act together, Washington. Mind your place, intolerant religious groups. I am the silent majority, a majority starting to make their voice heard. I am a strong woman, a religiously tolerant Christian, a party of one, the voice of many. 

I’m a Sexy Short Pear

My latest blog for skirt.com.

I love my Facebook friends, those I’ve met IRL (in real life) and those I’m still waiting to meet. The discussions are always interesting, funny and sometimes downright controversial. But what I’ve found, at least with my set of 200+ carefully chosen followers, is that we all seem to have a mutual respect for one another’s opinions regardless of what side of the political divide we choose to occupy. Recently a thread began with the simple sharing of a life affirmation. You know the ones I’m talking about? Like the “Hang in There” poster from the 80’s with the cat dangling from a ledge by two paws or the ones that populate Pinterest doling out positivity for pinners needing a pick-me-up. They are meant to inspire and motivate. The latest inspirational mantra came from one of my newest friends, a kick-ass, yoga-instructing, straight-shooting mom living in the wildly beautiful land of Alaska. She battled a heart condition and told me her only motivation to stay fit is to live healthy and love her body to keep up with her children not to be super model thin. The result, a confident, sexy woman who feels that fit is beautiful from the inside out. It bothers her greatly to see women succumb to unrealistic societal pressures to be a certain type of beautiful. And so she posted the following to Facebook: “Skinny girls look good in clothes. Fit girls look good naked.”

But what is fit? What does this statement really mean? Is this about being healthy, one’s body image or both? When I first saw it I thought, wow, how true! I run and work out six days a week, eat relatively healthy and try to take care of my aging body as I slide into 40 next year. Those heroin chic, stick thin models were the poster children of sexy and beautiful just a few short years ago. But no more! Women are embracing their curves, stretch marks and imperfect breasts and saying I’m beautiful the way I am. At least that’s the message we hope is being sent to women everywhere. I run for many reasons: my heart, my colon, my fitness level, staying trim, my children, my husband, the ability to eat real food, to drink wine, not to mention the fact that I actually enjoy running. As I get older, I know it will be harder to keep my body in shape and I will have to adapt my running accordingly. But that’s ok, I know I want to be active until my body tells me to stop. Even then I will be the crazy old lady doing hand exercises in my chair.

Being fit is more than physical. Your physical health leads to a healthy self image and overall good attitude. The mind and body are intricately connected to one another. For many of my friends and family, running and being active is a life-saver, it literally keeps them sane as they deal with their daily battle with Depression. The balance they have to strike between being physically fit and emotionally healthy is delicate. For women in general, this balance also includes having a healthy self-image. It seems that women have been dealing with body image issues since the beginning of time. Look at artists’ renderings of women throughout history; the pre-magazine cover, Vogue 6-page spread era. These paintings depicted what was considered a “beautiful” woman of the day. From the curvaceous Botticelli lovelies to Renoir’s sensually fleshy Victorian vixens to artsy photos of the waifish models of the 60s like Twiggy and Peggy Moffitt. It seems that women have been looking at themselves in the mirror for centuries striving to achieve a body that maybe they were never physically meant to have in the first place.

My friend’s thread immediately prompted a discussion on what it means to be “fit”. Someone mentioned the “thick” girls or if you’re unfamiliar with that term, full-figured gals. Are they not fit? I have been totally flamed in road races by women 10, even 20 years older than me and by women who were much larger and at first glance you would assume might not be able to run as fast or far. Just because someone isn’t a size 2 and rail thin doesn’t mean they aren’t healthy, happy or sexy. I am by NO means stick thin. I have curves, curves in the usual places, the hips for sure. My husband tells me all the time how much he loves my curves, how feminine they are. He thinks it’s beautiful, that I’m beautiful. I am not 5’10”. I am not super thin. I do not have big breasts. I do not have abs of steel. I am a 5′ tall, petite, curvy, freckled, small-chested little lady. In other words, I am a short pear. Not your “ideal” body type by society’s standards. I also know that being thin doesn’t mean healthy. My Nana is a slender 5’6” woman who can eat whatever she wants and not gain weight. You know the woman everyone hates. BUT, in the late 80’s my Nana was diagnosed with high cholesterol. She never worked out, walked or did anything to keep herself fit. She was just blessed with a fast metabolism. So is THIS the ideal body? You can eat whatever you want, never work out, be thin but become sick with preventable diseases? My Nana would tell you no.

Fitness is internal and has to do with the health of your vital organs, your attitude toward your body as well as how you feel about yourself. Confidence is sexy. Thick, skinny, fit, curvy, athletic, pear, apple are all relative terms society uses to describe women’s body types. We all fall into the trap of categorizing ourselves. For instance, if you go online to most women’s clothing stores, you can read reviews of each item by people who have already purchased and worn it. These reviews always helps me decide what to buy. Some sites have bought into body-typing with categories like athletic, slender, curvy, full-figured, tall, petite to describe a woman’s build. You then can search by body type, even height to see what other people of similar builds are saying about how these items fit them. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. I mean who wants to wear clothing that doesn’t look good on them? I don’t. I want clothing that fits my curves properly and accentuates the positives. But these words permeate almost every aspect of our society now. It’s hard for women to avoid body-typing themselves. We all have things we don’t like about our body. Frankly, I’ve always wished I was 4” taller. I guess that’s why I wear platforms and pumps. Other than wearing 4” inch heels, I can’t change this aspect of my physical being. However, I can be a confident, sexy woman despite my petite stature. Between running, eating right and being confident in what God gave me, I feel taller, despite the heels. My confidence translates to the outside, and that makes me sexy, makes any woman sexy.

Taking your body into your own hands and becoming active for the most important reason, your health, is what should concern women. Not if you’re a size 2, you have a J Lo booty or the boobs of a supermodel. Walking daily, yoga, pilates, running, swimming, weight training, Zumba or running errands every day on your bike, it’s whatever works for you to keep you healthy and happy. Sure, you will probably slim down and fit into your clothing better but what will really begin to transform is how you feel about yourself. You may not get rid of the hips, the jelly in the belly, the junk in the trunk or the cottage cheese but believe me, you’re still sexy, you’re still beautiful, you’re still a woman. So I do believe the statement, “skinny girls look good in clothes but FIT girls look good naked.” Fit: body, mind and soul. I own my body, all 60 inches of freckled me with my hard-earned stretch marks, cottage cheese on the thighs and small chest. The confidence I have in myself shows. To be fit is to be: size 0 to whatever, blonde, brunette, red-head, curvy, slender, buff, soft, fleshy, boobs, no boobs, tall, petite…healthy, confident…sexy.

I Got the Moves Like…Mom

 

Am I a bad mother because I am not up in arms about the M.I.A. “Fingergate” incident that happened during the Super Bowl half time show? There were 10 adults in the room along with at least 8 of the 10 children ranging in age from 6-12 years old. Not one of us caught it (unlike Nipplegate, i.e. Janet Jackson). And frankly if we had, I am not sure that we would have been offended or that it would have shocked our children. Let’s be honest, can you say that you haven’t flipped off another driver with your kids in the car or gone on a swearing tirade when you’ve broken something while your kids giggle in the background? If you haven’t at least once in their lives, I commend you because that is incredible self-control that I sorely lack. I’m not saying that giving someone the finger because they cut you off in traffic or swearing because you broke a dish in front of your children is setting the right example, but to ere is human. It happens. Do I think M.I.A. was expressing her displeasure at a performance disrupting field official driving a golf cart? No. I think she got caught up in the biggest moment of her fledgling career and lost sight of what she was there to do, entertain millions of Madonna fans. She’s young. I think she will eventually look back at this very public indiscretion and regret it or at least think, hmmm…, that was kind of stupid.  

 

But despite all of this I began to think about why I didn’t have a strong reaction to the finger being pulled on live, primetime TV. Am I not parenting my children properly? Do I not care what their young impressionable minds are exposed to daily? Why am I not hovering over them like a helicopter ready to descend when the slightest no-no is uttered or arguments break out over toys and staring contests? It all comes down to parenting styles. There is no right or wrong style, it’s just whatever works for you, and most importantly for your children. I don’t always agree with other’s styles, as I’m sure they don’t always agree with mine, but who am I to judge? If your children are happy, healthy and most importantly, loved, who cares if as an adult they never curse a single day in their lives or choose to express themselves with the occasional bad birdie. I discourage my children from using foul language and gestures just like any other parent but I also know that completely sheltering them from the world is impossible. I’ve given them the tools and tutelage with the occasional reinforcement tactic to help them understand why it’s not appropriate in every situation for adults to swear or gesture. I’ve apologized to them for my own swearing, finger pulling and idle gossiping. Just like you have to teach a child to share, you also have to teach them social graces and tact.

 

Parenting is a never-ending cycle of teachable moments. My children say please, thank you, yes and no ma’am and know how to behave in front of adults, at friends’ houses and in public places. But like most children I know, they will choose to push that envelope to see how far they can go with just about any social faux pax. They are testing your reaction. I choose not to overreact with a lot of the situations my children put me in daily. If your children are like mine, they are going to try and get a rise out of you with the one thing they know sets you off and sends you over the edge. Sometimes it’s done to push the boundaries in an attempt to make sure they are still VERY clear. Other times I personally think they just want to push buttons because they enjoy the attention and the control. It’s all part of growing up and learning what is and isn’t appropriate and why. But I still often wonder if they are really listening and getting the messages I’m sending.

 

My daughter came home from school today annoyed and, frankly, mad as hell at two boys. These boys have been bothering her while she plays with her best friends during recess. The year started out with the entire class playing nicely together but by November the tides had turned. Cliques were formed and loyalties divided. A lesson in what is to come later in life. She was friends with these two boys until they began to pull her hair and say she liked a certain boy. The first incident she had done everything I had taught her to do in a bullying situation which was to ask them to please stop and walk away. They pursued, as 10 year old boys often do, and began to taunt her further. Again, she asked them to stop and walked away. By the third time, my daughter was raging. She was done. As the verbal assault began she raised her voice and told them to stop. With the final tug of the hair and a shove, she unleashed a barrage of curse words that left both boys stunned and my daughter shoving them aside, running to tell the teacher. I chuckled under my breath as she told her story, beaming with quiet pride of the girl power I had instilled in her. I want her to know how to physically defend herself if she is forced to. However, I also needed to address the swearing, which she got into trouble for using on school grounds regardless of the boys’ part in the fight. I had to explain that while swearing does seem to alleviate tension it doesn’t solve anything and makes you look tacky. In the back of my mind I’m thinking, wow Beth, eat crow much. She understood what she had done wrong and could do better next time. There would be a next time, many next times with these boys.

 

Today I got up from my desk to find my daughter quietly playing with her horses next to it. As I often do, I messed up her hair and sang a silly song. Usually that garners a huge reaction like “MOM! STOP! You’re embarrassing me!” Yet, nothing. I continued to tussle her hair and sing. Again, nothing. After a couple of more rounds of “You are My Sunshine”, I finally asked what was up. She turned to me and said, “Mom, I’m practicing ignoring you. The boys are bothering me again and rather than swear this time, I’m going to be classy, ignore them and show them that they can’t bother me no matter how hard they try. Eventually they will give up.” I sat down on the floor next to her, gave her a great big hug and said that I was proud of how she was choosing to handle a very difficult situation. Then she said something that took my breath away, “I know you’re proud of me. I’ve learned all my best moves from you, Mom.” She then turned back to her horses.

 

A teachable moment for both of us. Validation comes in the most unexpected forms, doesn’t it?  


Risky Business, Footloose and Other Spontaneous Random Acts of Silliness

It is not unusual for me to break out into spontaneous song and dance in the following places: my bedroom, my bathroom, the shower, the kitchen (with a fabulous glass of wine), my office, the car, running down Peachtree Street in the mornings. You’ve probably seen me if you drive through South Buckhead into Midtown. Yes, that’s me! It’s the city, I blend in with the other crazies. I grab the closest hairbrush or ladle microphone and do my best Steve Perry, Bono or Pat Benatar impression. I bust out my Dance Fever moves and moonwalk, robot or running man my way across the floor. Sometimes I go all Risky Business, sometimes it’s me, my kids and the dogs barking like, “What’cha doing? Are we going for a walk?” Needless to say it’s a sight to behold. But life is meant to be a series of spontaneous random acts of silliness.

Frankly, we all do stupid things, act a little out of character from time to time. Why not give yourself permission to lose control for mere minutes each day to recharge. It’s not well-organized, rehearsed or sitcom-ready like The Cosby Show’s perfectly lip-synced version of Ray Charles’ Night Time is the Right Time. Just me, myself and my crazy dance moves with a hairbrush or in the case of running, a few of my closest commuter friends. Music is a powerful healer, even if only to lift a sour mood. It always conjures memories or sparks creativity. When I listen to songs likePretty in Pink, I am instantly transported back to middle school, begin to smile and remember the moments of seventh grade puppy love. I find that music allows me the freedom to daydream, mostly about the outfits I would wear on stage while performing in front of thousands of screaming fans, like when I listen to Buoy by The Joy Formidable. Or even, yes, wouldn’t Derezzed from the TRON: Legacy soundtrack be a killer song to ice skate to in the Olympics; the triple axles, the perfect landing on the downbeat, the applause…

Sorry, I had to stop writing for a minute, Footloose came on my Pandora station. The urge to line dance and ponder how I fit into the 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon game was too much for me to resist. In the immortal words of Kenny Loggins, “Everybody cut loose!” So I guess that’s my point, you have to be willing to cut loose and enjoy some silly “me” time. It restoreth the soul. Your husband, girlfriend, life-partner, children, dogs, and cats (well, maybe not the cats) will still love you afterwards, I promise.

OH! Thriller! Funky zombie dance, heh heh, ow!

The Metallica Moment

My latest blog for skirt.com about Mom, Metallica, MTV and the moment when she became cool.

My Mom is a classically trained singer and organist.  I grew up listening to her practice for hours the various arias, art songs and master works she was paid to perform around the area.  I tagged along to New York City on occasion when she lessoned with a famed tenor, the cassette tapes to which she still warms up to in the morning.  I was there when she performed at the opera, charity events or concerts. I was also fortunate enough to sing duets with her as well as be in the chorus or small group when she was the soloist. Now with her solo career behind her, she teaches voice at the Lovett School, a private school in Atlanta. She loves to teach. She loves her kids. And after nearly 15 years, many of her “kids” come back to sing with her at a local church in Midtown.  “I sang with Mrs. Soper!”, they say giddily.  I should make up tee shirts or something. They know her as Mrs. Soper, the kind, gentle lady who doesn’t always get the joke the first time you tell it.  A fun-loving, charming yet modest woman, unaware of her enormous talent. What these kids don’t know is what a musical badass my Mom really is and how fortunate they are to have trained under her. And what’s more, she knows it. But like them, I didn’t understand how much my Mom really had to teach me.  I mean, she’s my Mom. Mom’s are annoying and tell you things you don’t want hear like clean your room, don’t date that boy or some day you’re going to have kids just like you! Really Mom? Wait…ok true.

In the 60s, she listened to bands like Jefferson Airplane with its trippy, drug-induced melodies and white rabbit rock and roll. Then there was Joan Baez and Ravi Shankar, two vastly different sounds. There were so many albums in our home, jazz, blues, gospel, classical, rock, and broadway. Any one of these could be playing during the evening. I listened to these records incessantly as a teen trying to figure out my Mom’s musical tastes. I guess I needed to relate to her somehow and music was one thing she and I had in common. She once told me that to truly appreciate music, you have to be willing to get beyond the top layer to really HEAR the complexity or simplicity of the chord progressions and phrasing. The real music is what you don’t hear naturally. The music behind the music.  You have to turn off the filter and hone in on that one note that holds it all together, that repeated phrase that allows you to tie into the next chord, even the dissonance. Just be alone with the music. Well, I thought she was nuts. Who wants to work at listening to music?! And thus, the Metallica moment.  

During the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards, Metallica was up for an award with their new single Enter Sandman. They had crossed over into the mainstream with their latest album.  I wasn’t a fan, I was watching for other acts and of course, the fashions. But it was this moment that made me realize how badass my Mom, the musician, the master craftsman, really was not to mention the fact that she was watching MTV with her teenage daughter and enjoying it! As the repetitive opening chords of Enter Sandman began, my Mom stopped talking, turned her head toward the TV and listened.  Something caught her attention. Something in the music.  I’ve seen her do this before. Then without hesitation she said, “I do believe that is a classical guitar rift in there and someone is trained, listen, do you hear that progression? The chords? It’s beautiful. I like this song. They’re really good.”  I was like, WAH? All I heard was noise and the guttural vocals of James Hetfield. But no, my Mom heard music, she heard the classical renderings of a trained musician. It turns out she was right. Cliff Burton, an original member of the band in the 80s, was a classically trained guitarist who eventually turned to jazz and then rock. His classical guitar stylings heavily influenced the band’s sound. How could she pick out that one small layer of music amongst all of drum pounding, bass strumming and heavy baritone vocals? I mean, it’s heavy metal not Mozart! She turned and smiled at me as if to say, see, I’m not nuts. I told you so. Dammit, Mom! I hated when she was right.

I remember telling my friends about the conversation with my Mom the next day. “Your Mom likes Metallica!? That’s totally cool!” was the response I got. I knew they had missed the point of what my Mom was actually trying to tell me.  In one brief moment, my Mom had not only related to me on my level but I in turn began to relate to her on a much deeper level than ever before. A new-found respect for one another was forged that day.  I mean, I always knew she was cool. Wasn’t the Jefferson Airplane album proof of that?