Junior Prom

Striking a pose on the piano bench in our living room.

As Junior Class Vice President, I was in charge of planning the 1987 Junior/Senior Prom. At least I should get a date to the junior prom that I was planning for 800+ of my closest friends. Right? I secured a fancy hotel in the heart of downtown Chicago. I personally chose the menu and supervised the decorations. I had a date, he was my best friend’s date’s weird best friend, but it didn’t matter—I had a date! My dress was everything a prom dress in 1987 should be. It had a pink satin strapless bodice with a larger than life sequin bow sewn right across my less than ample chest. The bottom half was tea length with layers of lace upon even more layers of tulle. I got not only my shoes, but my purse dyed to match at Baker’s. Contacts in, hair the appropriate volume for the times—I was a vision in my own eyes. My mom was home and able to see me off and be part of the pictures with my date and some friends. She watched with a big grin and I knew she was happy I had a date. I think she was proud of all of the planning that I had done to make it an incredible night for my classmates. We didn’t communicate much at this point. Everyone in my family was just moving forward each day, doing their own thing. I left for that dance full of hope for memories to be made.

Pictures before the dance on my driveway.

One major problem for the night that I perfectly planned and properly primped for: our 1987-Billy-Idol-dance-jumping-fist-pumping-prom was placed in a ballroom directly above a convention of blind bowlers. These bowlers didn’t know what to do as they experienced over a thousand prom-goers above their heads. The hotel management came to me and put me on the stage after unplugging our band to quell the revelers and implore them to stop jumping as they danced. Mind you, the only dance move suburban Chicago teens had back then was jumping up and down. My classmates responded. More jumping, loud screaming. I can only imagine the state of the bowlers below.

The Senior Class President came to the rescue, calmed the crowd, and the evening commenced with me hiding under a table from my now extremely intoxicated date who was walking around the ballroom, smoking a cigar, and yelling my name. The one bright spot of the night was when a brown-haired cutie named John Hughes (yes, for that love of all things 80’s his actual name was John Hughes) asked me to slow dance with him to Lady in Red. It was a magical moment and then I dove back under a table to avoid my date.

Memories were indeed made. The fun I had at my junior prom sustained me for a short time as my mom’s health continued to decline. Senior year was ahead and I was ready for it.

Always good to get a hug from a friend.

 

First Kiss, Second Kiss… What a Weekend!

As junior year progressed, the braces came off and my fashion sense improved. I was adorned with shoulder pads on top of shoulder pads, my short hair was growing out, and my pearly whites were dazzling. I was fitted for contact lenses and surely this would be the deciding factor in reaching my new goal to actually and finally have a real, first kiss. I was now seventeen years old and un-kissed. This had to change. It became a mission of sorts for my group of friends. I was both thankful and mortified. One Friday night, at a random house party, a guy I’m going to call Spits was recruited for the job. He secured the keys to a friend’s dad’s Cadillac, walked up to me, and told me we were going for a ride to his favorite place in town. It was time.

He was a nice enough guy. Off we drove to our final destination—the rooftop of the centrally located parking garage in town. Romantic! Within seconds of parking, he hit the power seat button and I was horizontal when he flipped right on top of me. Time for my magical first kiss! It ended up being a survival session in how not to drown. It happened so fast. His open mouth slammed down onto mine and it was like a waterfall of saliva came crashing down on my face. Not what I expected, but, I was being kissed so I went with it. I don’t know if seconds, or minutes, passed, but I dared to open my eyes as we took a break and Spits hovered a good eight inches above my face. However, we were still connected by thick strands of spit pouring from all around his mouth to mine. Thankfully, we broke soon and I toweled off. (Not really, but wow, a towel would have been helpful.) He flopped back to his seat and raised mine. What a fancy car! We drove back to the party and I was so happy. I had been kissed! I wasn’t sure how much I liked it, but it was done. Spits was a good guy who rose to the challenge and provided me with a splashy experience.

The very next night, I went to a small party at a friend’s house. I was delighted to see a cutie who had just moved to our town from Iowa. I will call him Corn. Every girl I knew was interested in him. I was feeling rather confident in myself because I had now been kissed. I’m not quite sure how it happened, but Corn and I were suddenly on a couch, under a blanket, in the middle of the party. I had now kissed my second boy. Imagine my surprise when I wasn’t slathered in saliva. Corn knew what he was doing. Sorry Spits. My friends were thrilled for me and I was welcomed to the cafeteria table the following Monday to applause and cheers.

At home, I tried to connect with my mom but she was shut down. It seemed my parents were in their own lane of illness, hospital stays, and secrecy. I chose to carve my own path and pour myself into activities, friends, and keeping busy.

Orchesis dance-o-gram with my friend Leigh. Classmates could buy these and we would run around during A-period (homeroom) and deliver as many as we could using a trusted cassette playing boom box to provide the tunes.
One of many photos with my sweet friend Allison. Note my Esprit shirt and Swatch pants.
Silly times with my friend Jill at Taylor Park pretending we knew how to play tennis. By the looks of this photo, we didn’t even pretend, we just laughed!

 

Winter

Being a teen extrovert, I did not listen to my parents. The very next morning, my friends gathered in our usual spot at the lockers before class and the big news was that the other girl asked Joe to the dance. Everyone wanted to know how I missed my chance. My head literally spun and I felt like I was walking through the thickest fog with everything around me slowly being muted. I walked to my first period class, Student Council. As our faculty leader started our daily meeting, I stood up and walked to the bathroom. I slid down a wall and sat with tears streaming down my face. I was followed soon after by a friend who bent down and asked me what was happening. I told her my mom had cancer but I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone. She immediately went back to our classroom and gathered an army of friends who all came into the bathroom to comfort and support me. My friends became my lifeline.

Taken at a Student Council retreat very close to the time referred to in this part of the story.

Life at home was difficult. I resented my brother being away at college and my sister being away and married. We grew up with our mom as a stereotypical homemaker and stay-at-home mom. My siblings learned how to do laundry the night before they left for college. They only cooked when a cooking class assigned a project at home. I don’t remember my mom’s illness being explained to me in any way. She simply had cancer, was getting chemo, and we had to keep things quiet for a variety of reasons. Her own parents couldn’t know because my grandmother was convinced she herself had cancer and talked about in non-stop. She was actually fairly healthy. My mom didn’t want people at church to know because she didn’t want them bringing us meals. I wanted them bringing us meals.

If someone in our family needed the phone, they would often pick up a receiver and tell whomever was on the phone to get off. One night, I was tired of walking on eggshells at home and balancing secrets. I was in my room, lamenting on the phone with a friend. I didn’t know my mom picked up the receiver just as I was telling my friend what a bitch my mom was being. I knew when I heard the screaming. My heart sank and the bile rose in my throat. I whispered a good-bye to my friend and headed downstairs to what I knew would be a major punishment.

My dad was screaming at me as my mom clutched her heart. He was yelling that the chemo weakened her heart and she could die from a heart attack right then. My mom just looked at me, trying to breathe, tears running down her face. It was terrifying. It was dramatic. They left for the emergency room. How would I know she was ripe for a heart attack because of the chemo? No one told me anything at all about her illness. She still had her hair because she wore some cooling contraption on her head during the treatments. She was quieter and more withdrawn, but was still living her life. It was all so unfair. It was all so scary. I was a typical teenage girl, complaining about her mom on the phone with her friend, and it appeared that she might now die because of my words.

She came home from the ER that night and continued to get weaker and sicker. There was still no real explanation to me. I helped around the house doing laundry and making meals. I also chose to continue my teenage life and was fully involved in trying to get my mom’s attention in a positive way by finding a boyfriend and making her proud of my achievements.

JV Drill Team photo from my junior year.

1986-87

That summer was an exciting one. I was set to sing The Wedding Song at my sister’s June wedding. I wasn’t necessarily a soloist but my mom hired a voice coach and I worked hard. I knew I could do it. My hair was growing out and I was excited to achieve some of the big hair looks that were becoming popular. The week before the wedding, my mom convinced me to cut my hair short again and told me they hired a professional singer for the wedding. I was always a team player and lost my locks and took the song rejection in stride. I knew I wasn’t a soloist. I definitely felt a bit discarded. The movie Sixteen Candles literally came out at this time and I easily compared my life to the lead who had good friends yet pined for a cute guy to call her own and a family to notice her.

June 1986, bridesmaid at my sister’s wedding.

I wasn’t going to be caught dead working for the Homecoming dance that fall without attending, so I secured a date by agreeing to buy the bid, pay for dinner, pay for the limo, just please, for the love of God, be my date. It worked! He was a nice guy, super funny, and I used my tiny wand curling iron and did my make-up like a pro! I thought maybe, just maybe, I’d get my first kiss at some point on this night. After the dance, the limo pulled up in front of my house. We both got out, I thought, this is it! A good night kiss! Nope. He said, “Okay, bye and got back into the limo. It drove away. I sulked into my house, up to my room, and took perhaps my favorite selfie of all time. I call this, “Seriously? Not even a peck of a good night kiss?”

Post-Homecoming, unkissed.

The other dance offered at my high school was called King of Hearts and it was a turnabout dance around Valentine’s Day. I devised the perfect plan. My parents and I went out for dinner one night and as soon as we got home, I was going to head right upstairs, grab the hallway phone, and pull that curly cord until it was taut and safely reached my bedroom. I would call Joe and ask him to the dance. I couldn’t tell you what my parents and I talked about at dinner because my sole and absolute focus was on calling Joe and asking him because word on the streets was that someone else was going to call later that night and ask him too. I had to get to him first!

As we pulled into our driveway, my hand was on the door handle. I was ready to go and execute my Mod-gets-a-date-to-the-dance mission. The car stopped, I leaned forward, and my dad told me to stay in the car. As my mom got out he shared that he and I were going to drive to my newly married sister’s apartment. We had some things to talk about. What?! No! I had something important I had to do. It was time sensitive. Why wasn’t mom coming with? What was happening? I fumed as the car backed out of the driveway and headed to my sister’s place. I stomped my feet as we walked up to her apartment. The other girl likely had already gotten to Joe. Now what would I do?

My dad sat us down and told us that my mom had breast cancer. She was diagnosed well over a year ago but they didn’t want to tell us sooner because they didn’t want to ruin my sister’s wedding. Then it was Christmas and the time wasn’t right. So, they chose to tell us that night, and my mom chose not to be there. She had already had a few procedures. I was stunned. My dad shared that the times where they went on little trips were actually hospital stays. She would be starting chemotherapy soon. We were then told that she didn’t want people to know so we shouldn’t tell anyone.

My mind reeled as we drove back home. I felt sick. My mom had cancer and was going to have chemotherapy. She had already had procedures and my parents lied to us for over a year. Only a few people knew and I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone. I went to my bedroom and sobbed. I was terrified.

 

1984

In 1984, I began high school. Feathered hair, brown, plastic framed glasses, and a mouth full of metal. The pressure was on now that I was in the big leagues to find and secure a boyfriend. My older sister always had one, and my mom was most proud of her own high school dating career. My sister and brother were both attending the same college and I was finally the only child at home and ready for all of those benefits. My parents were busy with work, church, and community commitments. Life was good!

My fashion sense, not unlike my body, was underdeveloped. My idea of style was solid colored sweatpants and matching sweatshirts from The Gap. As long as it was a primary color, it could mix and match with any in my collection. My goal was comfort and fun. As I navigated the halls of my large high school, I stuck close to my church friends that I had grown up with.

Freshman year came and went with nary a date to a dance. My mother was disappointed, my sister scoffed, and I was devastated. I began to ask myself, “What is wrong with me?” I decided to up my game.

I perfected my round-off cartwheel on our front lawn and tried out for the Sophomore Cheerleading Squad. I also ran for Student Council and secured my spots with both groups. I was honestly not completely surprised as I worked hard for things I wanted to achieve and had a solid level of success at this point in my life. My friends from church fell away as some didn’t like my new activities and immediately judged who I would become. That was hurtful but I was determined to make my mark in high school and I enjoyed being involved and meeting new people.

That fall, I got a super short, pixie style haircut (who knew voluminous hair was about to be all the rage?), and traded in my brown glasses for a pair of light blue. My quest to find a date to Homecoming was on track. Guess what I learned that year? You can ride a float in the Homecoming parade, cheer at the game, and if you were on Student Council and didn’t have a date, well, then you still had to work getting everything ready for the dance that you weren’t attending.

Photo I took of myself (yes, I was taking selfies looooong before it was a thing) on the drive to cheerleading camp.

Sophomore year was a year of making new friends and establishing my high school self. As the school year ended, I decided to up my game. I left cheer, joined the JV Drill Team, the Dance Team, and won an election to be Junior Class Vice President. I auditioned for, and made our school’s highest choir, and enjoyed being part of the chorus in our nearly professional school musicals. Junior year would surely be the year to not only go to a dance, but secure the boyfriend my mom continuously asked me about. Honestly, I would have been happy with an actual kiss from a boy at this point, the boyfriend business seemed unattainable.

The Origin of Mod

My maiden name is Modder. My Grandma Modder used to tell us that the name Modder means mud in Dutch. My dad has confirmed this to be true and I am a proud representation of Dutch mud! Phonetically, I think Modder is super easy to pronounce, mah-der. However, especially in elementary school, it was often pronounced moh-der.

For some reason, a mean nickname resulted: Motor Mouth. I’m a talker. I love to chat. I love to tell stories. My therapist has recently led me to the ultimate revelation—I’m a verbal processor. My husband was not at all surprised when I came home from that appointment and explained to him that I process my feelings and thoughts the best by talking about them. Oh, I love him for understanding that about me for the thirty plus years that we have been together!

Back to nicknames.

In third grade, my Brownie troop had a bridging ceremony in our elementary school auditorium. On a stage. With a microphone. If you know me (and I’m hopeful you will feel you do after reading more), you know that I enjoy both a stage and a microphone. I’m not necessarily talented. I just enjoy entertaining. Also, thank you to Hatch Elementary School for having an auditorium with a stage.

I digress. Back to third grade, Brownies, and the stage. My leader had been my leader for at least a year, likely more. She was holding the microphone and announcing every young, brown-uniformed girl as she made her way across the stage to move on to green-uniformed life as a Girl Scout. Then it came to my name. “Karen… Moh-der”.

The. Horror. All of the girls laughed. I was so sad. Yes, I remember how I felt that day. I can, apparently uncannily, recall many details of my youth. I did what any strong, yet sad, young girl would do and I took the microphone from her hand, held it to my mouth and said, “It’s Modder”, and walked across the stage. After the ceremony, my leader told my parents that my sass really wasn’t a good quality for a scout to have and I was out. Well, good riddance. Now my Wednesdays were free to play and read. (On a side note, as our daughters were involved in our local scout troops, I never ‘got’ to be a leader. Whenever I was asked, I simply explained that I was on the Girl Scout Black List and not allowed to have any official roles.) Also, God bless all scout leaders because you do amazing things. It just wasn’t my thing.

My third grade school photo. My last year as a scout...

Back to nicknames.

I moved on to junior high and I think I basically stopped talking because the Motor Mouth nickname fell away. I’m sure my silence had nothing to do with being a weirded-out-pre-teen who spent her days in braces, giant, plastic-framed glasses, and feathered hair just trying to fit in… anywhere.

On to high school. At some point a new nickname emerged… Mod. This one stuck and not many people called me Karen. In fact, my high school friends still mostly call me Mod and I love it. It was a time when I came into myself and started to really understand who I am. It was also a very hard time for me.

Off to Bradley University. Some of my good high school friends made the transition to Bradley alongside of me and as a result, Mod hit the Bradley U. campus. I can safely say that not many of my college friends even knew my name was Karen. The two women who called me by my actual name are two of my most cherished friends today.

When my husband Mike first met me, we were introduced by a frat brother of his from southern Illinois. This buddy pronounced Mod as Maude. Mike thought my name was actually Maude for a long time. Oh boy. I mean, God bless any teen girls named Maude in 1988, but that just wasn’t this girl.

Life is an incredible adventure and I have learned to appreciate every experience because it has made me the woman I am today. From Motor Mouth to Mod to Karen to Mom, it’s all been incredible. When it was time to name my blog, I knew Mod had to be part of it because Mod is definitely part of who I am.

I sincerely believe that all of humanity is connected and as a result, we share stories. Some of us are meant to be the storytellers.

Welcome to It’s a Mod Life.