Her Name is Rio

Every Sunday night, I get hungry for Chinese food.  Perhaps that is because that was how we spent Sunday evenings growing up.  Rain or shine, every Sunday night, we would jump into the car and head to our local suburban Detroit Chinese restaurant.  It was our weekly ritual. It was also, sadly, the most “ethnic” experience I had growing up in the ‘burbs.

Growing up, the suburbs of big cities like Detroit were mostly similar to the fictional town featured in my all-time favorite movie “Pleasantville.” For the most part, the streets and stores in our town were filled with lots and lots of white people.

Looking back, I’m not even sure that it was actually Chinese food.  In reality, it was more like “Jewish Chinese food.”  I’m pretty sure they don’t serve dishes like “almond boneless chicken” in China.

Then in my 20s, I moved to Arizona, and my white world became filled with color.  The city of Phoenix, where I practiced law for many years, has a very large Hispanic population.  This was an ethnic group that new for me.  On my first day of work, I was handed the file for my very first client.  I proudly took my file and went to the courtroom to introduce myself to him.  “Jesus!” I called out, over and over, like a Catholic priest on Easter morning.  No one responded.

The madness was put to an end when my embarrassed co-worker tapped me on the shoulder and whispered quietly in my ear, “It’s pronounced HEH-soos.”

And thus began “The education of Allyson.”  Arizona is the melting pot into which everyone has relocated.  (I lovingly refer to this state as “the witness protection program” because I’m convinced that every single person who moves here is running away from something.)  But that’s why I love it here. My world has expanded so much in the 18 years I have lived here.

My youngest son Aidan has been in a self-contained gifted classroom for the last few years.  On his first day of Kindergarten, he got into the car and declared” “Well, I’m the only white kid in my class.”  And it was mostly true.  Almost every other student in his class for the last 3 years has been Indian or Hindu or Buddhist or Japanese.  My little blonde haired curly kid stands out quite prominently.  I used to call him the Carrie Mathison of his classroom.  (And if you got that reference, I applaud you.)

It has been pretty amazing to watch my son interact with so many different ethnicities.  The highlight every year are the holiday celebrations.  The kids each have an opportunity to bring their parents in to school to explain their holiday traditions to the class. Aidan loves learning about these fascinating holiday celebrations and sampling their traditional foods. I love learning about it too.  They are all so interesting and fun. I must say, when the time came for Aidan and I to present Hanukkah to the class, it was really quite depressing.  There is no fun way to tell that holiday story, and the dreidel game gets old very fast when played by children with high IQs.

This year, I am embarking on a teaching adventure in a school that is much like Aidan’s multi-cultural classroom.  My class list is filled with names that I cannot pronounce.  I hope I can learn their names soon, but I am really worried that there is no more room in my brain to learn anything new.

As I watched the Olympic opening ceremony on Friday night, I was awe-struck watching so many unique cultures and ethnicities coming together to celebrate as one.   And even though the USA looked like the cast of “Cruel Intentions” in our uniforms, our country is unique and special too. We have to remind ourselves that building walls around our country won’t make us stronger or better.  We can learn so much from one another if we just let each other in. That’s what will make this country great again, Mr. Presidential Candidate whose last name rhymes with Bump.

A few years ago, a friend of mine here in AZ recommended a tailor to me.  I needed a dress to be hemmed, and she told me that her guy, Joe, was the best in town.  This friend prided herself on knowing everything about everything.  “Just go to his store and tell him I sent you,” she said. “I’ve been going to him for years.” “Joe’s your tailor,” she told me, was the name of his store.  And so, I took her advice and headed to his shop.  I drove around the shopping center for a half hour, unable to locate his store.  When I called her, she assured me I was in the right place.

I parked my car and started walking, determined to find it on foot. I walked a few steps, and then I looked up.  I found the store alright, and I realized that I wasn’t the only one in this town who needed a lesson in cultural sensitivity.  Later that day, I called her and told her that she was right- he is the best tailor in town.  She was smug in her acceptance, until I told her she was very wrong about the one thing that was really the most important-his name.

We all have room in our brains, no matter how smart we are or old we are, to learn something new.  The only difference between those who learn and those who don’t is whether or not they want to.













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What The World Needs Now..

Their little faces emerged from their respective camp buses.  My 13 year old daughter and 8 year old son had been away at camp for 28 days.  They had no phones, no internet, and no electronic devices.  I felt an overwhelming sense of joy as I hugged their dirty little bodies. A month without electronics means a month immersed in nature.  As we walked to the car, they told us stories about hikes in the wilderness, activities on the lake, races and games, and arts and crafts.  As they smiled and laughed, I was overcome with sadness.  The minute they get back their phones, and onto the internet, or to turn on the t.v., they will know what they missed while they were away.

Shootings, riots, and murders.  That’s what they missed.  Racism, prejudice and terrorism.  I so badly wished I could press pause on that moment and keep them frozen in time.  Because the minute we hand them back to the outside world, they will know what we know.  In the land without computers, there is no hate.  There is only love.

And if we could, thats all we would ever want our kids to know.

Our 15 year old son is at Stagedoor Manor, a camp that is filled with song and dance.  A place of acceptance and tolerance.  Today, they have launched a campaign.  A challenge to the world to sing about love.

And to remember what it was like for each of us, the moment before we all stepped off the bus into the real world.

**For each share of this video, Stagedoor Manor will donate $10 to the LBGT Center of Greater Orlando.  Please share this video and help spread the love.





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“C” Average

Lately, whenever I walk into a store or a room, I find myself speaking out loud to remind myself why I’m there. “I’m at Target for toilet paper and socks. I am in the living room because I’m looking for the calendar.” Sometimes I sing a quiet little song about it: “I’m at the store for dryer sheets, yes I am…I’m here for dryer sheets, yes I am..” I am officially the crazy lady on the security camera talking to myself.

But no matter where I go this week, I can’t remember what I’m missing. I have a persistent feeling that I’m forgetting something.

And then suddenly it hits me: it’s my children. I have misplaced all three of my children. (Not really.) In reality, all three are spending a month at sleepaway camp. Once I remember where they are, I experience a combination of extreme gleefulness and sheer sadness. “I’m free!” “No kids to worry about!” “I miss them.”

My older two children have been going to sleepaway camp for years. But this is the first year that my little guy, Aidan, is gone too. The house is eerily quiet, but the noise inside my brain has become very loud: “What are you going to do with all of this free time? It better be something productive. Should I write another novel or start another non-profit foundation? Maybe I should spend some time trying to figure out exactly how I feel about Brexit.

About a week ago, I got a call from camp that started as follows: “Hi, Mrs. Primack, it’s Sharon from camp everything is fine.” (Grammar police: please note that I excluded the comma on purpose. A call from camp always starts with one long “nothing is wrong” run-on sentence.)

“Aidan’s counselors noticed that he wrote you a sad letter letter and you will be getting it soon. We just wanted you to know not to panic when you receive it. The staff had a long talk with him today.”

“We asked him to give camp a report card, and to grade it like he was the teacher. His answers: when he’s busy and enjoying camp activities, he gives it a “B.” When it’s bedtime and it’s quiet, it’s a “D.” So, the staff here has concluded that in Aidan’s mind, camp gets a “C” average and that’s a pretty good overall grade.

Frankly, I was relieved. I had previously anticipated many calls I would be receiving this summer about Aidan: that he got into an argument with another camper about the current political climate, that he told a staff member exactly what he thought of the lame camping trip, or that he was currently educating his bunkmates on the storyline and musical lyrics of “Spring Awakening.”

Later that day, as I researched whether or not it was possible for me to become a certified Zumba instructor in two weeks, I thought about Aidan’s analysis of camp. Just like the camp staff, I decided that it was pretty normal for an 8 year-old kid to feel happy when he’s busy during the day, and to feel sad and lonely in the still of the night.

But what about us adults? What if someone were to ask all of us how we grade our daily lives? Many people I know would come up with a similar answer to Aidan: an “A” or “B” when busy and distracted during the day, and a “D” or “E” at night, when lying still in bed. Life as a whole, for many people, gets a “C” average. And that’s a problem.

Most of us spend our lives constantly running towards an invisible finish line. That’s just how life is in 2016. But why do we do this? Is it because that’s what society demands of us in this competitive and 24-hour cyber-obsessed world? Or do we do this to ourselves on purpose, to avoid thinking about the things that really trouble us when we stop competing and turn off the computer?

Doctors are writing more prescriptions for sleeping medications today than at any other time in history. No one can sleep anymore. We are all way too restless.

I have to believe that the ultimate goal in life is to achieve a feeling of daytime and nighttime equality. We should all strive to feel the same joy during the silence of the night that we do during our busy days. We should all live a life that has an “A” average.

Aidan may not feel this yet because he’s not old enough to choose how to live his days and nights. He doesn’t yet have the autonomy or power to make those choices.

But we do. All of us grownups need to stop and think. What thoughts are we trying so desperately to chase away from our minds that we have to continually create chaos and frenzied activity during the day? What are our deepest, darkest fears that we put off thinking about until night? Isn’t it time to start dealing with those realities and fixing those problems while we can: in the light of the day?

Once we do that, surely we can enjoy and relax our precious nights at home with our families.

So, while I will enjoy my time away from the children while simultaneously feeling bad about doing so, I will try to take my own advice. I will stop running around like a maniac taking on way too much during the day so that I can pause and figure out what it is that I’m really running from.

If I find the answer, is it possible that I could then achieve such peace within myself that I won’t need any medications to help me relax and fall asleep at night?

If I can succeed at doing that, then as my children run off the bus from camp back into my arms, I will feel a sense of accomplishment. I will know that these four weeks were not wasted at all.

I did something very, very important with my time.


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The Wig and the Water Bottle

There are certain milestones in a child’s life that we all document: the first step or the first word. We think we are done when they get older, but it goes on: first day of school, first night away from us, and for us, last night: Sam’s first teenage party held at our house while we were home. Being that these are theatre kids, it was a party for The Tonys. But still.  There were 20 teenagers in our basement.

I couldn’t help but remember one of my own teenage milestones: the first party I had (when my parents were out of town.) We were juniors in high school and we all swiped alcohol from our parents’ cabinets. Alcohol was a novelty for us, and we all had way too much to drink. Some got sick. One of of my friends, Matt, threw up on our brand-new beige carpet. The stain didn’t come out. This would be my first and only party while my parents were out of town.

Last night, I really wanted to be the cool parent. But I just couldn’t do it. I worried. I worried about what they were doing down there whenever they stopped singing along to the Tonys. I worried whenever they went outside to our backyard. I worried when they went for walks to the neighborhood park.  Was I supposed to stay with them the whole time? Was I supposed to follow them on their walks? What if something bad happens?

A few weeks after my party back in 1988, Matt died. He was playing basketball one night at our school and he went back to the locker room and collapsed. He had a genetic heart condition that was never diagnosed. I was the first to learn of Matt’s death, as I had to go to school early that day. I had just gotten my driver’s license and needed a parking permit for my car. All of the teachers were crying. There were cell phones or social media, so I couldn’t tell anyone. One by one, each of one of my classmates came to school and learned of Matt’s death.

As a life-long observer of people, I sat in the lobby and watched as each of them learned the horrible news. What I mostly remember now is how they each walked into school as carefree teenagers, and moments later, their innocence drained away. We think we are invincible until we learn that someone our own age is not.

This week, another tragic death with similar circumstances has hit our community. This time, the 15 year old girl, Maya, was a friend of my son. When I told Sam the news, I had a horrible sense of deja vu, watching his transformation from teenager to adult in a moment.

Then, Orlando. We are accustomed to hearing about mass shootings. My kids to be less and less affected by this news. “We didn’t know any of the people who died.” “It didn’t happen here.”

But this time, my 13 year old daughter demanded answers.

“Why do bad things keep happening to good people?”
I don’t know

“Were gun laws stricter when you were growing up? Is that why this keeps happening?
I don’t know

“Why would God take away a 15 year old girl?”
I don’t know

Then she asked the one question that I realized that I had an answer to.:

“How can I make sure that something bad doesn’t happen to me?”

You can’t. You can’t ever guarantee that nothing bad will happen. Really awful things happen to really great people. And it happens to kids too. But this is what you can do:

You can make safe choices.
You can make a choice to not talk to people online that you don’t know.
You can make a choice to not get in a car with a drunk driver.
You can make a choice to not try drugs.
You can make a choice to not run across a busy highway at night.
You can surround yourself with good people who care about you.

This morning, post-party, I surveyed my house for signs of damage. I looked for evidence of bad behavior. But there was none.

I only found one thing that was new: a water bottle with a wig on top of it. I don’t know what that was about-perhaps that’s what happens when a bunch of theatre kids have a party. Whatever it was, it made me laugh.

I wonder if my parents worried so much during my teenage parties. But they, just like I, have probably learned that no matter how much we worry, we can’t stop bad things from happening. We can buckle our seat belts on the plane and we will still die if it crashes. We can put helmets on our kids, and they can still get hit by a speeding car.

Matt had too much alcohol at a party and he didn’t die. He died playing basketball with friends. Maya’s parents worried as they placed her on a plane to Israel. What if there were terrorists? There was, after all, a terrorist attack in Israel on the same day she died. But she didn’t die that way. She died while hiking with friends.

To me, the wig on the water bottle is a symbol. Life is ridiculous. It makes absolutely no sense. Some days we wake up to horror and sorrow. And some days, we wake up to laughter and smiles.

There is no guarantee as to what any of us will wake up to tomorrow.

All we can do is to make sure that we go to sleep each night with the knowledge that each day, we did as much as we could possibly do.

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Shtick (A Parody of Shel Silverstein’s “Sick.”)

No need to go to Target today, I’m sure,
Said little blogger Momontour.

I have napkins, socks, and baking powder,
Pens and pencils, cereal and clam chowder.

My fridge is full, we’ve got milk and eggs,
I’ve got lots of razors to shave my legs.

No picture frames to buy, we don’t have any more space,
No cosmetics needed, I’ve got lots of products for my face.

I’ve got dryer sheets, and cute dish scrubbers,
I’ve got plenty of tampons and I doubt we need rubbers.

We’ve got frames, we have pillows, we have towels galore,
Our cupboards are filled with paper cups and Kleenex, we don’t need any more.

We have chips and cookies and lots of desserts,
I’ve got plenty of socks and shorts and relaxed v-neck tee shirts.

We have toys and games and Legos and books,
Slotted spoons and measuring cups, in case anyone cooks.

We’ve got aspirin and Motrin and a variety of bandaids,
Hair brushes and combs and ponytail holders for braids.

Our garage is filled with storage tubs made of plastic,
Plenty of toothpaste and floss- our teeth look fantastic!

Ten half-bottles of Windex sit under our sink,
We have Tide and 409, and we even own bleach (I think.)

Tons of soaps and shampoos sit there in our shower,
Candles and flashlights in case we lose power.

We’ve got batteries, light bulbs, paper clips and glue,
Lotions, hand sanitizers, and travel-size shampoo.

We have crayons and markers, tape, and a red pen,
We have bones for the dogs and deodorant for the men.

There’s no need for coffee, I have plenty of that,
Got cute stuff for the garden, and a new welcome mat.

We have sugar and spice and boxes of rice, and….

What? What’s that you say?
There’s a chance we might run out of toilet paper today?
Goodbye! I must leave!
I’m going to Target right away.







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Nothing Compares 2 U

I’m not ashamed to admit it: I’m having a rough time processing Prince’s death. I didn’t know him (although I did have a very vivid sex dream about him in college that involved me, Prince, and the song ‘Diamonds and Pearls’).

This past week, I listened to every radio station that promised a 24/7 Prince tribute. I was surprised that I still knew the lyrics to every song. While this made very happy, my daughter stopped speaking to me for several hours after I sang along with “D.M.S.R.” (Apparently, it’s “embarrassing” if your mom loudly sings “Everybody, screw the masses! Wear lingerie in a restaurant!” while her friends are in the car.)

Since I spend the majority of my life in my car driving my children to various activities, I had a lot of time to listen to his amazing catalog of music. And as I did, the memories of my youth overwhelmed me.

Each Prince song that came on the radio evoked a different memory for me:

1. Listening to “Darling Nikki” reminded me of 6th grade sleep-away camp. The song was dirty, shocking to adults, and forbidden for us to listen to. So, of course it was the #1 song of the summer. I remember sitting on top of a picnic bench at Camp Seagull with a bunch of the older, cooler girls gathered around a “jam box.” Someone had smuggled the cassette tape of “Purple Rain” into camp, and we all secretly sat and listened to the song until we had it completely memorized. At 12 years old, I had no idea what “masterbating with a magazine” meant, but I knew it made me feel grown up to have memorized them.

2. Listening to “Little Red Corvette” reminded me of my much-acclaimed middle school talent show performance. My best friend and I did what I can only describe as a sign-language version of the song. We felt it best to act out each word of the song to convey its meaning to the audience. We acted out the word “little” by ducking down low. We jogged in place to illustrate the word “fast.” We wore red shirts that we pointed to whenever Prince sang the word “red.” And horrifyingly, we did exactly what you are thinking when it came to any automobile reference: we pretended to drive a car. It was only recently that I realized that the song had nothing to do with driving a little red car much too fast. (And for that matter, “Lady Cab Driver” was not really about a woman who drove a cab.)

2. Listening to “Controversy” reminded me of my first outgoing personalized answering machine message. The machine was a gift from my parents to go along with the new kid’s telephone line that was installed in our house. (Kids: if any of these ‘80s terms are too confusing for you, please ask a nearby adult.) The message, sung by yours truly, was to the tune to “Controversy” and went a little something like this: “I just can’t believe all the things people say.. on answering machines. If you want us to, then we will call you back. On our answering machine.”

3. Listening to the song “1999,” reminded me of my high school graduating class of 1989. It was a party anthem for us, since we could easily change 99 to 89. (As in,…”so tonight we’re gonna party like it’s 1989.”) I remember dancing to that song at prom the thinking that the year 1999 was very, very far away in the future and that I’d probably be very old and wrinkly by then.

4. Listening to the song “Purple Rain” reminded me of seeing the movie “Purple Rain” in the theatre with my friends over and over again. Our parents took turns driving and dropping us off at the movies. We insisted that we be dropped off around the corner from the movie theatre, so that no one would know that we didn’t drive there ourselves. This, despite the fact that we were all 13 years old. I don’t mean to brag, but I’m really good at the “I Would Die For You” hand movements.

5. During my rebellious bat mitzvah pre-teen years, I listened to “When Doves Cry” over and over again because I felt that Prince totally “got me” when he complained about his mother never being satisfied. I got excited every time he sang about “Dynasty” in “Kiss.” It was like we both loved the same exact t.v. shows.

I wanted to be Appalonia, or Vanity or Shiela E. I wanted to be Prince’s girlfriend, walking around in a white lace corset and a white lace garter belt. I imagined him signing “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World” to me only. I loved the “1999” record album cover, and I hung it on my wall like a poster.

I danced to the “Batman” soundtrack in a college sorority “greek sing” competition. I gave up my obsessive love for pink and gave purple a try. I was distraught when he changed his name to a symbol. I searched desperately for a raspberry beret.

What I have realized is that music, unlike any other medium, is intrinsically tied into all of our experiences growing up. Each of us has a soundtrack that goes along with our memories.
For me, the soundtrack of my adolescence was filled with a variety of artists. The music of Michael Jackson and Madonna were both featured prominently, along with a lot of music from one-hit wonder singers with crazy hair. But Prince is the only artist in which I can recall so many vivid memories that correlate with so many specific songs.

Prince was there with me as I turned from an adolescent to a teenager. He stayed with me as I became an adult. He was as present as my friends were.

His loss feels just as real as if one of my childhood friends were to pass away. The memories that spring to life for me once one of his song starts to play are as clear as if I would have bumped into an old friend.

Unlike any other artist of the 1980s, Prince was ours. He belonged to our generation. I wonder if my kids will be lucky enough to have an idol of their own. I’m not sure any of the artists of today will have the longevity and continued relevance that Prince did.

Princes’ songs made more and more sense to me as I got older. I now realize that the songs “Head,” “Do Me Baby,” “Cream,” and “Jack You Off” had completely different meanings than I once thought that they did. I now realize that “I wanna be the only one you come for” does not mean that he wants you to be the only one to come over to his house. “Soft and wet” is not about a dog’s nose. I totally know what he meant when he said “there are 23 positions in a one night stand.” (Actually, no I don’t.)

He was also eerily prolific about his death. Listening to “Let’s Go Crazy” over and over again, I was struck by his words: “I’m not gonna let the elevator bring us down.” He alludes to the fact that even if he were to die in an elevator, it would never break his spirit. In Sign O’ The Times he sang: “A man ain’t truly happy until a man truly dies.” I really hope that both of these things are true.

Goodbye sweet Prince.

It’s such a shame our friendship had to end.

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