Friday, March 30, 2018

New Kids on the Block: Anxiety, Confetti, and How They Changed My Life

If you happen to listen to the most amazing podcast on the planet, 'My So Called Whatever', then you've probably already heard the condensed version of this story.  But since I got a lot of positive feedback and encouragement from listeners, I decided to blog the full story in the hopes that it might inspire someone else.  My NKOTB history is a unique blend of anxiety, positivity, hopefulness, and self-awareness.  And it all started with a scrawny little 9 year old and a sweet, little voice on the radio.

PART 1: I'll Be Loving You Forever

I first discovered The New Kids on the Block like so many young girls did, in 1989.  I heard "Please Don't Go Girl" on my little black and grey Sony radio and fell in L-O-V-E with the sweet, angelic voice of young Joey McIntyre.  Now, those that know me well are probably spitting out their Blondies by Jenny at that comment because everyone knows I'm a die-hard Jordan Girl (with strong Donnie tendencies... we are ALL Donnie girls after all!).  But yes, in the early years it was all about lovable, curly haired Joey.  If I'm being honest though, it was more by default than anything else.  He was the only one I thought I had a shot with since he was the youngest... and I was only 9.

Can you spot the New Kids watch and button?  I never left home without either!

I can remember doing all of my weekly chores just to earn New Kids posters, buttons, slap bracelets, and my totally awesome pink, plastic watch with the guy's faces plastered across the band.  My very first poster was one of the band that I cleaned out my entire bedroom for.  I was positively giddy with excitement as we drove to Sam Goody in the mall to pick out the poster and while my dad helped me to hang it ever so precisely between my windows where Joey and his Boston bandmates had the perfect lighting.  I can also remember memorizing exactly how many seconds I needed to forward-wind and rewind my cassettes to get to 'Step-By-Step', 'Hangin' Tough', 'The Right Stuff', and 'My Favorite Girl'.  I would count the clicks and know exactly where to stop the tape and press play.

It was in 1991 during their 'No More Games' tour that I had my first chance to see them in concert.  Unfortunately it was determined that I was too young to go to a concert yet and I had the lamentable experience of being the only one in my troop to show up for the Girl Scouts meeting that night, because every single girl was at the concert!!  My troop leader, bless her heart, did her best to make the night fun for me.  But ultimately I was heart-broken.  Making God's Eyes from twigs and yarn just didn't compare to seeing the loves of my life perform on stage.

Here's the catch though; looking back, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have been able to handle it anyway.  If you've read my post on how I use running as therapy, than you know that I have dealt with anxiety throughout my entire life.  I often got (and still sometimes get) overwhelmed by large crowds, lots of noise, and being a new and unfamiliar situations.  I used to call my parents crying to come pick me up from birthday parties and school dances when I got overwhelmed.  I had no way of knowing this at the time, but it would be a full 26 years before I was able to see The New Kids on the Block live!

PART 2: The Whisper That Grew Louder

Inevitably, the New Kids on the Block broke up.  I don't actually recall it happening but I remember missing them.  And I clearly remember years later, watching in awe of their bravery as Jon and Jordan talked about their anxiety on Oprah.  I couldn't help but feel a connection to them as they sat tense and uncomfortable in those iconic chairs.  The episode aired right around the time that I was becoming more aware of my own anxiety and it was oddly comforting to hear the Knight brothers talk about their own struggles.

When the group got back together in 2008, I wasn't entirely sure how I felt about it at first.  Part of me was ecstatic to hear new music and maybe finally get to see them live.  But another part of me wanted to remember them as the iconic boy band from my childhood with the catchy pop hits and questionable style choices (rattails and mullets and overalls... oh my!).  I never imagined they would be so popular the second time around, or that my future experiences with them would be so life-altering!

As much as I wanted to see them at that time (and to see Jordan during his Unfinished Tour), the stars didn't align for me until this past summer during The Total Package Tour.  I found out that I was going to be in Chicago at the same time that NKOTB was going to be touring there.  So I called up my friend Kenlyn and asked her if she wanted to go.  It had been almost 30 years and it was time for me to face my anxiety and see what I was capable of overcoming.  Most people don't know this, but that concert in Chicago would be the first concert of that kind I had ever attended!

Since we're both public school teachers, we went with the cheapest tickets available which meant we were in the back row of the highest balcony.  As the New Kids rose up from underneath the stage and began to sing "Give me one more night to love ya...", I cried.  I literally cried.  For 29 years I had waited for this moment and it was even more amazing than I imagined it could be.  Notes were sung, dance moves were performed, confetti fell, and I had never been happier... or less anxious.  Despite the Boston boys looking like sexy little ants so far below, Kenlyn and I sang and danced like there was no tomorrow and my preteen obsession with NKOTB was reignited.

I hadn't even gotten home from that trip yet when I contacted my friend Jaimie about going to see the guys again in Raleigh a few weeks later.  This time around I decided it was worth shelling out the money for floor seats and we ended up on the aisle right by the B-stage.  We stood a few short feet from Jordan as he swayed his hips to 'Block Party', and rushed over with the crowd as the guys took the B-stage for 'Summertime', 'Games', and more.  Jordan smiled right at me at one point and I miraculously captured my blurry unicorn on camera.

As they made their way back down the aisle toward the main stage, I got a quick hand squeeze from Joe, then Donnie, and finally my dear sweet Jordan.  I'm not gonna lie, I seriously considered chasing after Jordan to profess my undying love for him, but the sight of the hulking bodyguard following him brought me back to my senses.  And I never washed that hand again!  Just kidding, I'm a special ed. teacher and I wash my hands at least 20 times a day.  But I think of those hand squeezes fondly and often.  And the best part of all; with the exception of one brief moment about halfway through the concert, each new song washed my anxiety further and further away.

PART 3: Thankful

What happened two days later ended up being a turning point in my life, and I owe it all to NKOTB!  I was still riding the high from my concert experience in Raleigh when I decided on a whim to look on TicketMaster and see where NKOTB were performing next.  The answer was Charlotte, just 2 and 1/2 hours away from me.  With 3 hours left before showtime, I took a chance and found a single front row ticket available for an insanely low price.  Fate.  I purchased the ticket... then immediately began to feel those all too familiar pangs of anxiety.  How on earth was I going to drive to Charlotte and sit in the FRONT ROW of a concert completely by myself?!?  I could feel the panic rising in me.

But... if those last two concert experiences had taught me anything, it was that I was capable of handling more than I ever thought possible and that the Blockheads at NKOTB concerts are the most amazing, genuine, kind, and supportive people around.  So I pinned on my "I love Jordan" buttons, jumped in my car, and headed to Charlotte without a second thought.  Only for you Jordan, Donnie, Danny, Joe, and Jon!

As the night wore on, I made 3 new friends, danced my butt of, sang my lungs out, got two winks and huge smile from Jordan (swoon!), and felt absolutely zero anxiety at all!  I learned a lot about myself that night, and it was life-changing in the best possible way.  My only regret is that I didn't take any confetti home with me.  That confetti is a symbol to me now... of my strength, my courage, and my self-confidence.  But in my elation at the end of the night, I made the mistake of emptying my purse of it's tissue paper cargo instead of bringing it home with me.  Oh well, there's always next time...

It was only a week after that last concert that I decided to really throw caution to the wind and sign up for the NKOTB Cruise!!  It would be my first time on a boat, first time out of the country, first time traveling by myself, and first time actually meeting the New Kids in person.  Talk about testing my limits!!  I even decided to tie a fundraiser for Remember Betty into the cruise and ran a mile on the boat in honor of breast cancer patients and survivors.  Had I not gone to that concert by myself in Charlotte, I would never have convinced myself I could do all of that.  But I had, and I did.  And the rest is history (you can read my 4-part cruise recap here on the blog!).

Fast forward several months and I have now made countless friends from all over the country (and even a few from other countries) that I wouldn't trade for the world.  Do I still have anxiety from time to time?  Of course!  But it's easier now that I know what I'm capable of overcoming and knowing that I have so many Blockhead friends that love and support me.  So thank you Jordan, Donnie, Joe, Danny, Jon, and all of my new friends... you may never know this, but you have all positively influenced my life and I am a better person for it.  May all your days be filled with confetti!!  #spreadloveandlovewillspread #loveeternal #BHLove #Thankful #NKOTBForever

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