Month: February 2016
This week is big for 6th graders. The whole class is going to Outdoor Education – a two-and-a-half day excursion into the wilderness, with only bunk beds, shelter and an occasional meal (served by students) as classic comforts.
Shane is very excited.
I am very excited for Shane. But last night, cuddling with him before he went to sleep, I had to confess:
“I’m really going to miss you when you’re at Outdoor Ed,” I said.
“That’s nice,” he said. “I’ll probably be having too much fun to miss you.”
“That’s a good thing,” I said.
“And your emailing and writing blogs and social media…” he continued. “I won’t miss any of that.”
“You do see me on the computer a lot,” I told him. “But most of the time, it’s because I don’t have time to do anything on the computer until you are home.”
Then I realized: No. I’m actually on the computer all the time.
I volunteer at the high school with a woman who gave up her computer for three months. She used her phone to get texts, but otherwise just quit – cold turkey.
“And I was never bored for a minute,” she said. “I got so much done!”
I don’t think I could do it.
But I think I could be extra cautious to not be on the computer when Shane is home – at least, and especially, when he needs someone with whom to talk, play, or just be.
The time is flying by – and I don’t want to miss it because I was staring at an electronic box.
With Dylan auditioning for The Voice, we decided to make a weekend of it and spend the night in a hotel.
Shane loves hotels. When he was little, he wrote and illustrated his own book about going to California. According to his young brain, the characters flew on a plane and got special drinks! And then they stayed in a hotel and played board games. They saw the Grand Canyon (in California), and then they went home.
Shane enjoys vacations, and he’s definitely a fan of amusement parks, but really I think he’s just in it for the night at a hotel.
The audition was in Philadelphia, which isn’t far from home, so we had a late breakfast and left in the early afternoon.
We had to do the touristy Philly Cheesesteak challenge. Two take-out shops claim to have the best cheesesteaks in the world, so we had lunch at Pat’s and Geno’s. Three of us voted Pat’s as, hands down, our favorites. Shane voted for Geno’s, although he only had four bites of his sandwich. Mostly he liked the French fries with cheese.
Then we visited a few colleges – if you can call driving past a visit. Dylan decided he didn’t like the city much, and really didn’t want to go to college in the midst of all the tall buildings and dirty sidewalks. So we just drove around Philly and looked at the buildings.
And finally, we went to our hotel. We scouted the area to figure out where to go for the audition in the morning. We had dinner at a burger place next to our hotel. Shane and I visited the fitness center and looked at the pool. And then we went to bed.
In the morning, Dylan and I left super early for the audition, and Shane had breakfast with his dad, then went to the pool.
We were home less than an hour when Shane asked the inevitable question: “What was your favorite part of the trip?”
The question started emerging with episodes of Dora the Explorer, and never really stopped.
“Well,” I said. “I really enjoyed going to the fitness center with you. I liked the bikes with their own individual televisions. And I liked spending special time with you. But probably my favorite part was when all The Voice contestants were singing together while they were waiting to audition.”
“I didn’t do that part,” Shane said. “So my favorite part was probably the steaks.”
I laughed. “You liked picking which one you liked best?”
“Yeah,” he said.
Shane is incredibly picky about food, and normally prefers his steak and cheese to be separate from one another – and certainly not served on bread.
But now I know: taste tests are fun. We’ve done them at home for years. So now I plan to find one for him whenever and wherever I can.
On the morning of Dylan’s audition for The Voice, I woke up at 3:45. Our audition time was 7 a.m. and we knew we needed to arrive early. Dylan wanted to get up at 5:00, but I woke him at 4:45 and we headed out shortly thereafter.
The only people on the streets looked like us – bleary-eyed and swarming to the convention center. By 5:30, we were about 150th in line.
The female singer in line behind us smoked cigarettes, which seemed counterintuitive. So we struck up a conversation with the singer in front of us. When security sent friends and family home, a third of the people left. Only one adult was allowed to accompany a minor; that’s how I got in.
At 7 a.m., they started shuffling us into the convention center – hundreds and hundreds of Hollywood hopefuls. They searched and scanned us for weapons and contraband. They checked our IDs and wrapped paper bracelets around our wrists. Then finally, they took us into the holding room.
The holding room was a warehouse full of chairs, all facing front. Dylan and I sat down with in a group of about a hundred people waiting for the room to fill up – which, hours later, it did.
While we were waiting, a woman stood up – and started to sing. She had a gorgeous powerhouse voice, and when she finished singing, everyone applauded. Then another woman stood up. Another gorgeous powerhouse voice, and more applause. And another. And another. The smoker, from behind us in line, got up and sang – another gorgeous powerhouse voice. Dylan and I were wildly entertained.
Then a woman stood up a few rows behind us, and started singing All of Me by John Legend. A woman in front of us started to harmonize with her. Another woman stood up and started singing along with them.
Within a few seconds, the entire group of a hundred people had burst into song.
Everyone except me.
I was so overcome with emotion, I couldn’t have uttered a word. I’d been suddenly and miraculously transported into the midst of a choir of angels. I had only one thought: This must be like the music in Heaven.
After the first impromptu chorus, several group songs broke out. People pulled out guitars and played along. The singers sang for two hours.
Then the group was broken apart, and each gorgeous powerhouse voice went with a group of ten people to audition. I was allowed to sit behind the group and listen to those ten awesome auditions.
Dylan sang Friends in Low Places by Garth Brooks. He stunned us all with his own gorgeous, powerhouse voice.
None of the people I met, including Dylan, got a red card – meaning they didn’t go on to the next round of auditions. Of all those angelic voices, I have no idea how the judges decide. Our judge said he wasn’t allowed to give feedback, but suggested to the group that everyone should sing in front of strangers as often as possible.
So, next up, Dylan sings in front of his whole school.
What an adventure.
Dylan has been asking since the age of 9 to sing on American Idol or The Voice. He’s finally 15, which is old enough to audition – and American Idol is over, so we set him up with an audition for The Voice.
I suggested that he scan some YouTube videos from people who have already auditioned, so that he knew what to expect. I also suggested that he scour the fine print and see exactly what was needed to proceed.
I suggested this in November, when I made the appointment to audition. Dylan auditions this weekend – so he finally got around to doing all of it on Tuesday.
He has been practicing two songs for three months – and he learned that he should probably be more contemporary with his choices. He’s also been practicing two songs from two different genres, but he learned that he’s supposed to stick with only one genre.
So researching in November may have been a good idea.
Dylan also finally got around to doing the paperwork – which I printed out for him, since he was constitutionally incapable of doing it himself. The paperwork must be signed and handed in at his audition.
Without it, he’s not allowed to sing.
Basically, the paperwork consists of two pages of legal mumbo jumbo – and two additional pages for parental consent – that state, in no uncertain terms:
You (auditioner) need to devote every waking moment to us, and you have to do whatever we say the entire time. You have no rights whatsoever to change anything that is said or done, even if we make you look like a buffoon. You also can’t talk about what we do behind the scenes – to anyone, ever. And by signing this agreement, you agree to sign more documents later, all of which will be binding everywhere and until the end of time.
Dylan read this legalese and started rethinking his decision to audition.
I read the legalese and thought, yep. This is how it’s going to be.
Television is very little glamor, and a whole lot of money-making tomfoolery. And reality television is the worst of the worst.
We signed the document.
Then we all silently hoped Dylan would not be chosen to participate in The Voice.
After his first script read-through, Shane got into the car.
“Can I tell you about the play?” he asked breathlessly.
“Absolutely!” I said. “I’ve been waiting!”
“We read through the entire play and I don’t have any lines,” he said. “But I have a lot to do. I am a man of action.”
“Really!” I said. “What kind of action?”
“Well you know that guy, Brannigan, the police officer?”
“Yes,” I said. Shane read for the Brannigan part last week.
“One of my jobs is to, like, mimic him in everything he does. And I’m going to do a lot of different stuff, and I have to be really funny without saying any words at all!”
“That’s exciting!” I said.
And it is. Shane went on and on and on, during the entire trip home. He talked about all the comic elements in the play that had been added for extra fun. I was not only relieved, but actually getting excited about seeing the play.
As we pulled into the garage Shane said, “So I’m feeling a lot better about the play. I think it’s going to be a blast.”
That was just what I wanted to hear.
It was so exciting, in fact, that I drove all the way home, enjoying the conversation – and totally forgot that I was supposed to pick up Dylan at play practice, too.
Shane auditioned for the school play.
Then he got a callback, too. He read for four different parts – two of which were parts he really wanted. One was a much larger part than he’d expected.
Shane came home, excited by the possibilities. He talked about the varying inflections he used when becoming different characters. I could tell by the light in his eyes and the excitement in his voice that he gave that audition everything he had.
The next day, they posted the cast list after school.
“Well…?!” I texted to him, while he was on the bus ride home. No response.
I drove to the bus stop to greet him.
“We got our parts,” he said, as he climbed into the car. “I’m an extra with no lines.”
His eyes filled instantly with tears, and I wanted to cry, too. But I just held him for a minute, and then we drove home.
After some talking, and looking up his part on the web, we discovered that he is one of the four “comic glue” gangsters in the play, Guys and Dolls, Jr. Shane will need to do a lot of acting without speaking – which can be incredibly challenging.
Two of Shane’s best friends play the other “comic glue” gangsters. His parts will be intertwined with his friends’ parts throughout the play.
We drove to the library and got the Guys and Dolls DVD, to get a feel for the action. There’s a ton of dancing and singing – and while there are certainly some large roles (for folks like Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando, for example), many of the parts are supporting roles. And without those supporting roles, there would be no play at all.
Shane and I talked about all of this, and by the next day, he seemed a little more excited about his part. I gave him the option of dropping out of the play, but he never hesitated.
“I will take whatever part I get,” he insisted.
Optimism may not be Shane’s first inclination, but I sincerely believe that he will have a great time with this play. And I’m betting he will be a fantastic gangster.
Dylan sent me a text: “I am in shock. I got three C’s and two A’s on my exams.”
There was no response. (I was at the gym.) A few minutes later, he tried again.
D: “Guess what the A’s were in.”
ME: “English and Spanish?”
D: “You got one of them right.”
ME: “And History.”
Pause. Think, think, think. It can’t possibly be Biology. What other classes had exams? He didn’t take exams in any other classes!
ME: “YOU GOT AN A IN BIOLOGY??!”
D: “Yep. Aced it.”
ME: “That’s awesome!”
Dylan really struggled in Honors Biology, both quarters. It’s a tough class and he has a hard time keeping current with the class. So when exam time came, Dylan studied and studied and studied for Biology. He studied for 30 or 60 minutes a night for about a week for Biology. And when the day came, he knew everything there was to know about the first two quarters of Honors Biology.
So the Biology exam was on the first day of exams, along with the Spanish exam. After that, he was kind of tired and didn’t study much. And it showed in his grades.
But I am not focusing on the negative today. Today, we focus on the positive.
My boy got an A on his Honors Biology exam.
So I spent a day calculating Dylan’s GPA. At the mid-way point in 9th grade, and including the high-school-level classes he took in middle school, he has a 3.22 (unweighted). A 3.22 GPA – according to at least one website – will not get him into the college of his choice. But it might get him into a college. Then again, it might not.
So I recalculated a GPA with more A’s than B’s. I looked at his class schedule, and just imagined the classes in which he could have A’s. I guessed. And with the recalculation, his GPA went up to a 3.55!
The new (imagined) GPA puts him higher into the “maybe” category for many of his (so far) chosen colleges. He has selected some pretty interesting colleges – so far – and they’re not necessarily easy to attend.
So I did one final recalculation. I imagined that he had A’s in all of his classes this year. And his GPA leaped to 3.78 – a GPA that would allow him to get into the college of his choice, as long as he wasn’t planning to attend an Ivy League school.
So we talked about it. I showed him the different GPAs, how they’re calculated, what the colleges might do with them.
Then for the first time ever, I accepted the fact that he might not care if he gets into the college of his choice. He might not care about scholarships. He might just want to be a singing sensation, and isn’t planning to try to do anything else with his life.
When I was 15, I wanted to be a backup singer (and maybe guitar player) for Tom Petty. So who am I to think my son really wants to go to college?
But – without any prompting from me, because I was quite literally letting Dylan “off the hook” – he said he does care. Dylan really, really, really wants to go to college.
So I said, “Okay. If you care, you can do this. You are brilliant. You have been brilliant since the day you were born. I have never had any doubt that you can do it. There are only two things keeping you from getting A’s.”
I held up two fingers.
“First is missing work. Talk to every teacher after every class, every day. That is how to make sure you never have missing work. And the second thing is that you need to study.”
“I do study,” he said, for the millionth time.
“You need to study more,” I said. “And more often. Spend five minutes a day going over what you learned in each class. Then you won’t have to cram so much before a test. And you will be ready for pop quizzes when they appear. And that’s it.”
Two things: talk to your teachers. Study every day.
Then I said, “This is your quarter. See what you can do.”
“Okay,” Dylan said. He sounded almost excited about the opportunity.
Then he played the piano, spun around in circles in the kitchen for awhile, then nearly knocked me over so he could play a song called Crazy Frog on the computer.
And the quarter has begun.
You are six feet tall. Your hands and feet are huge. Your voice is deep and strong. You are growing into a man before my very eyes.
It scares me.
It scares me that you are so big, you could squash me at any time. It scares me that you will leave here sooner than I would like. It scares me that you will be driving a car soon, and cars are dangerous, and every time I think about you driving, I remember that little electric car you drove when you were a toddler.
In fact, I keep forgetting that you’re not a toddler anymore.
So many times, when I look at you, I see that little redheaded boy, only two feet tall. I remember getting down on my knees to hug you. I remember kneeling and waiting with my arms outstretched, and you running at me, full force, laughing and knocking me over as I caught you in my arms.
I remember that gorgeous smile, so full of hope and excitement, your eyes sparkling all day long. You smiled up at me from your crib, and didn’t stop until sixth grade. And now when you smile, it’s even more meaningful, lighting up the room and melting my soul.
Watching you grow has taught me so much – how to help you and, more times than not, how to back off. But what I have learned more than anything from raising you for 15 years is that time is supercharged during the parenting years. One minute, I was a kid fresh out of college; the next minute, you were on your way to college. The time in the middle is just a blur of the happiest memories in my life.
I try to hold on to those memories. I kept a lot of journals. I took a lot of pictures.
But mostly I just remember you running at me, full force, laughing and knocking me over as I caught you in my arms.
We were playing one of Shane’s new favorite games, Family Feud, based on the TV show of the same name. In a classic sense, it is a game that requires one to guess what other people might think about a specific topic.
For example, a question might be: Name a place where you might find hot dogs. And the answers might be “restaurant,” “baseball game” and “school cafeteria.”
The topics are simple, but guessing the top answers of 100 random people – well, that’s not as easy.
We had friends over – conveniently another family – and were all having a wonderful “feud” when the following query emerged:
Name something that you feel before you buy.
Shane’s hand was the first one to hit the imaginary buzzer.
“Sadness,” he said.
There was a half-second pause before a riot of laughter ensued.
Whereas the Family Feud card was asking about something that a person might touch before purchasing, Shane’s mind leapt to an emotion that might be connected with the purchase.
And interestingly enough, he thought people would feel sad, rather than elated, when buying something.
Sadness. People feel sadness before they buy something. Both teams were laughing.
“Shane often thinks outside the box,” I said. “In this case, I don’t think a box even existed!”
Tears streamed down my face. I was laughing so hard, I could hardly talk.
“Sadness?” I choked. “Not even joy or excitement?”
Shane’s eyes were wide. He had no idea why his guess was so funny.
“Sadness because you were losing your money, maybe,” he said.
Ah, I thought, tears still rolling. At least now it makes sense!
The top answers, for the record, were things like “fruits/vegetables” and “clothing.”
I have always been an out-of-the-box thinker. As a result, people have always thought I was a little weird. And to be fair, I am a little weird.
I’m so glad to have Shane in my life.
Shane reminds me that “out-of-the-box” is more than just different. Many times, it is just simple brilliance.