Moving On From The Middle

On my very first day of high school in September of 1985, I wore the outfit I had planned out for months.  I wore a lovely yellow and black paisley blouse and a pair of very snazzy black stretch pants.  The blouse was accented with a very thick black belt ( belted and cinched exactly as Adam Sandler had described in his “Gap girl” portrayal on SNL) and my pants can only be described as riding pants that would be very handy today if I  needed to ride a horse.  My unruly curly hair was pulled away from my face with an apparatus that people now use to close up Doritos but at the time was actually called a “chip clip.”  (Not to be confused with the banana clip, which I wore almost every day for the remainder of the 1980s. )

Beyond the outfit, I had absolutely no other plans for what to do once I got to high school.  I had no older siblings or cousins to look to for advice.  The only people I knew who went to high school were my babysitters and kids in my neighborhood that I was afraid to talk to because they smoked cigarettes in the park at night.  In the ’80s, there was no internet for me to look to for what to expect in high school.  (I had heard about an elevator pass that might be sold to me in the hall, and I was told to avoid purchasing one.)

My favorite movie about high school was “The Last American Virgin” which, in retrospect, was mostly about drinking, sex, REO Speedwagon and abortions.  (Themes, ironically, also present in my other favorite high school movie of the ’80s: “Fast Times At Ridgemont High.”)  T.V. shows were also not helpful.  The only shows about high school made me wish I lived in Beverly Hills, 90210 or that I would have moved there with my former elementary schoolmate Elizabeth Berkley so that I could end have ended up on Saved By The Bell instead of her.

Even the music at the time told me limited information about surviving high school, except that I must fight for my right to party and that it was possible that one of the pretty “angel-like” girls I was friends with could end up a centerfold.  Also, there were going to be female teachers that the boys were going to be hot for that I shouldn’t stand so close to the male teachers.

Perhaps all of this is to blame for the fact that I wore that yellow and black paisley cinched and belted horse-riding outfit a lot my freshman year.  And also that I continued to wander around wondering if someone was going to sell me an elevator pass or try to smoke cigarettes with me in the park for the next four years.

At some point this past year, I realized that next year, I would be the parent of a high-schooler.  I went through all of the cycles of grief: anger, denial, and then, of course, pondering kidnapping my children and floating away on a raft forever and starting my own society like Harrison Ford did in that one movie.

When I realized that (a) there would be no internet and (b) I am not good at sewing new clothes for my children out of stray material and (c) I might not be able to find Swedish Fish during my PMS cravings on my island, I decided that I must face the harsh reality that my oldest son Sam was going to high school.

So, I started making a list of all of the things I wanted him to know about making it through high school.  It started as a blog, but it became an incredibly long stream of consciousness that was so unlike me.  I then journeyed 10,000 miles to my closest still-open Barnes and Noble and searched on Amazon for a graduation book that might give him great advice on the topic of surviving high school.  I found graduation books for high school grads and college grads, but nothing for the middle school grad.

Then, I texted all of my friends to see what they would advise their own kids about high school “dos and don’ts.”  Friends with kids in college, high school, and middle school sent me so many amazing tips and suggestions that I knew I had my next project.

And so, “Moving On From The Middle: To __________ On Your Graduation From Junior High School” was born.  Filled with advice and suggestions, I am so excited to give it to Sam at his middle school graduation this week.

But there was one more element I wanted to add to this little gem of a book.  Sam has been able to thrive thus far in his life because of the existence of theatre in his life.  It has brought him through middle school with confidence, and will hopefully grow with him throughout high school.  And so, I decided to donate a portion of the proceeds from this book to the non-profit that I run, “The Audrey Johnson Theatre Foundation,” so that other children will always have the same opportunities that he had to see and be a part of live theatre growing up.

And so… starting tomorrow, this little book will be available for purchase.  It will only be available as an actual book, because I want the kids who own it to be able to keep it tucked away and take it with them in case they need a friend.  There are pages at the end for you to fill in your own advice to your kids/nieces/nephews/grandchildren, since I know there is more amazing information that you may want to share in your own words.

Best of all, it comes with a photo of me on the back cover from my freshman high school yearbook.

And guess what I’m wearing……


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Opting Out

As we get older, we lose a lot: we lose sleep, our eyesight, and our ability to make it to the bathroom on time.   We also do a lot of gaining: we gain weight, we gain strange new problems with our bodies, and, luckily, we gain insight into the world around us.

After I turned 40, I realized that I was gaining/losing at a rapid rate.  In addition to the above losses, I noticed that I was also losing my hair.  Little by little, due to childbirth, nursing, and way too many perming/straightening/coloring treatments, I started to thin out on top.  I began to look like Mr. T.  And so, like many Kardashian women before me, I got myself some hair extensions.

That’s right.  I’m admitting it publicly: it’s lush, it’s lovely, and it’s not real.

I’m not ashamed.  I live in Scottsdale, Arizona. Nothing on any woman’s body here is real.  However, that’s not why I perfectly fine shouting it from the rooftops.  No, the real reason I can publicly announce “it’s not real” is because those three little words are not dirty anymore.  They are not the ones that women are embarrassed by these days.

The most horrifying words to say out loud in 2015 are: “No honors classes.”

This is the end of the school year, so naturally, it’s time to start intense planning for the next school year.  Before you take out that swimsuit and turn on your sprinklers, you need to plan your child’s entire future.  Now.

Recently, I met with middle & high school guidance counselors to discuss my 12 and 14 year old’s school schedules for next year.  Each time I did, I would begin by muttering some dangerous little words.  Deep breath.. and go. “At my request, my son/daughter will not be taking honors classes.  They are going to opt out.”

Each time I muttered those words, a gleam of excitement and danger would appear in the counselors’ eyes.  It was as if I told her I had smuggled in some pot brownies. She would quickly get up, peek out her office door, look around outside her office and down the hallway to make sure the coast was clear, and slowly close the door shut.  Making sure no one could hear her, she would lean forward and whisper to me, “Good for you.

That’s right.  I’m asking my kids to “opt out.”  I’m asking them to choose to do something so taboo, something so risqué, that one can only tell his or her closest friends about it.  Taking honors classes is the “cool” thing to do.  The right thing to do.  It is the “pinning the bottom of your Jordache jeans” of this decade.

Because to “opt out” in 2015 seems to be equivalent to failure.   But not the way I see it. If choosing less hours of homework and studying means my kids will get more time to do the things they love outside of school, I’m opting in.  Teenagers need to sleep.  They need to relax.  They need to enjoy the world before they get too old to know how to anymore.

Before they start losing their hair.

For the same reason why my husband doesn’t see the need for me to get my fake hair blown out once a week (I can’t do it myself!), many people will not understand this concept.  And just like I try to provide an explanation to said husband (No one is asking you to trim our trees by yourself: that’s why we have a gardener do it!), some people will just not understand my rationale.   But like my weekly blow-outs, some things make perfect sense to me.  That’s all I need to justify my actions.

So yeah, my hair’s not real.  I can’t reach the back of my head to blow dry my hair.  I get facials where they use some sort of a razor on my face.  I had a tummy tuck and liposuction.  I had breast implants (but I got those removed.)  I wear Spanx.

No one cares.  I’m not shocking anyone.

I signed the opt out form.  No Honors English.  Or Honors math.  Or Honors science.  My kids are the only ones whose parents won’t let them pin the bottom of their jeans.

Our kids have enough to deal with these days.  I am trying to eliminate whatever stress I can.  Neither of my kids are bored in school and neither of them are asking for more challenging work.  So I’m not going to force it on them just to stay cool.

And if that shocks you, I totally understand.

I just don’t care.



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Mothers Day Gift

“Do you know what you want for Mother’s Day?” asked my husband.

“Yes, I do.” I said.  “They have these new facials for women my age.  I don’t know what they are called.  Something with the word “abrasion” or “derma-something” where they take a little blade and scrape it across your face.  It removes the dead skin cells and it also gets rid of your facial hair.

“So, essentially, you would like a shave?”  he asked.

“I guess I do.”  I said.

To all the mothers out there: may you feel as beautiful and sexy today as you did the day your legs were up in stirrups and you pooped on the table.

mothers-day Mothers-Day-Card-from-someecards

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Mrs. Primack

“OK, so here’s the thing,” I told the saleslady.  “I have never really worn makeup.  Up until now, I have only used a powder thingy that I got at the drugstore.  I don’t even know if it was the right color for my skin tone.  But it worked.  And then today, I woke up and realized that it has stopped working.  I think I need something more.”

“Let me guess,” she said.  “You are 41, 42 years old?”

“Yes,” I said sadly.  “I’m 42.”

She sat me down and told me that when a woman is my age, it’s time to start wearing “big-girl makeup.”  Foundation, concealer, powder-all of it.  She told me that she was 43, about to turn 44, and the same thing happened to her last year.  I smiled and told her I had merely just turned 42 in January, proud of my youth. She then applied what seemed like eight pounds of play dough onto my face.  But when I looked in the mirror, I realized that it really helped.  I looked better.  I actually looked younger.

I don’t like getting older.  I do not let my children’s friends call me Mrs. Primack.  I know that these kids are referring to me this way out of respect.  But I always scream, “No! Do not ever call me that!”  When I volunteer at my youngest child’s school, I refuse to be called Mrs. Primack or even “Aidan’s mom.”  I am told that I am the first and only mom in the history of the first grade to be referred to as “Allyson.”

I admit that I am annoyed by Kate Midleton’s stylish appearance only 12 hours after giving birth to her second child.  Hours after the birth of my second child, I looked like I had just emerged after surviving ten years in a Mexican prison for dealing drugs.  (Actually, I think that I looked like that for about five years after I had her.)

But I have to say, I admire the fact that Kate went outside and waved to reporters with her hair freshly done and a full face of makeup while wearing Jimmy Choo high heel shoes.  She waved and whispered softly to her husband while adoringly staring down at her baby.

I admire her because I know she was probably gushing blood and peeing in her pants.  Her milk was probably just starting to come in, and she was feeling l like someone had put her breasts in vices that were being slowly tightened.  She most likely whispered to William, “I hate you and your stupid family so much for making me do this.” While caressing her baby, she probably thought how badly she hoped some nurse would take her far, far away the moment she got back into the hospital. She probably threw those fucking Jimmy Choos at Prince Charles’ face and told him to see how Camila would feel if she had to stand there and wave to the world in 6-inch heels and a yellow dress after squeezing an 8 pound person out of her crotch without an epidural.

So I do not hate Princess Kate.  In fact, I am totally impressed by her performance because I can relate. I will continue to slather on liquid goo all over my face and insist that young children call me by my first name so that no one notices that I’m aging.  As long as I look and act the part, no one can really question what is actually going on inside of me.

As Bruce Jenner so magnificently told Diane Sawyer, just because a woman is getting older does not mean she has to wear a “safe” white blouse and black slacks.  The “best part” of being a woman isn’t over just because she’s getting older.  She can wear anything she wants no matter how old she is.

Later that day, as I stood there and told my husband the play-by-play of my adventures at the makeup store, I noticed concern in his eyes.  At first I thought it was because he saw that I had spent $300.00 on said makeup, so I tried to quietly hide the receipt by quickly flashing my boobs at him.

But then he spoke. “Honey,” he said softly.  “You do know that you are not 42, right?  You turned 43 in January.”

I was shocked.  I really, truly didn’t remember that.

But as long as I don’t know it, maybe no one else will either.

Just like no one will know that Kate Middleton hated that stupid yellow dress so much that   she set it on fire the next day.

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“Mom! Do you see that girl over there? I want my hair to look exactly like hers! It’s so thick  and she has the prettiest curls I have ever seen.” “Lauren,” I said sadly. “You will never have that beautiful hair. Why?” She asked. “Because she’s black. And black people have the best hair ever. And while we are on the topic, you should know that black people sing better than white people do, they dance much better than white folks, and they can name their kids the coolest names ever and totally make it work. “

Nodding in agreement, my little pre-pubescent teenager said to me.  “It’s true.  And they can also hide their pimples much better than I can.”  

I recently saw “Motown The Musical,” which tells the true story of an all-black record label trying to become a part of an all-white music business.  Sam asked me how the boy playing young Michael Jackson could hit and hold the high notes so amazing well.  “He’s my age.  How come he can still sing so high?” “Because he’s black,” I said, “They can do that.  It’s amazing, isn’t it?”

Are these inappropriate conversations for a mother to have with her child?  Some may say yes.  But I don’t think so. We live in a world where majority rules.  Differences are not celebrated.  We rely on negative stereotypes to define minorities or anyone we don’t understand.  Often, it’s based on ignorance.  But I think it’s also rooted in jealousy.

I myself have some serious ethnic minority envy.  White people just can’t make anything sound as cool or funky as the black folk do. When the black actors on my new favorite t.v. show “Empire” argue with each other, it’s intense.  It’s powerful.  It’s passionate. When the actors on my other favorite show about the music business “Nashville” argue with each other about country music, they are just shouting very loud.  (And let’s face it, no one can pull off names like “Cookie” and “Luscious” the way the actors on “Empire” can.  If a white person called herself “Cookie, no one would take her seriously.  On “Empire,” Cookie is the most well-respected, most powerful character on the show. )

Let’s face it: in the story of Dorothy blowing away to Oz and trying to go back home,”The Wiz” is a lot of fun.  It makes me happy.  “The Wizard of Oz” just stresses me out.

My ethnic envy, however, is not limited to one specific minority. Let’s be honest, no one can make tortillas or burritos like Hispanic people.  And true, a lot of successful professional people are Asian or Indian-but that’s because they are the hardest working students I have ever seen.  And let’s be honest, we would all rather go to a Jewish deli or an Irish pub because “those people” know how to run ’em.  They just do.  It’s in their blood.

We are finally living in an era where a former Olympic athlete can turn to his country and proudly admit that he is different.  Unlike other decades, today he is being celebrated for revealing what makes him unique.  In turn, our future generations will have a transgender idol.  Someone they can look up to and say, “That’s just how I feel too.”  They can triumphantly embrace what makes them stand out from the crowd.  It’s amazing.

Let’s keep it going.  We need to keep cheering on everyone who shows who they are and what they are made of.

I am envious of anyone who has special talents.  I am green with envy of people who can do things and say things that I can’t.  In Zumba class, I imagine I can dance like Latin women.  In my shower, I pretend I can sing like Diana Ross.  But I can’t.  As I get older, I am figuring out who I am and what makes me who I am.  I have stopped trying to hide the things that make me stand out from the crowd.  I’m learning how to be proud of who I am.

So cheers to Bruce Jenner and to everyone out there who shows off their true colors.  Let’s celebrate what makes us different. Because when I stop and take a look around, I realize that in this rainbow sherbet of a world, white people just feel vanilla.


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The Pyramid

I have always felt that I was born into the wrong generation.  I would have loved to have lived in the ’20s: the flapper outfits would have totally flattered my Jewish tushy.  I’m sure I would have loved smoking long cigarettes on a stick and listening to smooth jazz.   To live in the ’50s would also have been great: again, the wide angle poodle skirts would have been very helpful. And, according to movies like “Grease,” everyone in the 1950s seemed to know the lyrics and dance moves to the exact same songs.  I know that I would have loved the 1960s for a variety of reasons, but to remain politically-correct, I will just say that I love listening live music and sleeping outdoors.  I did get to grow up in the ’70s and ’80s and I loved them both: especially the seeming innocence that was most likely due to the lack of the internet.  (1970s caveat: bell-bottom pants were very unflattering.)

But this decade is a tough one, especially as a parent.  Besides the fact that women my age in this generation look way better than they should legally be allowed to look, it’s certainly not the Age of Aquarius.  It’s the age of the competition.  I am sure most parents my age cannot tell me one sports competition they were part of at age 10; but most children these days can name several. I don’t have a problem with competition.  It’s healthy and prepares kids for the real world. However, the phrase “it’s all fun and games” is no longer true.  It’s not really fun, and none of it is a game.  At least, not from where I’m sitting.

Sitting with other parents, I often feel like I’m the only one who says, “The only thing that matters is that these kids have fun!” or, “It’s much better than them being on social media all day!” or, my personal favorite for parents of girls: “It’s keeping them off of the pole.” (Credit-Chris Rock.)

My 12 year old daughter does cheerleading.  She’s a flyer-the one at the top of the pyramid.  If she falls down, the team loses.  No matter who is holding her up, her ability to stay up there can mean the difference between a win or a lose.  Last weekend, she went down.  Our team came in 4th place.  I was glad she wasn’t hurt.  It wasn’t the end of the world.  It’s an after-school activity.  But as I looked around, I felt like I was the only parent who felt this way.  To me, it looked like the end of the world.

I understand disappointment.  I really do (see: photos of my hair in middle school.) However, I’m more concerned with disappointment in things that matter in this world: friends that aren’t healthy, soldiers not coming home, and elections that are sure to be stressful.  For some reason, I’m also concerned that Bruce Jenner’s interview with Diane Sawyer will not be to announce that he’s transgender.  (I am worried that he’s going to announce something completely different, like he’s moving to Canada or marrying one of the Kardashian girls.)  I’m worried that everyone will be very disappointed.

The last thing I’m concerned about is whether my kids win or lose.  It would be nice, but it’s certainly not everything.  To me, it is everything to see them making friends, laughing, smiling, getting exercise, and feeling a part of something special and unique.

I want my kids to learn how to read and write well, to make good choices, and to be hard workers. I want them to learn how use their imaginations and creativity because amazing things are being invented every day. I want them to learn how to be a friend to everyone, and to fight hard and speak up for what they believe in.  I want them to be humble winners and gracious losers.  I want them to know how to both survive and thrive on their own without me.

Of course I’m proud when my kids achieve something. It is amazing to see them succeed and it’s even better to get to share the news with everyone who cares. It just doesn’t define me.  My  own successes and failures make me who I am: my kids’ successes and failures do not.  But just like them, sometimes I win and sometimes I lose.  No one ever created a world for me wherein I never fell.  I won’t let my kids grow up that way either.

So, if that makes me a parent that does not fit in with this generation: so be it.  I’ll pretend I’m in a different era where kids can be kids and memories are made based on the times you hugged your friends and encouraged them.  Not on the times you dropped them.

I’m glad to be at the bottom of the pyramid as long as the people that I love are down there with me.

. flapper

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I am not a very good cook.  I do not always keep what some people may call: “a clean house.”  There are a lot of crumbs and pennies inside my couch cushions.  I know that they are there.  I sit amongst them every day, yet I do not have the energy to clean them up.  I don’t like doing or using real dishes. I love paper goods. I have never, ever used the china that I got for my wedding 15 years ago. So, naturally, I am the perfect person to throw all of the holidays for our friends and family.

I have hosted them all: from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve to Fourth of July.  There is not a holiday I have not had at my house.  With one notable exception: the Jewish holiday of Passover.  That one just seemed way too much for me.  There are props and symbolic food items that are not easily found at grocery stores.  There is a production that accompanies the dinner which involves singing, the flinging of liquids, and historical re-enactments.

The table has to include more items that one can remember.  If one of these symbolic things are not properly placed on the table, it can ruin the whole holiday.  There are rules about the types of food one can serve.  There are commandments as to what can and cannot go into all of the required symbolic dishes one must serve.

So, I have always opted out of hosting that one.  Until last week, when I found myself hosting a small group of 35 people for Passover.

Listen, you Easter people: you have it made.  I’m still not totally sure what the Peeps and the Easter bunny have to do with your holiday, but it all seems a lot more fun that what we Jews have to do.  I’m assuming that you don’t have to re-enact Jesus’ death and his resurrection.  You probably don’t have to throw ketchup on Uncle Kenny to symbolize Jesus’ blood, or to eat a completely made-up seafood item like gefilte fish.   The only thing our kids get to hunt for on our holiday is a piece of matzah inside a pillowcase and only one kid gets to win.  So, just enjoy those easter egg hunts. Please take a moment to pause and think of us eating parsley dipped in salt water while you are eating your honey-baked ham.

The strangest symbol we have to have at the seder is an empty chair.  We must set a place for an invisible guy named Elijah.  No one really cares about Elijah once we say his name a few times during the service.  People step on his chair or knock it over in an attempt to grab a yummy macaroon when the service is over.  Elijah is there, but not really.

And such is the life of a parent of a teenager.  We are in the house with our children, but not really.  They know we are there, but most of the time, they really don’t care.  They are  busy watching t.v., playing on their phones, or skyping/texting/Instagram-ing with their friends.  We drive them where they need to go, provide food and shelter, but most of the time, they only remember us because we are in the way. We used to be the center of their universe, but slowly, we are becoming like Elijah: invisible.  It is normal, it is part of growing up and becoming independent. It is a ritual as old as time.

And so, like our ancestors before us, we are forced to wander in the desert, figuring out what to do next.  Wondering where to go and how to start over now that we have been set free.

Melodramatic?  Sure.  But, remember, I am a Jew.  It’s part of my heritage.  We have a several holidays where we make everyone feel guilty for what those before us have suffered on our behalf. So bear with me.  Because it will happen to you one day too.

You see, no matter your religion, watching your shy, cuddly little babies become strong, independent teenagers is every parents’ Passover.


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