Saturday, May 5, 2012

Chicago or Bust: The Next Generation

Hit the links to see the first two posts in this series if you're interested: Chicago or Bust: Part 1 and Chicago or Bust: Part 2.

 Sometimes parents pass their shit on to their kids whether they want to or not. For example, Elvira got in trouble at church for rolling her eyes at her Sunday school teachers. When somebody came to complain to me about it, I rolled my eyes and said, "You're kidding me. That's the sword you want to fall on with a teenager?" And Drake has to pick up anything that's not glued or nailed down and fiddle with it just like his dad. (This is a truly annoying habit -- far more heinous than eye-rolling.)

One thing I did not want my kids to inherit from me was this awful performance phobia, and they haven't. Both of them suffered only normal nerves before recitals, plays, festivals, and other performances. If anything, they were strangely confident.

Drake performed in his first play when he was only seven, and he even had a solo. It was Benjamin Britten's opera of A Midsummer Night's Dream, which is an exceptionally challenging piece of literature. On opening night, I was more nervous than he was, even though we'd rehearsed together so much I could have stepped in and sung any of the parts. Even after one of the other fairies threw a big piece of glitter in his eye, he just kept on singing until he was supposed to exit the stage. What a relief! Even if I couldn't get on stage myself (at that time), I could live vicariously through my children.

Later Drake performed in many plays at a local community theater that offered a teen program. I wasn't a stage mom though. I mostly drove him, dropped him off, and picked him up. He was so good at memorizing I rarely even ran lines with him. Obviously he hadn't inherited my phobia.

But something happened one afternoon when he was about 13 or 14 that brought home to me just how easily my stupid phobia could still affect one of my kids.

I drove Drake to an audition that was especially important to him. It was one of the teen/adult plays the theater put on sometimes, and the roles were harder to get. He had prepared his monologue; he was ready and confident. I dropped him off and waited in the parking lot because they were auditioning by appointment.

When he came out he was upset.  He said he'd gone up on the stage and when he was asked to perform his monologue, he couldn't remember the first words. I asked if he'd started where he did remember, and he said he couldn't remember any of it. He stood up there and tried for a while but his mind was blank. He finally told the director he couldn't remember it, and he left without really auditioning.

I pulled out of the parking lot as we were talking and headed home. We'd gone about a mile when he said, "Mom, I remember my monologue now. I want to go back.

I said, "You can't do that. You had your appointment time and it's over."
"I want to try," he said. "I really want to be in this play."
"I'm sure it doesn't work that way. You get a chance to audition and then it's over," I said, because I was such a big fucking expert. I kept driving.
"I don't see how it could hurt to ask the director."
Jeez. This kid was not giving up. I was already thinking about what I needed to fix for dinner. "Drake, give it up. That's not how it works. Other people are signed up for the rest of the appointments. You had your chance. There will be other plays." I was almost to the interstate. I turned up the radio to discourage him from talking about it any more.
"But I want to be in this one. And I know I can do my monologue now. Why not go back?"
"I said no....."

It hit me then. The reason I hadn't turned around and gone back wasn't because it was unreasonable to do so. The director was a guy Drake had worked with several times before. He was a mentor and a friend. The worst he could do would be to say no. We weren't on the interstate yet. Turning around was easy. Even if he did audition, it would take maybe 20 minutes or half an hour to do it.

No, the reason I wasn't turning around was because I hadn't gone back after my audition all those years ago and asked to try again. And I hadn't gone back the next year. Or the next. And nobody had encouraged me to take another run at it, helped me conquer it while the phobia was an weak, helpless infant.

I felt like I'd been kicked in the head. 

I pulled my van into a u-turn and headed back toward the theater. "You're right. It can't hurt to try," I said.

I pulled into the parking lot, let him out, and parked the van again. While I waited I thought about how close I had come to making my fears his problem, how easy it is to feed kids learned helplessness one little dose at a time until it becomes a way of life, and how close I had come to forcing it on Drake. I replayed that audition I'd failed all those years ago when I was about the same age, and how I'd gone home and nobody asked me how it went.

I tried to imagine a different outcome. What if somebody had suggested I go back across the street to the high school and ask for another chance? Or what if somebody had urged me to try out again the next year, and helped me practice for it so I was better prepared? What other things might I have done that I was afraid of if I'd gone back and tried again?

I gave myself a mental kick in the ass for coming so close to repeating my own past.

After about 20 minutes, Drake opened the van door and crawled in. "Did they let you audition?" I asked, hoping for a yes.

"Yep. I remembered my monologue this time. I think I did a good job. We can call tomorrow for the cast list."
"I'm really proud of you," I said. "It took guts to go back and ask for another chance to audition."
He shrugged. "Not really. I just wanted to be in this play. He could have said no, but he didn't."
"No, it did. A lot of people would have given up. I would have given up."
"That's not the way you raised me, Mom." He always thought I was a much better mom than I ever was.

I headed home a second time. For Drake it was over. He'd done his best at the audition, and now he'd wait like he'd done before for other plays. He had replaced his "failure" with the outcome he wanted. I was crazy proud of him.

As for me .... I felt like I'd just avoided landing in a big, steaming pile of stinky parental shit -- the kind you don't want to drag your kid into with you. I couldn't stop thinking about how easy it would have been for Drake to give up, and worse, how easy it would have been for me to force him to give up. All I had to do was turn onto the interstate and keep driving until we were home. That simple.

The next day he called the theater for the cast list and found out he'd been cast in the play. The failed audition was ...... what failed audition?


  1. So you totally have this post tagged wrong. It is NOT a "bad mommy story"'s a story in which you learned from your kid. I'm not a parent, but I see a lot of parents--and I learn from a lot of kids. We can't expect parents to know EVERYTHING...sometimes they have to learn from their kids, too. :)

    Of course, my perspective on that will likely completely change when I have children of my own and I have my own bad mommy stories.

  2. You're right, I've learned a lot from my kids, and I continue to do so. And it's just an almost bad mommy story. I do have the real thing too, btw. I just hope my kids don't open blogs and start telling them.