Dear Miss Shelton,
I've struggled with whether or not to write to you. (Oh no....apparently the struggle is over) My daughter auditioned for [the musical] and she has been ignored as usual. She is, once again, cast in the chorus of the play without having been giving a single line. (Oh boy... here we go) Not even one solo. [My daughter] has been in voice lessons for the past 7 years and she has been in the last three musicals you directed. She has dedicated her time and talent to you, but is getting very tired of standing in the back.
She was thrilled with her audition. (True. I was so proud of her!) She worked so hard on it. (She wanted it so badly, I could tell) She came home and told me that she was sure she "nailed it." After two years of dedicated work for you, she deserved a bigger role.
I'm truly disappointed in you (join the club, I started it myself). After seeing the posted cast list [my daughter] came home and locked herself in her room. I have never heard her cry so long or so hard. But since you don't have any children of your own, (ouch) you've probably never heard this kind of heart-breaking pain, (inflicted, no doubt by me) inflicted on her by someone she used to look up to (yep, there it is!).
I have talked to other parents about this (of course you have.) We will be pulling our children out of the play. We have started a letter writing campaign against you because your behavior needs to be stopped once and for all. (Believe me, I wish I knew how to do ANYTHING else to make a living.) We will be encouraging the principal to find someone else to teach our drama classes (While you're at it, write a letter to the people that create musicals and ask them to start writing scripts with more women's roles in them).
This letter if a compilation of several letters, ideas and promises that have happened over the last twenty years of teaching high school drama kids. TRUE. If you are a drama teacher, reading this, you have laughed because you probably have received a few of those gems over the years yourself. They are so common amongst us, that they have their own stereotype, and that's why we laugh. Though I have never taken their content lightly. The truth is, you can never make everyone happy, especially when you are forced to choose, to judge, one student’s abilities over another.
As most of you know, Andy and I are changing schools right now. Like, RIGHT now. Are we moving because we received some hate mail? OH NO. The reasons don't include any hate mail at all. Complaint mail is just part of the job and gives you a thick, bouncy skin eventually. Part of being in any job requires you to take criticism. We love our clientele at our current school. We stayed seven years because of them. The first few years were a trial because every teacher has to earn the trust of those clients (and their parents). It takes time. And there was a lot of creative mail in the beginning.
Packing my office, I found the famous file.
It's a morbid file full of letters and notes from parents and students explaining their frustrations with me. There are also vehement emails, a picture of Jabba The Hut (Star Wars character I think) saying "this is what I think about you, Miss Shelton. Watch your back." TRUE! It is an 8 X 10 glossy that someone slipped under my office door. Horrific. One of the notes says "I can't believe my child is failing a mickey-mouse class like drama." One says "the casting of plays is emotionally abusive." And still there is my favorite, "you don't know how hard it is to be the parent of a drama student." True that. I'm not a parent in the literal sense of the word.
I hear you. You're wondering why I keep it. Why I didn't just toss that negativity out when I got it. A whole file for crying out loud!
It reminds me how seriously people take this drama thing. Believe it or not, it adds gravity to what I do. It helps me take it seriously. How truly life-changing it is to be in a play!! These notes tell me that. It keeps me grounded.
Opposites in all things right? WOOT! I also keep the file(s) of thank you notes full of love and admiration. Those files are HUGE! Those files are why we needed the biggest Uhaul!! When I am feeling picked on, when it's three in the morning and I just can't sew one more costume or paint one more prop...I get into that file for just a minute, and it heals me in an instant. Gives me a second wind.
So positive or not, I am able to take a deep breath and go back to work because I know what I do matters. I have E.V.I.D.E.N.C.E.
One card, written in 1996 (is always at the front of the file) and has been read so many times that its in two pieces now. It simply says (in an eighth graders handwriting) "YOU ARE THE MOTHER I'VE NEVER HAD." And it's from a kid that spent many hours "standing at the back," but she didn't care. She never knew her mom. Her dad was awesome, but she went home to an empty house after school. The solution to the loneliness, was KNGH, she was the kid that never went home. The theatre (and I am part of that word) was her safe place. She told me so, and I took that very seriously.
I am sitting in a dorm room right now at the university of Nebraska, Lincoln. The home of the Huskers. This is only the second year we've come with kids. Last year, we brought 3, this year 25. We have traveled with groups of 70+ to Cedar City, Logan, Disneyland with about 50, New York, and we did take a wee trip to the Fringe Festival in Scotland with about 40 once. I love these trips because I get to watch the kids experience something for the first time. It's like crack cocaine to me (I hear. I don't really know.....;-)
There are over 3000 students here on the UNL campus right now, granted they are nerdy drama kids, but the ratio of kids to adults is probably about 15 to 1. 15 energetic, drama kings and queens to 1 exhausted teacher. If they wanted to, they could stage a pretty successful coup. Think of their list of demands: "More musicals, bigger roles, private meetings with Stephen Sondheim and autographed copies of Pippin." Who am I kidding? They would much rather stage an Andrew Lloyd Weber sing-a-long. This is a very peaceful group of people. JFK said the arts civilize a culture. It's so true. These are pleasant people to be around.
Today at this "National Thespian Festival," the kids that auditioned for scholarships earlier in the week got "called back." This means that certain colleges want to see you again, talk to you, get to know you before they send you admittance letters and scholarships. It's the next step on the road to university life. Our kids got called back all over the nation but one student's name appeared on nearly every college posting. Andy called him and said "Do you want Jan or I to go with you just to take notes, or help you keep track?" And this kid said "NO. I don't want my parents in there with me!" (Duh!)
I had such conflicted emotions right then. I wanted to tell him "Listen Mister! I'm going with you anyway, because I know you won't take enough notes (if any)," and I also felt the pinch of the apron strings being cut off - by someone that feels like my child. I've felt it before, but this time it was very clear because this is the first time we've had children with such big decisions to make so early. Finally, my heart was singing because he had essentially called me MOM! Which I crave, you know. So because of that, I turned back and let him go on his own. (I'll grill him at dinner)
I have my niece Katie here with me. She's a Senior costume technician at Lehi High. I saw her talking to a college recruiter from one of the best theatre schools in the nation. Don't worry, I didn't interrupt. (Man, I fought it!) I want her to have that experience but then...she would have to live in Cincinnati. I want her to go to the local community college, but she needs the expertise and connections that can be offered to her there. I almost started crying as I watched her.
So my MOM buttons are all being pushed this week. It's a great and terrible feeling. It's akin to that feeling I had when the doctors told me that they could keep Noah on those machine for an indeterminate time but he would not grow like normal kids do. I had to decide to "cut the apron strings" and let him move on. I truly hate that feeling.
This blog has been such a good outlet for me to talk about the conundrum I go through on a daily basis - the yoyo effect of wanting so badly to be a mom and just being someone's mentor. Blogging takes time. So in an effort to increase its financial effectiveness...(because now I'm dependent on it for my sanity) we added some advertising. But the money is sort of ridiculous, averaging about a nickel an hour. But it's a nickel I didn't have yesterday.
So I have been reading other blogs, analyzing their layouts, their funky buttons, their content. I read in the Wall Street Journal (oh, heavens no, we don't subscribe) an article about a woman that was obsessed with "Mormon Mommy blogs." I googled "top mommy blogs" to see what she was so addicted to.
Some of them get 100,000 readers a week! There were several mommy blogs that actually RATED other blogs. Wow. There were other blogs that gave you the opportunity to upload your blog and have people VOTE on it. Scary. I'm not into this whole blog thing for the notoriety. I just want to find out how some women are paying their mortgages by talking about what they do in everyday life. It's a kind of wacky phenomenon, don't you think?
I had all but decided to post my blog link on the "Top Mommy Blogs" site, when I read the rules. The very first one was, "YOU MUST BE A MOM TO POST YOUR SITE HERE." Shit. Now I have to think about it. It really stopped me...for a few days it stopped me cold. I contemplated uploading it anyway, because I need the exposure, and I really feel like I am a "type, a kind, a special category" of a mom. But looking through their list, I didn't fit into any of their special categories. The conflict raged inside of me. Would they create a new category for me, or just shoot it back and say "You don't meet our qualifications." Could I handle that truth? Not this week. I know they can have their own rules. I can find other places to fit in, other judges of my qualifications. But it set me back.
In a way, the life I have is enviable because I get to celebrate, to some degree, with kids as they bound through their accomplishments, but at the end of the day I send them home to their "real" moms. Moms that get to pay for their college education, their doctor's appointments, chicken pox and car wrecks. I'm so humbled and awed by the kids as they get accepted to Tisch, CCM or Boston, but then I quickly add up that tuition, housing, books...and sometimes it makes me feel better.
Last semester I had 70 college students, 35 high school kids and countless after school kids in shows. Dealing with this many kids also makes me just a little grateful I don't have to teach all day, then come home and deal with my own children. So that's good too.
It's just... well...days like today...when they come running toward me with their arms open screaming "I got accepted to CCM!" that I want to be that kids real mom. I want to be there when the combined Jandy genes comes out of his audition and says "I'm going to the Boston Conservatory, mom." And I would think in my mind...where else?
Not that I'm jealous of that kids real mom, I know and LOVE the real moms of my fake kids, one of them is my own sister! They have all been so great to share with me. I'm just so tired of feeling like a fake mom.
But it's God's plan for me. I've never questioned that. I'll just keep complaining about it on my little blog if you don't mind. It’s so much cheaper than a therapist.
And I will continue to sit on the edge of motherhood when they come to me with their major life questions - their emotional, educational, financial, spiritual and sexual conundrums. Sometimes I actually know about this stuff before their parents do, though in those sacred moments, and there have been so many...the first thing out of my mouth is always the same..."have you discussed this with your parents?"