Saturday, September 1, 2012

Their Thing

It was one of those typical weekend afternoons in a which a playbook, a GPS system and a healthy dose of Ritalin would be required in order to keep up with where everyone had to be, and when. It involved a lot of driving, a lot of talking and, of course, a 13 x 9 potluck dish. And yet it turned into one of those days that, better than any birthday or Christmas celebration, gave me a chance to witness pure delight in each of my girls. So, even taking the potluck into account, it turned out to be worth the effort.

The first leg of the slog involved that now-familiar routine of fetching various teenagers from wherever they happened to have landed that Sunday afternoon, then ferrying them across the river for a climb up those steep stairs to their theater space. Because we needed to head to the next part of our own personal goat rodeo after this effort was complete, I didn’t just drop and dash, but followed them upstairs and tried to melt into the background.

With that particular sort of short-term amnesia that seems common to actors, they squealed and jiggled at the sight of one another, even kids they’d seen just a few hours ago. But all that free-floating energy snapped into place when the director called them to order, introduced them to the choreographer, and got them started learning new steps. Their focus was a surprise to me. I’m used to watching these kids lounge about my house watching reruns of “Awkward” and hitting the pause button every thirty seconds for a sidebar conversation, so it was strange to suddenly observe them as such unwaveringly determined professionals.

When the director interrupted to share some bad news with the cast – a local television station that had been planning to film them that afternoon had canceled because of a hurricane – they handled the setback with a grace and professionalism that I don’t think I could have pulled together on such short notice. They seemed to be thinking not Now I won’t get to be on Live at Five, but Hey, at least we got to learn the new number. With the shoot cancelled, they were told they could leave early, but no one rushed to the door. They doodled around on the piano, sang snatches of lyrics to each other, demonstrated the finer points of the new dance. Sitting in the back, I took the opportunity to look, really look, at Mary Katherine’s face. She was utterly at home, as if, in this rehearsal space, she fit in her own skin in a way that just wasn’t possible anywhere else.

Here, I thought. Here, stuck inside on a beautiful day, with someone playing the piano and everyone wanting to play someone else -- this is the place she is meant to be.

But the potluck was looming. We re-deposited the teens we’d accumulated, then headed for a massive scramble of directions and dishes and reminders to bring the dogs inside, before we shot out the driveway again, this time in two cars (naturally, since that’s more complicated). We arrived at the welcome picnic for our new exchange student. There were at least a hundred people already there, bunched up under a gazebo at Minnehaha Falls. All of them were either kids who’d just arrived from some other land, or American kids who had just returned, or their host families and parents. The food may have been standard-issue Midwestern glop, but their faces created the most diverse display of humanity I’d possibly ever seen in Minnesota.

Plopping the dish onto a massive lineup of refined carbohydrates, I slumped onto a bench and affixed my name tag over the “Heather” that’s stitched over the pocket of my bowling shirt. (It’s my hands-down favorite piece of clothing, but if I don’t cover up the name, these lovely people with irony deficiencies just call me “Heather” all evening.) Mid-slump, I allowed myself to think about how, when I die (which should be any minute now, given this pace), I want my remains to be forever stored in a 13 x 9 potluck dish, with masking tape slapped across the top and my last name written in permanent marker.

That’s when I noticed Emma. She hadn’t sat down, she hadn’t gotten a drink, and she hadn’t stopped smiling. First she had decided to locate every Chinese national and welcome them, in Mandarin, to the U.S. Then she found a white kid who’d spent last year in China, and she compared notes with him. She sat down long enough to size up the college boy I’d roped into chatting in French with our Hugo (when I found out he’d spent last year in Belgium, I dragged him over). As she listened, she leaned backward to eavesdrop on the huddle of Italians at the end of the table.

“My brain is about to explode from all these languages!” she said, and I realized that Emma is the only person in the world who would accompany a statement like this with a smile. “Explosion” is the only pace that isn’t too slow for her. Then she hopped up and ran off to speak a few more languages to a few more jetlagged foreign nationals. Here, I thought. Here, with an ever-expanding chance to explore what’s unknown, to keep cramming new vocabulary and syntax into that near-exploding brain. This is the life she’s meant to live.

It was getting dark. The first day of school was tomorrow. We had to go. On the ride home, Emma was jubilant. “That’s my thing, you know, that’s what I love best! I got to talk to people from all over the world! Those are my people!” From the backseat, Mary Katherine mused, “I got to do that today, too. I got to do my thing and be with my people.”

I hated to ruin the sweetness with a teachable moment, but I just had to say it: “Some people go their whole lives without knowing what their thing is,” I said. “And you two know already. And you both got to have a taste of it, all in one day.” 

And me, I got to see the two girls I love best experience their greatest bliss, all in one short span of time. There haven’t been many days like that one in my life, and there probably won’t be many more.  Even if it did have to include a 13 x 9 potluck dish, it was worth it.

1 comment:

  1. Love love love this, Julie.

    Heather Ball
    (Heather being my real name)