Rose was a munchkin last week. She sang three songs with the other munchkins and said, “It’s just so nice to meet you!” And she found out that in the theater world, “There is a lot of drama backstage.” And need I say that she shone on stage?
This was a production put on by a traveling youth company that comes to Manhattan every January. They (only two young women) come in on a Monday and leave the following Sunday, with five days of rehearsals and three performances in between. And it starts with an audition.
I brought Rose into the Arts Center, where 123 kids, from kindergarten through 12th grade, sat on the floor. Rose had just had her hair permed and wondered if she might be cast as Toto with dark curly locks. She did not want to be a munchkin as that seemed more suitable for the little kids, but as it turned out the youngest were flowers, blossoms spouting out of their green hoods.
One of the issues of living 25 minutes out of town is that I’m left with these odd blocks of time on my hands and so decided to stay and watch the audition. Besides, I was curious about how two people could possible pick roles in such a short time. I had heard that there were costumes for about 65 children which meant that many would leave disappointed. I thought about Rose’s chances—50/50? Well, that would be for someone not so dramatic, not so into being on stage, not so eager to have a part, not so….I decided to be conservative and go with 80/20 on her side. But what was this anyway, one little play and so what if she didn’t get in? I don’t think of myself as that ambitious for my children. For example, while my friends greet Helen with questions on what research she is doing about colleges and majors, I tell her she doesn’t even have to get a degree if she ends up doing what she wants (oh, and not asking me for money anymore).
The auditions were interesting. A line was given, for some reason usually about ice cream, as “I love ice cream!” and “May I please have some ice cream!” with each child saying the sentence in turn. Although Rose was enthusiastic and clear, so were most of the others and I started to think we were back to 50/50—-no, but maybe more like 60/40. But, again, it was just a little play.
And then the roles were announced, with the chosen ones called to come down to the front. First the flowers, then monkeys….I could see no rhyme or reason to who got picked and who didn’t. Next came the announcement of the group that looked to be Rose’s age range—-the famous and darling munchkins (quite suddenly this role had become the most important player of the story). And I started to feel something I didn’t expect. I felt very anxious and even a little angry. What if they didn’t pick Rose? I thought of all the things I’d want to say but knew I wouldn’t. Crazy things like “How could you possibly not see the raw talent in this girl?” and “Who do think you are not choosing this child?” But her name was called and as she stood up beaming, my heart slowed down and I looked around, hoping my emotions hadn’t shown. Only later, talking to some other mothers, did I find out that I wasn’t alone in this reaction. One woman even said that as she listened to the names being called her, her palms got sweaty.
My mother would have agreed that Rose shone. She would have told her that and more than once. A year ago today she passed away. She left many things behind. Stacks of old prints that she never got framed and many that she did. Photo albums of Helen and her playing together, down on their hands and knees when Helen was 2 and she was 84. The belief that a day wasn’t complete if you didn’t make someone smile. This included grumpy neighbors and snappy sales clerks along with all who came to visit. But top on the list of who she wanted to see smile were her two children, my brother and me. She rejoiced in what worked for us, whether it was a job in North Queensland, Australia or in Topeka, Kansas. Whether it was baseball or art. She said my Christmas card poem was the best ever and she said it every year. She told me it was O.K. if my young children slept with me and what does Dr. Phil know anyway? And she was the one who said I should take a nap after our Sunday dinners at her house as “you must need a little rest”.
The night before she died, I was exhausted, having had only a few hours of sleep after the call at 3 a.m. that she had been taken to the hospital with pneumonia. She quickly rallied, tough even at “almost 99”, and had gone from critical to stable condition, seeming most concerned that those in the room had gotten something for lunch. As I stood there I willed myself to believe that she would survive this. And I remember quite clearly what I said later, at home, as I went to bed. I said, “If only I could sleep until 8”. The next morning a call woke me at 8:05, telling me my mother had just passed away minutes before.
I guess it’s O.K. that I had that reaction at the audition. It’s what a mother does. It’s making sure your son has a favorite food to eat. It’s letting your daughter have a little rest. It’s wanting more than anything to see your child get a part in the play. And nothing on this earth can replace that.