inter alia: Further reflections on being a “Stage Mom”

Sorry for the relative silence around these parts.  Springtime is crazy busy these days.  In addition to the daily chaos of work, kids, house, volunteering, etc., this spring introduced me to the reality of having a teenager who’s found a niche and needs a ride.  People who know me in real life are probably sick to death of this topic, but I can’t help but be thrilled that my quiet loner of a son has found an outlet in theater and music.  In recent weeks, his confidence has soared from reams of positive feedback.  What’s a mother to do in cases such as these?  Well, show him off of course!  🙂

Piragua Guy singin' and servin' In the Heights!

Piragua Guy singin’ and servin’ In the Heights!

My son attends a public school, but one that is known in our area not only for exceptionally high standards in academics and athletics, but also for an excellent drama and music program.  Wisconsin practices public school “open enrollment” which basically means that parents can apply to enroll their students outside of their home district, into any public school district.  Thousands of parents take advantage of this program to place their children in specialized public charter schools, or schools with particularly strong athletic departments or the like.  Since our home school district is currently in state of flux and confusion, we decided to open enroll our son into a neighboring district that has been consistently ranked among the most challenging academic high schools in the nation and has an excellent reputation for commitment to the arts.  A lot of other parents have done the same, so there are a lot of very talented singers and actors in his school.  I had cautioned him that as a freshman, he shouldn’t be too disappointed if he was cast in a minor role, or nothing at all.

Considering the talent pool, I was very surprised in January when he won a feature role in the spring production of the Tony Award winning musical In the Heights.  He had convinced me that his audition was a disaster….mumbled discussion of tripping through dance auditions.  Evidently, despite the extensive and challenging choreography sequences (ah…he’s not much of a dancer you see) he had won the role because he was the only male who could hit and sustain the high C in the song Piragua, sung by the aptly named character, Piragua Guy.  I know only a very little about the technical aspect of music, and almost nothing about the language of vocal music, but apparently my 15-1/2 year old son is somewhat rare in that he can sing the full range of a bass, a baritone and up to five notes above the standard tenor range (I probably messed that up – but I knew I was right about requiring him to start training with a vocal coach!).   His role in the play was sort of a comic one…he didn’t have a whole lot of spoken lines, but he was on stage a lot as a comic foil to some of the other action, as well as singing several vocal solos and he really nailed the part.  (He’s become a bit of a celebrity in the parent set…several times in the past few weeks, I’ve heard one or another parent who saw the show call out, “Hey Piragua Guy!”  and wave across the school parking lot.)

Finding a community of people with common interests has been a great confidence booster for him.  It’s one thing for his mom or his grandma to tell him that he can really sing, but it is entirely another to hear it from objective third parties.  He got plenty of objective third party validation this past Saturday when he sang at the Wisconsin State Solo and Ensemble Festival.  He had qualified in a local district event about a month ago.  In fact, (here’s the bragging bit…) he qualified for the state competition with all five of the pieces he sang (2 solos, 1 duet and 2 large group ensembles)  I was only able to hear him sing one song at the local competition, so I was really looking forward to hearing the rest on Saturday, and I wasn’t disappointed.

I talked here about my new role as a “stage mom”.  I have found that I am a minor player at best.  I made sure that his musical theater costume was pressed and hung, and that his white dress shirt and black slacks were ready to go, but I didn’t go ballistic when I found him sleeping in the same.  (He woke up early, showered, put on his performance clothes and climbed back into bed!)  Wrinkled he went off to “state”.   When we arrived at the festival site, I was not entirely surprised to see any number of reluctant kids, instruments and costumes in tow, being hauled around from event to event by their schedule and granola bar toting mothers.  I was a bit mortified for them.

When we ran into the first group of kids from his school, it was clear that my presence had become de trop, so I made sure he had his schedule, gave him $20 to buy something to eat if he was hungry and told him I’d see him for each event .  “I’ll be the one in the back holding up the iPad honey!” I said, to which he replied, “Maaaaaaam!”  Yeah, yeah, yeah!  Well, I did bring the iPad to record, but only the vocals…I had promised that I wouldn’t be that parent, but I really wanted an audio record.   I’m so glad I did it.  Despite somewhat muffled quality, a couple of throat clears (my mother!) and a little unedited clapping, I have some recordings to share with my family and friends since my son is very stingy about sharing his talent with the hoi polloi!

A Bit of Earth from the musical The Secret Garden


Amarilli Mia Bella by Giulio Cuccini


In fact, he’s become a bit of a musical snob lately…I was almost hoping that a particularly stringent judge would take him down a notch, but after I heard him sing, I was once again thrilled to see that he had scored firsts again in all of his entries.  It is an interesting set of sensations to watch your child perform.  I was nervous initially…Where is he?  Should I have hauled him here with me like others did?  Is he ready?  What if he doesn’t perform well?  Then he started to sing, and suddenly the little boy with the ice cream all over his face became this incredibly poised performer…for his classical piece, after he had started, his accompanist noticed that the previous accompanist had left the digital piano transposed a full step down, so he had to start over, and he did so with seeming ease – is this the same kid who won’t go into the the grocery store to grab a gallon of milk?  He is still that kid, who is sometimes uneasy in real life situations, but who can now step outside of himself when he performs.

In addition to the massive pride and joy I feel for him (I’m welling up again)  I did wonder, as I sat down to write this post, if Margaret Armitage will feel something similar as her “little boy” takes the stage at the Old Vic this summer and steps outside of himself as John Proctor.

inter alia: I wonder how far Richard Armitage fell from the tree?

No need to be concerned…I’m not responding to a breaking news report about Richard Armitage climbing trees in Central Park or anything.  I was just thinking about something my mother used to…and that I now… say often:  “The nut doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

Turns out that the "apple doesn't fall far from the tree" version of this idiom is much more widely illustrated!

Turns out that the “apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” version of this idiom is much more widely illustrated!

It is a very common adage around here referring to the fact that children are often very similar to their parents.  I suppose that this is true to a certain extent.  My own children are like me in a lot of ways.

This is the book my daughter came home from school with on Friday...with no input from me BTW!

This is the book my daughter came home from school with on Friday…with no input from me BTW!

They are both bright, articulate (to the point of being maddening), polite (to everyone but me), and I’m told, they look quite a bit like me.  I take it as a backhanded compliment when people say, “Oh Mini Me is sooo cute…she looks just like you.” (I’ll take compliments where I find them thank you very much!)     🙂   

In other ways though, it seems like the apple took a bit of a detour.  A friend on my RL Facebook feed was joking this weekend about being sportsmom.  My mom was a sportsmom.   Athletics was an interest that I inherited from my parents, both of whom were outstanding prep athletes.  It was a special connection between my mother and me though, because when she was in school, there were no official teams and no official honors for female athletes.  My mom was my biggest supporter as I earned  varsity letters and regional all conference honors in volleyball and softball during my high school athletic career.  She has two artificial hips to testify to the amount of time that she sat in bleachers watching me play.  She also sat in the surgical waiting room while an orthopedic surgeon pinned my fingers back together after I broke them playing softball my senior season.  (I don’t have full range of motion in them to this day…but I made the all conference team!  Let me hear a heavily ironic *U-RA-RA*!!).  I don’t think I’m destined to be a sportsmom though.

Hmmm, I wonder if there was any pressure on this kid to be athletic?

Hmmm, I wonder if there was any pressure on this kid to be athletic?

I was determined, with both of my kids, to give them as much room to choose their path as is reasonably possible.  I tried really hard to be gender neutral with most stuff…to let them choose if/when they wanted to.  My daughter?  Despite my attempts, every time she’s been given the choice, she opts for pinks and purples…the more bling the better.  At four, she showed a passing interest in softball, so we signed her up for summer T-ball (I can’t recommend this enough…it is endlessly entertaining to watch a crowd of four year olds try and shag balls!).  She didn’t like it.  “My hand sweats in the glove Mommy” she explained.  (!#@!$#!$????)  OK…fair enough – dance class it is.

My son has always broken the mold to a certain extent.  He was an only child until he was 7, and is very independent – to the point of being a bit of a loner from time to time.  In the interest of finding some physical activities of interest, I made any number of athletic options available to him…he went, he tried, he disliked.  Well, actually, he rather liked gymnastics class, but I had a feeling (which has been proven correct now that he is 15 and six feet tall) that he wasn’t going to have the right body type to do that for long.

Despite the fact that he looks like an inside linebacker, it turns out that he is much more inclined towards drama and music – especially vocal music, so we foster that.  Last year, thanks to the Grandma and Grandpa Scholarship Fund, he started working with a vocal coach from a local university for the arts.

The effects have been pretty dramatic.   I am the back up band (in that I play the accompaniment CD) when he sings in church…which he’s been doing since he was ten.  Last year, he sang “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and I almost had a merry little mommy meltdown…WTH?!  When did my little soprano become freaking Michael Bublé?! One of the “church ladies” (are you getting the mental picture?)  came up to me after and sighed…”Oh, there were notes in there that were just like honey!”   Vaguely awkward…

So, instead of being a sportsmom, I guess I’m destined to be a stage mom…but not of the Honey Boo Boo variety!  (if you’re not familiar, Google it, I dare you!)

stage mom tee

My SIL, whose sons are huge into baseball and football was aghast…”aren’t you devastated that he doesn’t want to play sports!?!” she asked.   Ah, no…for one, concussive head trauma does not often play a major role in the long term health of singers.  Plus, when I go watch my kid “play” (appearing soon as Piragua Guy in a school production of In the Heights) instead of an icy cold metal bleacher in the freezing wind, I get to sit in a nice warm theater with a comfy seat.

Had to be a proud moment... Royal Premiere of "The Hobbit:  The Unexpected Journey"  2012. Source

Had to be a proud moment…
Royal Premiere of “The Hobbit: The Unexpected Journey” 2012.

All of this made me wonder how far from the family apple tree Richard Armitage’s career pursuits have taken him, and what adjustments his own “stage mom” made to help him achieve all that he has…