We just came back from a culturally invigorating trip to New York City. I am so glad that I taught my kids to appreciate the arts by taking them to plays and museums as young kids. It is a very cool experience to hear from your teenagers about what they know about artists and their work, the chemical formation of gems and minerals (I must have slept through that in chemistry) and discuss symbolism in theatrical productions.
I saw that Pippin was playing and jumped at the chance to buy tickets to a matinee. I had done this show in high school, and really wanted the kids to see it. It is a phenomenal new production with the same amazing music, but with incredible acrobatics and a new ending. It’s a bit racy for young kids but mine could handle it. What I didn’t know is that the theme of the show couldn’t have been more appropriate for the evening ahead of us.
After the show, we rested in the hotel for a couple hours because we had tickets to the NBC Studios tour where we would see the SNL set and some other tv show sets. I looked over to Aaron to tell him that it was time to go, and he was visibly upset. “You didn’t get into Duke, did you?” “No.” I think I then said an expletive and jumped on the bed with him. Lauren started crying, and she and I just enveloped Aaron in our arms. We let him get everything out that he was feeling: all of the emotions that go with the injustices of being a kid who has worked so hard even during tumultuous times and rarely asks for anything. Hmmm. I had a choice. I could have very quickly and easily become Mama Bear and defended my son. I could have told him that this all was not fair, that he deserved to get in and that Duke was the worst university on the planet. I knew that wasn’t true. I decided to take the advice that I often give out to parents in conferences to “look at the big picture.” I gave him permission to be sad for two days only and then it was time to pick himself up and get on the new path. This is what his Dad and I did each time we got bad news about the cancer. We would curse the universe for our misfortune and scream our lamentations to God who didn’t seem to be listening to our prayers. Aaron had an amazing offer from the University of Virginia and many kids would love to have the opportunity to go there. Transferring to Duke would not be an option because he would never allow himself to make connections at UVA and immerse himself in the amazing college experience. I am a big believer in intention and if your intention is to find light and joy, then that is exactly what you will encounter in your life. I told him that I am not a huge believer in fate, but that we were going to give it a chance in our lives. This could be exactly where he needs to be: close to his Virginia roots at one of the most prestigious universities in the country. As far as money, I told him that it would all come together. He would have to do a work study and take out a small loan, but I would figure out the rest. He started to come around a bit after the NBC tour and at dinner we talked about the theme of Pippin which I didn’t fully appreciate as a 16 year old, but I definitely do now.
Pippin searched endlessly for something that “had to be completely fulfilling.” He tried being a soldier, a king, a priest, an artist, and frolicking with beautiful women. He was taken in the home of a widowed woman and her son and for the first time, felt love and contentment. But in a moment of feeling trapped, he fled, still searching for something more to life. It turns out, there wasn’t anything fulfilling. Living a life of simple joy and love was everything that Pippin needed. I told both kids that their own father was constantly pushing himself in his career, often lamenting when the music industry didn’t “get it” and pursuing the ultimate moment of fulfillment in his music career. It never happened, and it wasn’t until the last two months of his life that he said, “I have had everything I’ve ever needed even though I didn’t get what I wanted.” I smiled, kissed him, and told him I knew it all along but he had to figure it out for himself. I am eternally grateful that he recognized it before he passed away.
Am I disappointed for my kid? You bet I am. I waited to have an ugly cry early the next morning in the hotel shower. But, more importantly, I’m grateful that I resisted the urge to blame or denounce but instead pulled myself back to point out the beautiful lessons of rejection. It won’t be the first time that Aaron is rejected in life, but I’m here to give him the tools to deal with it down the road. I’m here for him just like I was when he would fall on the sidewalk and scrape his knee or when his ice cream cone would take a nosedive into the sand. He will probably search for gratification in worldly things just like the rest of us have done, and he may even get everything he wants in life. Who knows? Some people do. What I really pray for is that he gets everything he needs.