Tag Archives: theater

Yet Another Story

After writing a long post on our trip to the Calaveras County Big Trees for Good Enough Mother, I did exactly what I said I wasn’t going to do last weekend . . .

I took my oldest daughter to the movies.

2013-08-10 14.58.31-1I could say there’s some major, gigantic difference, that I’m not being a hypocrite, and I’d be truthful in that.  Abbi, my oldest, took the other three kids – her sister and twin brothers – to the movies yesterday while I worked.  (Pulled a Saturday shift…but I can take another day off this week.)  I told them last weekend I wasn’t going to the movies due to the cost and the fact we needed to get out of the house.  That’s why the trip to the Big Trees.

But today I took Abbi, my oldest, to the movies.  It wasn’t because the other 3 didn’t deserve to go.  I could claim it was a reward for watching those three while I worked all day yesterday – and it kind of was.  I could make the claim that she’s going into theater and drama and she, therefore, loves these kinds of things.  I could easily, legitimately, say all these things.  That wouldn’t be reality.

Reality is that I took her because . . . I won’t get to share near as many nights as before with my oldest.  I do an equal number of things with each kid . . . Hannah loves music and I took her to see the Who.  I take her to ice-cream and we go on walks together.  We play guitar and I help her record the songs she writes.

The boys have varying interests.  Noah likes stop-motion so I watch things with him about Ray Harryhausen and analyze the original Clash of the Titans and Wallace and Gromit.  We read stuff together.  Sam loves Sci-Fi and Doctor Who and we talk about that and go see things and watch it together.  That’s each one’s love.

But Abbi and I have seen movies since she was little.  When she was 4 I took her to the IMAX theater at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and it had a 3D movie about fish.  I still remember her, gigantic Elton John-looking glasses on her head, trying to grab at the fish coming out of the two-story movie screen.  When Monsters, Inc. came out she had to see it because the little girl looked like her sister, Hannah.  (She did, too.  Hannah and “Boo” had a striking resemlbance)  As a result, this year she saw Monsters University with the other kids.  When Prometheus came out and it got the press of being Ridley Scott’s first Sci-Fi film in years she had to see it.  I took her to opening night.

So on the last weekend before she takes the plunge, heads out to college, and lives with two other girls in a dorm room and begins an entirely new part of her life . . . I took her to the movies.  Just one last time.  She’d been dying to see Elysium because we’d both seen the movie District 9 by the same director.  It wasn’t Matt Damon or Jodie Foster, it was the art of it for her.  She loved how realistic it was and how great an actor Damon is and how brilliant Sharito Copely acted in the film.

I loved that one more time . . . just one . . . I got to go to the movies with my daughter before she’s more Abbi, the adult than Abbi my little girl.  She hasn’t been that little girl for awhile now, and that’s something I wish I could have changed.  Losing her mother to pneumonia that quickly affected all of us.  It affected her, I think, more than even she wants to imagine.  But if I had any influence on her life, I like to think and hope that telling her to do what she loves as long as she’s smart and does it well is the greatest influence.  I have always told my kids they’re smart.  They have brains filled with nearly as much useless information as I do – just haven’t seen as much – and that isn’t always a bad thing.

There could be a thousand different reasons for any number of things.  For her today may have just been the movies, too.  For me, though, it was one more Abbi/Daddy day before it all changes.

She’ll always be my daughter, my little girl.  I just wanted one more trip to the pictures before it’s clear she’s not little any more.

Tortoises, Hares and Strawberries

My smiley son Sam
My smiley son Sam

My son, Sam, has quickly found his niche.

Well, a kind of niche.

I’ve told lots of people – hell I’ll tell anyone who asks – that the boy has near perfect pitch.  Not that he can tell you the notes he’s singing, but get him started on a song he’ll complete it, on-key, no auto-tune required.

So imagine my surprise and slight stressed consternation when he got a large role in the school play this week.

I should explain a little . . . there’s a really amazing theater troop that travels the country from, of all places, Missoula, Montana.  (You heard me right, Montana!)  They show up at the school on a Monday, the kids try out for parts, and they immediately cast and begin rehearsals.  They hold the play on Saturday.

All four of my kids have done it before.  Abbi was even the lead one year.  They’re kids’ plays, usually fairy tales, but with some horrifically bent and funny take on them.  Abbi’s was the Little Mermaid.  Hannah, Noah and Sam all were in Sleeping Beauty.

This year, Sam’s doing it alone, and he did it because he really wanted to.

I haven’t seen the script, nor the play, but he’s a photographer in The Tortoise and the Hare.  I picked him up tonight, roughly 8pm, from the school.  He’s normally hitting the shower and readying for bed by now, but because of the schedule Sam’s facing homework and then the nighttime routine.

“I’m onstage almost the whole play,” Sam says grinning at me.
“That’s awesome, little man!”
“Yeah . . . although I didn’t remember all my lines today.”
“Well, it’s only Wednesday, Bud, you’ll get it.”
“Yeah…” his voice trailed off.
“You were playing your video games last night instead of learning your lines, weren’t you.”
“Umm….”
“You didn’t go to Umbridge,” was my response – a typical response when my kids say “ummm…”
“Well, yeah.  But I won’t tonight.”
“Nope…you have homework to do.”
“Can I have a midnight snack, Dad?”

I looked at him, ready to not cave in and tell him that he’d had McDonald’s – his sister brought it to rehearsal for him – but couldn’t.  He’d eaten at 5pm, danced, sang, and run around.  I was still ready to say “no” when he said:

“They gave us quite a workout.”
“Really?”
“Yeah…up, down, up, down.  They had us sing so much I almost hate singing now.”
“You hate singing?”
“Dad . . . I said almost!”

I smiled.

“Hey, Dad?”
“I’m not made of hey, Sam.”
“Oh . . . Dad?”
“Yeah, little man?”
“Can I get an extra snack for lunch?  I need something to eat before we start rehearsal.”

I had just bought healthy snacks, we had tons of fruit in the house.  Even though I’d made brownies, I asked him:
“I could put an apple in your lunch.”
“Mmmm.  Okay…although . . . I’d bet even money I’d be even happier with Strawberries!”

Even money.  Where does he pick up this stuff?  Laughing, I look at him and say “even money, huh?”
“Yep . . . I looooove me some strawberries!”

He finished his homework, I gave him a cup of Cheerios to snack while he worked, and put him to bed.  I had a video project I was completing and was about to slap together their lunches.  My inclination was to wash an apple and stuff it in his bag.

Then I saw the strawberries, and smiling, I started to cut them and put them in the baggie.  He may looooove him some Strawberries, but any kid who talks that intelligently in my house . . . deserves to get them.

Passion and Intensity

Our Little Jam Session

I know that the above headline could apply to so many things, but it’s not salacious nor prurient.

It is a description that my middle daughter either didn’t believe or didn’t want to believe about herself.

About a year ago Hannah, the boys and I (Abbi had a report she was working on and a test she had to study for) attended a picnic and jam session at a family friend’s house.  The day was one filled with food, music and just having a good time with each other.  Doesn’t matter the caliber of musician or writer or speaker or animator or filmmaker or what have you, a good artist learns from even the worst ones.  Nobody was bad here, but we all wanted to play together and have some fun.

At this particular event Hannah got up with her friends and played guitar while they tried to push through a blues riff and just jammed for quite awhile.  She wasn’t doing any Eric Clapton solos and didn’t have any aspirations to do so on the deck of our friends’ house.  However, once she started, she hadn’t noticed that the instructor and head of the music department of our school had arrived.  While many of you might shrug and wonder why this would even eek onto your radar you should know who the head of our department is.

The man who we were lucky enough to get at our school has a pedigree that spans probably every album you might have listened to from the ’80s, possibly even the late ’70s on.  He played on Madonna’s Like a Virgin.  He told stories that day of this gangly, strange looking Texan walking into the studio while he was recording with David Bowie who ordered BBQ from Austin, TX, and played blistering guitar they’d never heard before . . . a guy named Stevie Ray Vaughan on the album Let’s Dance.  He never talks much about them and I have a feeling it was a work and a passion of his and to work with this group of musicians was no different than, say, his passion for anything else.  It was second nature.  He doesn’t brag or puff his chest out when he talks about these events in his life.  One minute he’s talking playing basketball outside Bowie’s studio and the next he’s reminded of a recipe for New York cheesecake.  That’s who walked into our little party.

So Hannah doesn’t quite understand why, after just one afternoon of playing in his presence her teacher wants to put her into his band that plays at events and school masses.
“I don’t play that well,” she says.
“It’s now how much you know, Hannah, it’s that you have passion and intensity,” he tells her.

Still, she’s skeptical.

Fast forward to yesterday . . . and she’s still confuzzled as to why this man wants her in the band.
“You really think I can do this, Dad?”
“I wouldn’t have put you in there if I didn’t,” was my somewhat puzzled reply.
“I don’t really have intensity, Dad, but Mr. Sabino keeps telling me I do!”
“Because he’s right, Hannah.”

And he is . . . I see in Hannah the sparks I had when the guitar started to make sense to me.  This wasn’t my wanting to get on stage and meet girls, it was more.  I loved that when I couldn’t express myself to others I could do it with even a few notes on the guitar.  I could play for hours (and did) and not grow tired of it.  Never.  Still that way.  Hannah wakes up, has breakfast, gets her school materials together and then picks up her Strat and plays.

I said the same thing to her older sister, Abbi.  She tried out for the school’s biggest musical.  She called me today, sounding much like her mother, and in a panic told me she’d completely messed up.  She’d been told the wrong way to come back into the verse of a song by a girl who she didn’t know wanted the same part Abbi’d gotten a call-back for.  I don’t know if this girl did it intentionally or just didn’t have a clue – both are dangerous – but Abbi made it sound like she’d folded and fallen into a fetal position on the floor.

But when I asked if she’d started well, the answer was “yes.”  I asked if she’d gone off-key?  “no.”  Did she stop and just fall apart?  “no.”

But the girl who told her the wrong way got it perfectly right and sang beautifully, she says, and she got called back for 3 parts and Abbi got called for 1.

This is where Dad has to be MomandDad.  Not Dad.  Dad’s gut says go to the school, find the teacher and lobby, find the other girl and hit her in the shins like Nancy Kerrigan and then throw back my head like the Hulk because after all she’s my little girl and I’d do anything to help her and protect her and even if I’m wrong I’m right and the ends justify the means.
But a run-on-sentence like that is only for Dads.  Not Moms.  We don’t have Mom, so I have to act like I understand.  I have . . . to . . . listen.  That’s hard for a guy.  It is.  When women get angry and frustrated and wonder why we can’t just listen and give a hug and comfort it’s because – and this is important – we care.  We care enough that it bothers us and the way we get around that is by fixing the problem.

The hardest thing in the world for a Dad – particularly one who has to be Dad and Mom – is to not try to fix everything.  Sometimes I have to let them fall or experience the bad.  Sometimes it’s OK to see that not everyone can be trusted or is as nice as you are.  That’s hard and it’s painful . . . for me.  All I can do is calm her down and listen to her in tears and be proud when she says she held it together and didn’t cry or scream until she was out of the auditorium.

But the lesson above applies.  She was on-key.  She still acted with passion and intensity.  She lost her track and her tempo but found it back.  She didn’t stop and walk away, she figured it out.  The only advice I could give her falls short in her ears initially, but it’s this: it’s never as bad as you think it is in the moment.  (OK, sometimes it is, but no, not all the time)  The teacher knows her abilities, likes her, understands her passion and intensity.  The other director – a student director – likes Abbi and knows that Abbi was good and saved some of the lines in the understudy version of her play last year.

Abbi…on stage doing what she loves.

It’s hard to know you messed up – and harder still to keep going when you do.  But that’s what passion and intensity give you.  When you mess up, you own the mistake.  You stretch your abilities by doing it.

So at the end of the day I tell Hannah to learn from her sister’s example: to keep going.  It’s easy to take lessons and sit in the same room or at home.  But get in a group, hear the things they can do and how they perform and you push yourself to do more.  You play to your utmost.

When I played with a friend a month or so ago she noted how I didn’t play a flurry of notes constantly.  I had a slow build, that the playing was structured, like I had a path and a way I was going.  It wasn’t speed metal, I didn’t play 1,000 miles per hour from beginning to end of the solo.  My response was one I stole from Eric Clapton: – you don’t have to play 100 notes if you play just one with passion and intensity.

I don’t know if Abbi made the play.  I don’t know if Hannah will play brilliantly.  All I can say is I know what I tell them – do your best and own your moment.  The rest of the time I have to listen and learn not to act, that’s my lesson.  Sometimes a hug is better than a 2×4.

Sometimes it’s best to have passion and intensity.

Equality for All

The Manoucheri 3 at MIB III

I usually try to keep things fairly even in my household.  There are certainly issues that I don’t expect, things like Noah, one of the twins, getting suspended because he can’t control his temper.  Hannah, my middle, neglecting the homework and forgetting to turn it in.  Sometimes she just plain doesn’t do it and lies about it, covering it up like an expert spy, rearranging paperwork and making it all look normal.  The energy she puts into avoiding the work would have finished it in half the time, for Christ’s sake.  Abbi tends to have evenings, if she’s not locked away in her room, with me.

As a result, sometimes the kids get less time than their other siblings.  It’s not on-purpose and I don’t want to actually make things look that uneven.  I realize, with complete understanding, that those four kids have all differing personalities, differing needs, and completely different reactions to having that time without any attention.

Sam has been trying to get me to work on an electronics lab he got for his birthday since his birthday – over a month.  Yet Noah got me to help him build his just a week after, something I horribly regret.  The main consolation is that I couldn’t get Noah’s to work, so maybe my help isn’t so keen after all.  Hannah likes to learn guitar and had lessons for a year or more and shows me new songs she’s written and asks me to show her things.  Noah brings out his guitar and looks crestfallen because he’s still trying to figure it out.  I need to get him lessons, but then Hannah will beg to get them again and the monetary cycle starts all over again.

So tonight I decided, after a long, stressful day at work, that I’m going to even things out a bit.  Abbi had spent the entire day at a pool party with friends.  Then, in a day surrounded with texts while at a press conference and telling me she needs gasoline right when she needs it, not before she leaves the house . . . asks if she can go to a baseball game at 5:45.  I had a 6pm story that was running.

I told her that it was in the hands of her brothers and sister.  They would have to wait at home for about an hour until I got home and if they weren’t comfortable with that they would tell her.  They were OK.  So on the way home, right after 6pm, I told the kids that I was coming.  They asked what I was making for dinner and I had no idea.

On the way I made a decision that if their sister got to have a fun night so would they.  Not just a decent meal or playing games at home, we’d go out.  Really go out.  So I raced into the house and told them we were leaving.  I made PB&J for them and told them we were heading out.
“Where are we going, Dad?”
“It’s a surprise.”
“Is it far?”
“No.”
“What is it?”
“You’ll see when you get there.”

Now, this isn’t a commercial – but the boys and Hannah have been dying to see Men in Black III.  I debated, since it’s PG-13, but thought I’d look into it and there was nothing sexual and it was all alien kind of violence.  So we got in the car.  When I pulled into the parking lot, the Manoucheri humor came out.
“Wouldn’t it be funny if Dad took us to the theater and then we went downstairs and he said ‘I just brought you along to buy shoes!'”

As we walked up to the entrance, they all looked up and I heard Sam mumble to his brother – “too bad Dad won’t let us see MIB III, I really want to see that.”

Then I went up and said “give me three kid and one adult for the IMAX 3D Men in Black.”

You’d think I’d won the lottery they were so happy.  We got popcorn and drinks, went in, the theater wasn’t very full, and we sat and watched the previews, the movie, and the kids were giggling, gasping, and just . . . having a good time.

Sure, Abbi wasn’t there, but they had a blast.  In the middle of the movie’s 2nd act I felt little hands wrap around my arm, and looked down and Noah, with the giant, yellow glasses like he was some miniature throwback to the Disco era, wrapped his arms around mine . . . and gave me a hug.

The smiles lasted the rest of the night, and when we got home, they were still talking about the movie.

It’s not often I do something so simple but so right, but when I sat at home, Abbi walking in and sitting next to me to let me know everything she’d done, I realized that today . . . today at least . . . I got it right.

There was equality for  all.