Last Friday was the boys' final day of camp. They've been going to a half-day "Creative Kids" program run by one of the local arts groups. This summer they've participated in three two-week sessions, each with its own prevailing theme. The first session was “Dinosaurs”, which they liked because they made cave paintings, the second, "South of the Border", which they liked because they made maracas and the third, "Great Masters", which they liked because they learned that in the art world, throwing tantrums and spilling paint on the floor doesn’t make you a bad boy. It makes you Jackson Pollock.
Although the boys would have much preferred something like “Lightsaber Camp” or “Eat at McDonald's For Every Meal Camp”, I signed them up for “Creative Kids” because I’m worried they don’t experience enough art and drama at home. Well, art, anyway. It’s just that I really want to see them grow creatively. Artistically. And although I’ve tried to draw and paint with them myself, most of the time our art sessions quickly escalate into them chasing the cat with a glue stick or launching crayons off of the dining room table. It’s sort of like bad performance art underwritten by Crayola and Pepperidge Farm. Add in two hours of cleaning up and you can see why I now pay someone else to expand their right brains.
Besides the artistic merits, there are two other reasons I love taking the kids to this camp. First, I get three hours of freedom each morning in which to do the Lord's work. And by the Lord's work, I mean skulking around the mall, drinking my weight in Diet Coke and searching for the Proactiv kiosk. (Because clear skin is the holiest of the holy grails.) And second, the camp gives me a good dose of Austin city folk. By that, I mean that since kids from all over the city attend, there’s a little more diversity than I usually see in my own neighborhood. After months of nothing but parents with SUVs, good jewelry and mom jeans, it’s kind of nice to meet parents with tattoos, piercings and kids named Lightin’ Bug. Plus, for once I’m not the only adult wearing a wrinkled, tie-dyed t-shirt. (Although I’m probably the only one who got it from Nordstrom’s “Individualist” department.)
After two weeks of getting messy and learning about painters like Moonay, each camp session ends in an Open House where the kids perform a show for the parents. I was really excited about this because, up until now, the only thing I’d ever see my boys perform was half-assed amateur surgery on dead worms. And now, now they were going to be actors. No, stars! Celebrities! They were one measly talent scout away from their own show on Nick Jr. and hangin’ with Lindsay at Promises Malibu. OMG! This was awesome!
Or not so much. My strange flare of stage mothering quickly burned out as painful memories of my own theatrical career came to mind. There was the time I was the purple flower with no lines. The time I was the green plant with no lines. The time I was the apple with no lines. Of course I never became a TV star--I was typecast as mute vegetation by the age of 10. Finally, there was the incident that has forever kept me from ever again stepping foot on stage. I suppose I should have been happy I was the lead in the play, even though the only reason I got the part of Abraham Lincoln was because I was the tallest kid in the third grade, but come on. Even Meryl Streep would have bombed trying to recite the “Emancipation Proclamation” with a black, felt beard covering half her face. I was like Honest Abe as a Wookiee.
And so it was with some apprehension that I watched the boys’ first show at the end of the Dinosaur session. I knew Sam, the oldest, would be fine since he’s pretty outgoing, but I was a little worried about Jack as I suspect that, like me, he was born without the performing gene. If he and I were in “High School Musical”, we’d be the ones hiding in a locker singing through the air vents.
The show began with the older kids tromping into the room dressed in cardboard pterodactyl costumes, including paper plate masks that must have obscured their vision because they kept bumping into each other and loudly yelling “Hey!” They stood in formation and began a choreographed dance, complete with high-pitched pterodactyl screeches, and then, in what can only be described as avant-garde theater at its finest, they took the stage two at a time and proceeded to tell self-written knock-knock jokes. The whole thing was very Off-Off-Off-Good-God-Are-We-Off Broadway. Totally genius.
Next came Jack’s group--the 3 year-olds. Jack marched right in, stood in front of the audience, then froze for a good two minutes while the rest of the kids danced. I kept waiting for the tears to come, but he then managed to get up on stage to tell the first knock-knock joke. Here’s the joke: “Knock, knock. Who’s there? Banana. Banana who? Banana hospital.” Yeah, not exactly Chris Rock caliber, but kind of cute in its own way. Unfortunately, the rest of the kids thought it was high-larious, so we then had to sit through nine more tellings of it. I actually found myself wishing I was at a Gallagher show being splashed by watermelon.
The next Open House was at the end of “South of the Border” week. The kids sang a song in what sounded like Swahili but was most likely Spanish, then waved around the brightly colored flags they’d made. Again, Sam did fine. Jack? Jack held a flag and stood frozen like a statue for five minutes. Kind of like Sylvester Stallone, only with a hint more emotion.
Then the final camp session began and surprisingly, one day Jack came home singing “It’s A Hard Knock Life” and proudly showing off the dance moves he was learning for the performance. He loved it. Finally, I thought. He’s finally getting into it and enjoying himself. Maybe he was destined to meet Lindsay after all. Maybe I should start contacting talent agents. Maybe I should even start subscribing to "Variety". I just knew this show was going to be a hit.
Sam’s group went first, singing “There’s No Business Like Show Business”. He did great, but unfortunately was drowned out by the 5 year-old Nathan Lane next to him. Then it was Jack’s turn. He looked at me, gave me a huge smile, then climbed onstage with his group. I got my camera ready and waited. The song began, the kids started belting it out and Jack…stared at his shoes and looked like he was being punished. Oh, well, I thought. So he’s probably not ever going to like being an actor. That’s OK. Not everyone’s cut out for performing. Not everyone needs to stand in front of an audience. In fact, isn’t that why they become... directors? I wonder if there's a camp for that.