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Posts Tagged ‘teenagers’

Home of the IndiansThese are pretty big days in our house, at least for my soon-to-be 16-year-old son. Last week, he started his first job at a local grocery store, and this week he starts driver’s ed. It’s not so hard to see that, in many ways, these are significant milestones in his life, milestones that mark a time when his circle — his entire world, really — begins to expand at a pretty dramatic pace. This is just Point A, and I spend no small amount of time wondering what other waypoints he’ll pass in his lifetime, and what he will make of it all.

Usually, it’s pretty hard for me to remember that far back in my own life, back to a time when so many possibilities stretched out before me, and so few had been ruled out. Maybe that’s why, when a handful of my friends from those days took the time and trouble to put together a reunion for the Portage High School Class of 1975, my initial interest didn’t really go beyond a passing curiosity. Most of my memories just didn’t seem strong enough to warrant the 12 hour drive north from the mountains of Virginia to the shores of Lake Michigan.

But as the days passed and the friend requests kept coming in, I felt something stir, something that went beyond curiosity. Names that held only a glimmer of recognition for me began to coalesce around newly discovered memories — ill-advised road trips to Michigan, long summer days on the Lake Michigan shore, two-a-day football practices in the thick summer air, hanging out in Jungle Hall. My friend Gail played a key role here, bolstering my fading recollections with a reasonable incredulity — “How can you not remember her?” — and remarkable grace, supplying me with bits and pieces that pulled up memories from some pretty obscure corners of my brain.  And with each new recollection came the pleasure of rediscovering something I had long ago treasured, and then somehow misplaced.

That pleasure only magnified when I arrived at the country club for the reunion. There they were — my first serious crush, some teammates from the football team, the girl next door, and the pal that I roamed the streets with summer after summer after summer. Some I recognized instantly, but some I didn’t recognize until a particular mannerism or pattern of speech lifted the veil that three decades had drawn between us, leaving them there before me as clear-eyed and hopeful and young as they had been so many years before. I heard tales of triumph and tragedy, loss and gain, happiness and heartache, sickness and health. Some of these tales left me stunned, characterized as they were by uncommon courage and sacrifice. Some left me doubled over in laughter, as I had been so often growing up. And some of them left me with a profound sense of gratitude that I should know someone so loyal, so true, and so resilient.

More than 35 years have passed since our Point A — the time when we got our first jobs and slipped behind the wheel for the first time — and while we may well have felt our world expanding, I doubt that many of us could have foreseen what that actually would come to mean — how our lives would be shaped moment by moment, decision by decision. Of course it’s easy enough to look back three and a half decades later to see what went right and what went wrong, what we would do again and what we wish we had never done. But after all this time, does it really matter? Are we not, for better or for worse, precisely where we are meant to be?

Thanks in part to having reconnected with so many old friends, I’m more convinced than ever that I am, but maybe that’s just me. I am, as I’ve said before, one lucky man.

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Like most parents, we’ve made the rounds of talent shows and recitals and such. So Sunday night, as we made our way to a talent show presented by my son’s church youth group, I felt like I knew pretty much what to expect: note-for-note renditions of some recital pieces on the piano, a few beautiful young voices (practically) perfectly pitched, maybe a couple of feats of strength or dexterity — all punctuated by some skits that only a teenage mind could craft … or appreciate.

And, for the most part, I got exactly what I expected. Someone played the theme from “The Lord of the Rings” on the piano. One girl played and sang “Misty,” a very cool surprise. A brother and sister did an admirable job with a pop song. One young woman was even bold enough to try dancing en pointe on the carpeted stage, an attempt that, while earnest enough, probably would have been better on a more appropriate surface. So when my son, a pretty talented kid, sat down at the piano to play and sing “Walls,” a song by The Rocket Summer, I figured he’d fit right in.

But I was wrong.

I should have known better. There were certainly clues. First, while he’s always — and I mean always — singing or playing the piano or the guitar or listening to his iPod, he’s going even further this summer, thanks to his new band, Suite 325. A product of the Music Lab at the Jefferson Center in Roanoke, Suite 325 is a group of six hand-picked young musicians who are getting taught — no kidding — how to be a rock band. It’s a very cool idea, and one that I think is going to have a big influence on those lucky enough to be a part of  it. (Their first show is June 5th at Kirk Avenue Music Hall in Roanoke.)

The other thing I should have considered is that we had spent the evening before in the front row at a Warren Barfield show. You probably don’t know Warren Barfield, though he gets a bit of airplay from time to time. He’s a Christian pop/folk artist, and we’ve been listening to him in our house for a few years now. A lot of his recorded music is quintessential hook-laden pop, pretty easy on the ears, but a far cry from the cookie-cutter praise music you often hear from Christian artists. But Warren Barfield live was something else. Lots of funky rhythm, a heavy backbeat, and a kind of Dave Matthews improv feel to it. Simon and I were both pretty spellbound.

So here he was, less than 24 hours after that experience, sitting down at the piano, adjusting the mike, fiddling around. I knew something was up when he leaned forward, then paused for a moment before beginning, his hands resting on the piano keys. He pulled in a deep breath, then blew it out off-mike. I’ve seen my son perform in all kinds of ways — in martial arts, singing, dancing, even playing the lead in Macbeth — but I’d never seen him do that before, and wasn’t exactly sure what it meant.

But after the first couple of bars, I knew. He wasn’t there just to play the notes. He was there to perform.

I sat very still, stunned by what I was watching. I’m no stranger to his ability. I’ve seen it showcased before. But this wasn’t about ability. This was about passion. This was about watching him find another gear, one that required him to dig a little deeper and become more mindful of the music, and less mindful of the moment.

I’m not sure if he hit all the right notes. Frankly, my tin ear wouldn’t be able to discern if he was “pitchy” or not. And, unlike a Hollywood ending, the room did not erupt into thunderous applause that echoed off the walls for long moments after he stopped playing. (It did seem a bit more enthusiastic than just polite acknowledgment, but that could well be my bias.)

But I am sure that something else happened last night, something that maybe he’s not even aware of. I’m also sure that we’re both pretty excited to see what comes next.

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This is a yellow tang, I think.I had a great conversation with my daughter tonight. She’s now well into her fourth week at the Kirov Academy of Ballet, and by all measures, is thriving. Straight As in all her academic classes, getting lots of support and praise from some of the world’s best ballet instructors, making friends from around the world.

One of those friends is a boy her age from Russia who sits next to her in math class.

“I think he likes me, Dad,” she reports.

I stifle my first impulse which, as every father of every daughter knows, is to drive directly to D.C., seek the boy out, and have a little chat with him.

“How do you know that?” I ask, innocently enough.

“He told me today that I was pretty, but his English isn’t so good, so he told me I was pretty like a fish.”

How nice it is to laugh with her, my only girl, now growing in ways beyond measure and beyond my reach.

The costs of sending her away are high: the sharp pang of sadness when I pass her empty room in the morning; the absence that fills our house, nearly as tangible as her presence; the difficulty in trying to make our phone calls and texts pass for real face-to-face interaction; the financial burden her education has placed on us all. And yet …

It’s hard not to see how much the world is opening up before her. She’s on the path to becoming the dancer she has long dreamed of becoming. She has classmates and friends from Russia, Japan, China, and other far-flung spots around the world. Such opportunities are rare, and she has worked — and continues to work — hard to take full advantage of hers.

And in the end, isn’t that what we are supposed to do as parents — prepare our children for a world of possibilities and then turn them loose in it? We certainly never planned that we would be doing so with our youngest so soon, but there it is. She’s there. The world is opening up before her. I can only wonder at her promise and potential, catch her when she falls, and pray that she will forever be safe, smart, and pretty like a fish.

(As always, if you’d like to write Claire a note of encouragement or contribute to her scholarship fund, you can do so at One Dancer’s Dream, P. O. Box 11141, Blacksburg, VA 24062)

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Digging out

Okay, so let me just admit it right up front. I’m a bit of a freak when it comes to having a clean driveway in the winter. I’m not sure what that’s all about, though I like to tell people it’s because I want to be able to get out if I have to. You know, be prepared and all that. The truth is probably a bit more complicated and a bit less practical. I just like the thought of my driveway being clean and clear, even after — no, especially after — the biggest and messiest snowstorms. It’s like my small and pitiful stand against the elements, a sign of industriousness and purpose in the face of adversity.

So around 5:00 or so last Saturday, when the snow had finally stopped falling, topping off at about a foot or so, I couldn’t resist it any longer. My wife, my son, and I had spent the whole day in the house, a welcome respite from our normally demanding schedules. But as the credits rolled on the last movie of the day, I knew it was time.

It probably won’t surprise you that my teenage son, Simon, doesn’t share my compulsion for a clean driveway, but those of you who have the good fortune to know him will also not be surprised that after some brief perfunctory grumbling, he went upstairs to suit up to come out and help.

We tackled the hard part first, the only sensible thing to do. The driveway is about three cars wide at the base, great for shooting hoops in warmer weather, but not so great when you have to clear it of snow. There’s no easy way. You have to pick up a shovelful, walk to the edge, toss it, then walk back. Shovel. Walk. Toss. Repeat. It’s laborious, and for a time, we muttered under our breath, complained about our cold hands, yanked our hats down even further.

But after 20 minutes or so, we began working in rhythm, not speaking, not complaining — just working. We had formed a kind of silent pact — man to man — that we were bigger than the challenge before us. Even our movements were synchronized, the man with the empty shovel circling behind the man filling one up. We went on like this, without stopping, for some time until the driveway was nearly cleared. Then Simon spoke up.

“Dad, look at the sky.”

I looked up, and over the houses on the opposite side of the cul-de-sac, the sky was a deep rich purple, almost iridescent, a color I don’t think I’ve ever seen. We took a breather for a few minutes, just looking, as the chill crept under our jackets and clutched at our damp shirts. Two partners really, leaning on their shovels with a clear blacktop driveway behind them and an impossibly beautiful sky overhead.

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The tears have begun, as I knew they would sooner or later.

Sunday afternoon, at the close of a big open house we hosted. Scores of folks — teens and adults in nearly equal measure — have dropped by to welcome the new year, and wish my daughter Claire well as she heads off to the Kirov Academy of Ballet to pursue her dream. The party is winding down, with only a few of Claire’s dearest friends remaining. She’s saying goodbye to one such friend while the parents watch, one set already in heavy coats hovering by the door, and my wife and I at the top of the stairs by the landing. I’ve been streaming cello music the entire afternoon — thank goodness for Pandora — and at what is possibly the worst (or best?) time, a mournful air from a string quartet swells from the speakers. It’s as though scene has suddenly been scored, and for a few moments we are all frozen there — our emotions amplified by the music in a way that it sometimes seems only music can do. The girls are holding one another and crying. It is nearly unbearably sad.

It’s not so much about loss, I don’t think. After all, they are standing here together, and as most hyper-connected teens do, they are sure to be in touch — perhaps even more than they are now.

But yet it is about loss in some way, for surely they understand that they will lose their relationship as they know it. From this moment forward, things will begin to change, and their lives — while still no doubt connected — will be on decidedly different paths.

Later, as I’m running through all the things I still need to do with Claire, I imagine that I can maybe get to some of them next week, and then a moment later I am struck dumb by the sudden notion that next week she will not be here. She will be living hundreds and hundreds of miles away from my outstretched arms, from my face-to-face counsel. She will be taking the first steps on her own path, a path that her mother and I can guide or alter perhaps, but a path that will also be decidedly different.

Thank goodness there was no cello music at that moment. I don’t think I could have managed it.

As always, I am grateful to all of you who have asked after her and wished her well. And, as always, if you’d like to send Claire a note of encouragement or make a gift to her scholarship fund, you can do so at One Dancer’s Dream, P.O. Box 11141, Blacksburg, VA 24062

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Claire dreaming.

My daughter, dreaming.

UPDATE: If you didn’t get a chance to hear Claire interviewed on Studio Virginia, you can find it here. Just look for the show that was broadcast on 11/01/09. Click on that link, skip to right around the halfway point of the show.

We keep a photo of our daughter on our fridge. I can’t recall how old she was exactly, but I know she had just begun walking. In it, she’s just pulled herself up with a wooden barre and is studying her reflection in the mirror. She’s wearing a practical flowered dress with tights, and her tousled hair is curly — as it still is — and red — as it was then. It’s hard to imagine what she might be examining so intently, though I like to think that she’s gazing at her future — more mirrors, more wooden barres.

If that’s the case, then it might explain another picture that accompanied a story in our local paper just last weekend. She’s in front of another mirror, studying her reflection just as intently as before. Her hair is still curly, though it’s pulled up off of her neck, and her practical flowered dress has been replaced by a simple black leotard and pink tights. All in all, it’s a style that’s for more suited for what she has become — a dancer.

If you have been reading this blog or if you know my family at all, this will not be surprising to you. I’ve written about it here before, most recently when she was invited to take part in a three-week intensive session this summer with the Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington, D.C. That experience did more than open my daughter’s eyes to her potential. It opened a door to her dreams.

My daughter dreaming ... still

My daughter dreaming ... still

You see, not long after she returned home — still humming from the vibe of being around so many who shared those dreams — Claire received an invitation to join the academy’s selective year-round training program. It’s an opportunity that only a handful of dancers get each year, and one that has brought our entire family a constantly shifting stream of pride, fear, joy, anxiety, and more.

The pride part is easy. How could a parent not be proud of a daughter such as this? One that has such an innate grace? One that lights up a stage, whether she’s singing or acting or dancing? Or, especially, one that– even at such a young age — has such a clear-eyed focus and drive to live her dream, to become what she has always imagined becoming? It’s an amazing thing to behold, and I couldn’t be prouder.

Yet we are also faced with the hard fact that our young daughter, so much a part of our lives every day, will no longer be living here, that part of the cost of this opportunity for her is, in no small way, a loss for us. To be honest, there are times when I find myself surprised by the notion that our house will be without her, and it brings me up short — like the shock of cold water — and I find myself wondering what on earth we could be thinking. She, too, I think, has this same reaction from time to time, as she imagines how much she will miss her friends, her dog, her mom and dad, and her best friend — her brother. This parting — coming in January — unsettles us all.

There’s another cost to this opportunity, one that can be more readily quantified and measured. As it is a full-time residential academic and ballet academy — replete with not just some of the world’s best ballet instructors, but also accompanists, staff counselors, a nutritionist, a registered nurse, a physical therapist, teachers, classrooms, and more — the annual tuition exceeds what we might have expected to spend to send her to any number of private colleges. Such costs are not easily managed, at least not by a family like ours.

Yet dreams lead us where they will, and sometimes, if we choose to follow them, they lead us where we might not otherwise choose to go, and require us to make choices we otherwise would not make. This is what it is like for our family now. And while we are committed to this path and overjoyed at the opportunity our daughter has been given, we are also more than a little anxious about where it will lead us.

We have been blessed by many who have wished us well, and who have been moved by Claire’s drive, by one dancer’s dream. If you are so moved, we would greatly appreciate knowing that. And if you know someone else who you think might appreciate this story — someone who loves dance, or who believes in the power and potential of young girls, or who simply loves the idea of dreams coming true, please take a moment to share this post with them.

We’ve set up a scholarship fund for those who may be inclined to help Claire reach her dreams, or just would like to send her a note of encouragement.

One Dancer’s Dream

P.O. Box 11141

Blacksburg, VA 24062

Thanks again, and stay tuned. There will be much, much more to this story.

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William Shakespeare“Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow…”

Forgive my assumption, but I’m guessing that a pretty fair number of those of you who are reading this are spinning out the rest of this soliloquy from Macbeth. In it, of course, he is bemoaning the death of his wife and beginning to sense the unraveling of his schemes, the futility of his days, and how, in the end, they have held so little meaning.

My tomorrows, unlike Macbeth’s, don’t “creep in this petty pace from day to day.” To the contrary — they hurtle toward me so fast that I feel like I can’t always process them. They come, and then just as quickly, they go. Things get done, and things get left undone. It’s  like a continuous stream passing over me, moving too quickly for me to fully grasp any one moment.

My sole defense against this rushed passing of my days is knowing that some moments will be fixed in memory, and that the sum total of those memories — as disparate as they may be — make up my personal history, and that that history is mine and mine only.

To be honest, it wasn’t so much Shakespeare that got me thinking along these lines, at least not his words alone. It was seeing these words delivered by my teenage son playing the role of Macbeth onstage of the Blackfriar’s Playhouse at the American Shakespeare Center just a few weeks ago.

I’ll not likely ever forget watching him perform. It was a revelation, really. His arms ropy and lean, his broadening shoulders encircled by a costume cape, the way he moved on the stage with the confidence of young Scottish thane, not an awkward, gangly teenager. It was a young man I watched, not so much a boy. Even then — in that very moment — I knew that I would lock this memory away, and preserve against the endless rush of tomorrows.

Perhaps I’ll shelve it alongside another memory, equally vivid: this same child — only seven then — memorizing and reciting this same soliloquy, just as he recited endless facts about jets or construction equipment or the predators of the African plains, or whatever else had captured his rigorous imagination at that moment. That’s the way his mind worked — still does, in fact — and I remember wondering then what would become of him, to what use would he apply his gifts. And just as he retains his same remarkable faculties, so, too,  do I retain my endless wonder.

Perhaps the answer lies not in Macbeth. Maybe I should have been looking in The Tempest.

“What’s past is prologue…”


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