By Gregory Keer
Last January, my eleven year old tracked me down in my fortress of solitude, the bathroom, and launched into “Suddenly Seymour,” his audition tune for the public arts academy he desperately wanted to attend.
Despite all the love and support I harbor for my child, my reaction was swift as I cried, “Let me poop in peace!”
This sent Jacob into a fit of laughter before he collected himself and continued his song in complete ignorance of my compromised state.
By the time he hit his final note, I had long forgotten where I was or what I had intended to do there. I just applauded.
“That was the best I’ve ever heard you sing,” I told Jacob.
My son gave me hug, at which time reality hit me that I was sitting over a toilet bowl.
“Thanks, Dad, now I can let you poop in peace,” he laughed as he took off.
Whether he’s standing on bathroom tile or auditorium floorboards, my son loves the stage. It started early, when we took a three-year-old Jacob to see his older brother in a theater-camp production of The Sound of Music. We had to hold back the nascent thespian from leaping to join “Do-Re-Mi.” Even as Benjamin grew more self-conscious about performing, Jacob’s theatrical bug never stopped buzzing.
Sometimes, that buzzing got on our nerves. We were frequently torn between encouraging his creative, outgoing nature and protecting our senses from his often disastrous training. There were countless nights when he belted a medley of the Top 40 all day long, from every room in the house – and mostly off key. He didn’t know he was out of tune, nor did he care. He also had the habit of trying to force his vibrato to sound like Justin Timberlake – only he wasn’t Justin Timberlake.
There were the mornings we awakened thinking clowns were ransacking our home when it was just Jacob leaping around his room, rehearsing hip-hop moves he learned in his after-school program. On countless occasions, we sat with frozen smiles while we watched him do modern dance versions of movies like Iron Man 2.
There were all the elementary-school plays, the ones Jacob made us practice with him for weeks, even when he only had one line to say. Worse yet, given Jacob’s perfectionist streak, we endured his criticism of how we delivered our parts: “Daddy, I really think Zeus would sound much bolder than you’re saying it.” You know there’s something wrong when your eight-year-old makes you feel like you’ll never work in show business again and all you wanted to do was help him understand a Greek god’s emotional fragility.
As anxious as Jacob’s relentless practicing of his skills made us, nothing compared to how he felt every time he tried out for a part he didn’t get or was made fun of by peers who found his theatricality not macho enough. Each time this happened, Jacob would come home angry or in tears, and we would boost his ego for being brave enough to take risks. Yet it was mostly his own sense of resolve that motivated him to try all over again.
In this last year of grade school, all of Jacob’s practice seemed to pay off. After three years in the back of the chorus, he moved to the front because he had improved his vocal pitch. After years of musical instrument obscurity, he learned the ukulele and became a soloist at his graduation.
And after endless sessions spent rehearsing dance moves, song stylings, and acting chops, he auditioned for the performing arts academy with so few available spots and so many dreamers vying for them. Weeks later, the email came with the word “Congratulations” on it. Jacob shouted and jumped high, but landed soberly and said, “What’s for dinner?”
Who knows if this opportunity to learn in an arts program will lead to Jacob’s success on Broadway or in Hollywood? What I do know is that, as much as my son has learned to follow a passion, he knows that there’s more to life than a stage. More important than any lead part is that Jacob has learned about working hard, enjoying triumphs, and weathering fear and failure. He’s also learned to balance his theatrical pursuits with friends, family, and soccer, a game he still loves. These lessons will serve him as he makes the transition from the smaller elementary school stakes to the bigger ones in middle school and beyond.
As he takes on this next challenging phase of life, I am so very proud of my boy. So proud that I’ll let him interrupt my bathroom privacy any time he wants to break out into song.
For more on middle-school change, see Middle Earth.