Where Have You Gone, Sweet Child of Mine?

A few weeks ago, I attended an ’80s concert at the public library. That is where my music is played now – at Interstate rest stops, on department store escalators, and in front of the library on Sunday afternoons. Despite a few confused patrons who mistook the snow cone line for the book drop, the retro event seemed to go off without a hitch.

The band covered the biggies – Madonna, Journey, the Violent Femmes. And the middle-aged crowd drank their Pinot, munched on Kashi, and swayed gently to the music of a generation. Parents discussed little league. I got a new cobbler recipe. All while Def Leppard reverberated in the background.

And then “Livin’ on a Prayer” came on. The familiar oo-wa-oo-wa-oo seemed to trigger something.  Yuppie conversations dwindled. Gently at first, and then with growing excitement, the crowd tuned in to the music. Dads wooted. Moms shook arses and bosoms before God and country. We sort of fist-pumped. We kind of rocked. We flashed back to dates, parties, our proms. For the first time in years, I felt like dancing on a bar. Most folks took a moment. To honor. To reminisce. And I think, maybe, to mourn.

What the hell has happened to us? Aren’t we — the ineffectual purveyors of homework and cauliflower – aren’t we still young? Love has, indeed, proven itself a battlefield. But have we honestly given up the fight for our right to party?

After Bon Jovi, the banter shifted a little. We reminisced about our wild sides – the kisses we’d been given, the men we’d let slip away. Someone had mistakenly taken her top off during what turned out to be merely a foot massage. (Me.) Someone else had entirely lost her bathing suit during a skinny dipping bout in Truth or Dare. (Okay, me again.) There was one-upmanship. Sometimes the wine was talking. But the takeaway was this: we used to be crazy people. Passionate. Euphoric. A little naughty. And we miss us.

Now, when I hear the songs that used to be my songs, I feel like they are mocking me. Whose brown-eyed girl was I? Was a vacation really all I ever wanted? And did I honestly once believe that I was someone’s meaning and inspiration?

Yes. Yes, I did.

These days, the only thing that shakes all night long is my dishwasher. I don’t miss my high school crush, but I do miss those crushy feelings. So what’s a grown-up child of the ’80s supposed to do? I compensate. I sing Twisted Sister in the minivan. I buy tickets to New Kids on the Block when they come through town. I ask the trainer to crank up the hairband mix during spin class.

When I listened to these songs as a teenager, I never envisioned myself raising children to them. I never thought about having to explain whose lover Billy Jean was, or why red, red wine makes a person feel fine, or why pouring sugar on someone is in any way appropriate. The music was just effortless and fun. The opposite of parenting, I guess. Maybe that’s what I miss most: the ease.

For now, I suppose I still have the public library. My daughter hula-hooping to Human League.  My son and I kicking a soccer ball during the Joan Jett medley.

Parenting is both idyllic and thoroughly bizarre.  Not unlike the ’80s, I guess.