An Extra Seat at the Table

With Thanksgiving just a few days away, we are all getting ready for the biggest feast of the year.  You might be following your timeline to ensure your turkey defrosts on time, or searching through Pinterest boards for those last-minute table decorations. All the planning and prepping to make sure everything comes out just right can be overwhelming.  It‘s easy to lose sight of what really matters — that this is a time of togetherness, sharing, and giving thanks. 

Several years ago we hosted Thanksgiving at our townhouse. There were twenty people on our guest list, which was about as much as our limited space could handle. On that Thursday, we were busy cleaning and decorating our home. Orlando had brined the turkey for a couple of days and the appetizers, sides, and desserts were all done. We’d set up two long portable tables in our dining room and put away the kids’ toys and unnecessary furniture. It was tight, but it looked pretty. In the midst of the party planning commotion, I received a call from my friend Joana. 

“Hey there!” I said. “Are you ready for Thanksgiving?” 

“No, I’m not,” she replied solemnly.  Joana had planned to attend her family’s Thanksgiving celebration, but that morning she discovered that a few of her staff had no place to go. She immediately called her aunt who was hosting the feast. Joanna explained the situation and asked if she could bring a few extra friends to the party. 

“I’m sorry,” her aunt told her over the phone. “But I already set everything up. I‘ve accounted for every seat and made place cards for each one. I’ve tried so hard on making this an intimate, family dinner and it would throw everything off to invite strangers.”

Joanna understood but didn’t want to leave those people stranded during the holidays. She called me to ask if she could join us instead. 

Orlando and I had to think about it for a minute.  We, too, had every seat accounted for in our tiny townhouse and we didn’t know the people she was asking to take. But we trusted Joana, and we knew if it was significant for her to find a place for these people to have Thanksgiving, then there must be a good reason for it. 

So we answered yes. 

Our home got pretty crowded that evening. My cousin brought an extra small turkey to make sure we had enough food and some of us ate sitting on the couch to make room for our new guests. With a few minor adjustments, everything worked out. 

What I learned that day was that no one cared if there was a beautifully decorated place setting for every guest, if our space was too small, or if they had to have a smaller portion of sweet potato casserole. Everyone was happy and everybody felt welcomed.  Joana was grateful to spend the night with her friends and the crew she cared so much about, and we all had a lovely time getting to know our surprise guests. 

It became the most memorable Thanksgiving we’ve ever had… and the one we talk about most fondly. That’s how life is. The moments we most treasure are usually perfectly imperfect. 

So don’t sweat the small stuff. When you live life with open arms and an open heart, there is abundance, beauty and joy in everything.

A Moment of Clarity

Many of us are blessed with family, friends, and a great support system—but many are not. Sometimes the most generous gesture you can make is to make room at your table for that extra person who would otherwise feel left out or insignificant. This is significant at work, at home and in social gatherings, and it is crucial to teach our future generation. 

There Are No Wasted Auditions (Part 2)

Sometimes big disappointments prepare you for bigger opportunities.

How can you protect your kids from having their self-esteem crushed but also prepare them for real life? How do you teach them to work hard, chase their dreams, and take leaps of faith, and at the same time explain to them that working hard doesn’t always pay off, that dreams are sometimes just fantasies, and that the net doesn’t always catch you when you jump?

How do you prepare them to plow forward, when you struggle with this paradox in your own life?

We faced this dilemma when our son poured his heart and soul into getting a role for a play, Pippin, and his younger brother who didn’t work as hard—and isn’t passionate about acting—got the part instead. (Click here to read last week’s post)

We’d been afraid that this might hurt their relationship, but Orly showed incredible grace and maturity when he was able to separate being happy for his brother from being sad for himself.

Orly continued acting and auditioned for a role in Winnie the Pooh at another local children’s theatre, landing the character, “Peter The Rabbit.”

Winnie The Pooh’s opening night coincided with Orly’s birthday. He received a gift like no other, when four 21-year-olds from the Pippin cast, showed up to watch Orly perform. We’d gotten to know these students from the UM Theatre School since we spent a lot of time waiting around for Justin during rehearsals. I’m sure they had much better things to do on a Friday night than attend a kids’ show, but theater people are special.

This goes to show that you can build relationships even when you’re on the side-lines. You never know what those relationships will mean in your life. We’d connected with these young adults in a magical way—and we knew someway, somehow, we’d meet again.

Our son’s wounds scabbed, and our family bond grew stronger. It was a time of learning and healing.

One Saturday morning, Orlando sat in the terrace browsing through his phone as he enjoyed his morning coffee and weekend mini-cigar. I swung in my hanging chair, writing on my laptop.

“Check this out, Caro.” He interrupted me. He’d seen a cool event happening in New York that the kids would love, and immediately looked up flights.

“Tickets to New York are super cheap.” He also found discounted prices and availability in a great hotel in the heart of Midtown.

It was a great deal. “Let’s do it, babe.” I agreed.

“You know what would make this trip perfect?”

Uh oh, I thought, knowing my husband.

“If we took the kids to see Hamilton.”

“Are you nuts?” I yelled. “Hamilton tickets are way too expensive. Forget it.”

“But we’ve saved so much money on everything else,” Orlando pleaded. “Experiences like this one is what we work so hard for. Our sons love Hamilton right now. We don’t know how long that’ll last. Besides, I’d love to do something special for them after the whole Pippin thing. Let’s make this an amazing experience. It’ll be our Christmas present to our family. ”

This conversation pretty much sums up our marriage:

I’m conservative and calculated.

He’s impulsive and spontaneous.

I think about it.

He acts on it.

We find a way to meet in the middle.

After an hour debating the pros and cons, I begrudgingly agreed to buy the Hamilton tickets.

Goodbye cheap trip to NYC.

Nonetheless, we couldn’t wait to surprise our kids on Christmas.

But on December 14th, an email arrived that would change everything:

I was given your contact information from the director of Pippin…

We are doing a developmental reading of a new musical called Devotion…

There is a part in the musical for a 10-year-old boy…

The workshop/reading will take place from January 20th through January 25th…

If you’re interested in your son being considered…

There is nothing better than kids who trust their parents. I adamantly dislike pre-teen shows and kid super hero movies that make the parents look like morons. I’ve never understood why these companies would program children to distrust their parents. That programming encourages children to turn to their peers and social media for guidance when they need it, and that can steer young people in the wrong direction.

We strive to avoid this. We’re honest and open with our kids when they ask us questions (regardless of how uncomfortable the answers are), we follow through on our word, and we don’t make promises we can’t keep. It’s why I was nervous when my husband promised my son that the director would call him one day for another role. But Orlando was confident. “The director said she looked forward to working with Orly in the future. Something has to come up one day where she recommends him for a role.”

He was right.

He called the director who emailed us. “Thank you for your email. Orly would love to be considered for this role. Please let us know when the audition is,” Orlando said.

“Oh, there isn’t an audition.” The director replied. “If Pippin’s director thinks he’s perfect for this role, that’s all we need to know.”

“Wow, okay.” Orlando replied surprised. “What’s the play about?”

“It’s actually a workshop/reading. We’ve received a grant to feature our theater students in a new musical, Devotion, by musical composer and lyricist, Mark Sonnenblick and Broadway director, Maggie Burrows. The play has one child role.”

OH MY GOD!

We couldn’t wait to share this news with our son. As soon as we got home, we sat Orly down on the sofa. His brothers gathered around being nosy.

“Orly, you remember how sad you were that you didn’t get the part of Pippin?” His dad asked.

“Of course I do.” Orly smirked.

“Well, guess what? We just received an email from UM. They’re bringing in a composer and director from New York to do a workshop of a new musical. They need a 10-year-old boy for one of the roles. Would you like to audition?”

“Yea, sure.” Orly said but his half-hearted response showed he wasn’t confident about getting the part.

“Well, you can’t audition.”

“Why not?” His face turned serious.

“Because you already got the role!”

“What?”Orly’s eyes lit up.

“Remember when we told you there are no wasted auditions? Well, it turns out your Pippin audition was really an audition for Devotion. They saw your talent and your behavior, and now they don’t need to look for someone else to fill that role. They want you.”

Orly jumped off the couch and ran around the house. Justin ran behind him, hugging him and screaming.  “Dad, you promised she’d remember me, and she did! I can’t believe it.” Orly hugged his dad.

It was a golden moment in parenting world. A moment that we hoped would yield our kids’ trust in the future.But it was also a life lesson for all of us.

A Moment of Clarity

We audition for roles, interview for jobs, submit articles for publications, and invest our resources hoping for that opportunity which is right in front of us. It’s devastating to be rejected. It feels like we’re not good enough or smart enough or connected enough. But the work is never wasted. The investment of time, energy, and honing your skills is not lost—unless you quit.

If you stay on course, other opportunities will appear. All that work and effort will suddenly be worth it. You’ll realize you’d been in training for something bigger; you just didn’t know it at the time.

For a moment, everything was right in our world.


And then, I opened my calendar to pencil in the dates of the workshop.

“Orlando, can I talk to you for a minute in private?” We walked into our bedroom and closed the door.

“What’s wrong?” He asked.

“The reading is on January 25th. Our flight to New York leaves on the 24th and it’s non-refundable. What do we do now?”

God sure has a sense of humor.

Do we lose thousands of dollars and cancel the surprise trip we planned for our children with so much love? Or do we decline the opportunity our son was given in furtherance of his dream of becoming an actor?

What would you do?

Stay tuned for the final post on this story next week, and find out how we handled this conflict.

There Are No Wasted Auditions (Part One)

The hardest thing for a parent to do is watch their kid fail. But without failure, there is no true success.

“Audition Opportunity!” read the subject line of the email. My nine-year-old, Orly, is passionate about acting. He wants to be on Broadway one day. He’s auditioned for several roles in different theaters, which landed me on multiple mailing lists.

“Looking for three to four young actors, any age but under 4 feet tall, to play the role of Theo in our upcoming Tony Award winning Broadway musical, Pippin” University of Miami’s Ring Theater was hosting the audition. Theo was the only child part in the play, meaning the young actor would be performing alongside University of Miami’s junior and senior theater students. They were looking for three or four actors so that the children could alternate in between performances.

Knowing my son would kill to audition for this, I forwarded the message to my husband. Not two minutes later, the phone rang.

“Did you see the email?” I asked, forgetting to say “Hello.”

“He’s going to love this,” Orlando replied. “What a great opportunity.”

“What about the height restriction?” I asked. “Orly might be right on the cusp of four feet.”

“Yes, I think he’s right around that height.” Orlando agreed. “You know who else might be perfect for this audition?”

“Who?”

“Justin.”

Justin was our adorable six-year-old who has an incredible ability to memorize lines, but his personality is very different than his brother’s.

“Do you think Justin would want to do something like this?”  I asked.

“Let’s ask him. They’re looking for three to four actors for the same role. Both brothers could be Theo. How cool would that be?”

“That would be awesome,” I agreed.

We brought up the audition at dinner. Orly’s eyes lit up immediately. “I want to audition!”

Justin was less enthused. “Justy, tell us. Do you want to audition for Theo?” I stroked his cheek.

“I don’t know,” he said nonchalantly. “I guess.”

“You don’t have to if you don’t want to, buddy. But we think it would be a great experience for you and imagine how cool it would be if both you and your brother got to be in the same play.” Orlando said.

“Okay, I’ll do it.” He said casually.

After dinner, Orlando played some of the Pippin songs so the boys could become familiar with the play. Orly began rehearsing right away. For the next few days, I’d hear Orly singing alone in his bedroom and in the shower. He was always practicing. He’d auditioned for roles before but had never taken them quite as seriously as this one.

We’d been trying to instill the importance of preparation in him, and it seemed to have all “clicked.”

He’d get frustrated with his brother who was not as committed. “Justin, you have to be prepared for this audition,” he’d scold him as if he were an adult. “If you’re not willing to work for this, you’re not going to get the part.”

Justin was unfazed.

On the day of the audition, we sat the boys down. “Okay guys, today’s the big day. Remember that several things can happen: 1. Both of you get the part, 2. Neither of you get the part, or 3. Only one of you gets the part. Regardless of what happens, remember that you are brothers. If one of you gets to be Theo and the other doesn’t, be thrilled for your brother; brothers back up and support each other. Understood?”

They nodded their heads and off they went with their dad.

Upon their return, I got the details. Orly had a great audition. Even the director commented on how well he did. Justin, on the other hand, was all over the place. He sang well but was fooling around and being silly. Orlando and Orly were not happy about his behavior.

Every day for the next few days, Orly asked, “Have you heard from UM?”

“Nothing yet.” We continued to prepare both of them for the possibilities we had discussed earlier.

Then I got the call from Orlando. “Are you sitting down?” His voice sounded surprised.

Could they have both gotten the part? Is it good news or bad news?

 “What is it?” I asked.

“Justin got the role of Theo.” Yes! They both got the part. “So they both got in?” I confirmed.

“No, Caro. Orly didn’t get in.”

What?

I never considered that Justin would get the role over his older brother.

“But didn’t you said he was fooling around during the audition?” I asked.

“He was!” Orlando exclaimed. “She liked Justin’s innocence and angelic face. Apparently, not being polished worked to his advantage. The director loved Orly, but he was too tall for the Theo she envisioned.”

“Orly is going to be devastated,” I said softly.

We’d been telling our son to work hard and be prepared and that would get him to where he wanted to be. But his little brother was getting the role even though he barely worked for it. As much as we loved Justin, we felt disappointed. It didn’t seem fair or right. Orly wanted this more than his brother did. He worked harder. He deserved it more.

For a moment, we thought of telling the boys that neither of them got the part. Justin wouldn’t be as devastated as Orly would be—but only for a moment.

Are we crazy? We can’t do that.

Justin deserved to have his moment in the spotlight as much as Orly did. And whether he had been fooling around or not, he had earned his role and it was our responsibility to celebrate that. Besides, we have to let our kids fail. We’re not doing them any favors by shielding them from disappointments. These moments build character. We knew what we had to do, but it was painful.

“Let me be the one to tell him,” Orlando said. “I’ll come by and pick him up in 15 minutes. Have him ready.”

With my poker face on, I told my son to get ready to go to the grocery store with his dad. He put his shoes on and rushed out of the house.

Orlando drove them around the block and parked in a nearby school parking lot. “What are you doing, Dad?” Orly asked.

“Orly, I have something to tell you. Justin was chosen to be Theo for Pippin, but you weren’t.” Our son’s eyes dropped down to the floor.

“Orly, I know this is devastating for you, but you can’t let it get you down. You had a great audition. You killed it. In fact, the director called me because she wanted you to know how impressed she was by you. She said she’d keep you in mind for future performances.”

“But if I did so well, why didn’t I get the part?” he asked.

“Because this wasn’t the right part for you, buddy. You are too tall and mature for the role. You’re not going to be a good fit for every part. And the acting world is full of rejection. If you want to be on Broadway like you say you do, you’d better get used to hearing ‘No’ more often than ‘Yes.’ That’s how it works. You’re going to have to develop thick skin.”

“Okay,” Orly whimpered.

“About your brother. Justin has been your biggest fan, sitting front row at all your performances and rooting for you. He’s always the first one to run up to hug you when you’re done. It’s his turn to shine. He deserves for you to be as supportive of him as he has been of you. And if you weren’t going to get the part, who better than your brother to get it?”

Orlando pulled Orly close to give him a hug. Tears streamed down both of their faces.

I waited anxiously as I saw my husband’s car pull into the driveway. Orly got off and opened the front door. “Justin,” He yelled loudly. “Come give your brother a hug!”

Justin ran right into Orly’s open arms.

“Why are you hugging me?” He asked mid-hug.

“Because you’re Theo.”

“Really?” Justin squealed. “Are you Theo too?”

“No Justy, I’m not. But I’m so proud of you.”

There are moments in life you will never forget. Watching this young boy, whose glossy eyes and pink nose revealed he’d been crying, put aside his feelings to celebrate his brother was one of those moments. I couldn’t have been prouder of my son.

When it was time for bed, I laid next to Orly like I always do. He began to cry again. “Mom.” He sniffled. “It’s not that I’m not happy for Justin. I’m genuinely happy for him, but I’m sad for me, too. I don’t get it, mom. I’ve been working really hard. Is it that I’m not good enough?”

“These things happen, my love—even when you work hard—but eventually your persistence and commitment will pay off.”  I rested my head on my hands as I spoke to him. “You can feel happy for brother and sad for yourself at the same time. You know what you have to do tonight?”

“What?”

“Cry all you want. Feel sad or mad or whatever you want to feel.”

“And then?”

“And then tomorrow get back up again, ready to audition for the next play. Tomorrow, get back to working on your craft to be the best you can possibly be … because there’s an awesome role waiting for you right around the corner.”

Just then, Orlando walked into the room. “Orly, you know what? It doesn’t matter whether you got the role of Theo or not. Remember that the director said you made a great impression on her. There are no wasted auditions. One day, she’ll think of you when another kid role comes up, and this will all have been worth it.”

“You promise?” Orly asked.

We do not take promises lightly in our home. Having our children’s complete trust and confidence is one of our biggest priorities. Orly knows that, so this was an extremely loaded question.

Orlando paused, looked at his son, and replied, “I promise.”

A smile crossed our son’s face. We kissed him and walked out of his bedroom.

On the opening night of Pippin, we left Justin backstage and took our seats in the theatre.

With a huge smile on his face, Orly turned to me and said, “Mom, my legs are jelly.”

“Why” I asked.

“Because I’m so excited for Justin.” He squeezed my hand as we waited for his brother to take the stage.

A Moment of Clarity

I felt a little proud, a little sad, and a little hopeful that our son would be rewarded for his commitment, courage, and character.

But no matter what, I knew everything was going to be alright.

(Stay tuned for next week to find out what happened next)

 

 

 

What Successful People Are Willing To Do…

Let’s say you play soccer. And let’s say you belong to a team that hired David Beckham to coach you. Would you take advantage of that opportunity?

I assume your answer is: “Of course I would!”

I’ve been shocked to see how many people let opportunities like this slip through their fingers.

My kids play chess. This summer, they were invited to participate in a competitive five-week chess training program, which included competing in the 2018 Southern Open Chess Tournament. This intensive training was taught by an International Grand Master, currently ranked 165 in the world. Considering that there are roughly six hundred million people who play chess, being ranked in the top two hundred players worldwide is pretty remarkable. This guy even won a gold medal in the Olympics!

It would be an incredible opportunity for any chess player to spend five weeks learning from this master. My sons’ chess school has hundreds of enrollees, and of that group, only thirty-eight were invited to participate in this elite track. But of those 38, only 17 kids participated. This small group included several kids who had spent their entire scholastic year working towards the goal of getting invited to play and yet their parents didn’t register them.

An opportunity lost.

After the tournament ended, we learned that our grand master has been given a full scholarship to an American university where he will play on its chess team. So, unfortunately for us, our kids only have one more month to learn from him. Yesterday’s class was designed to review the games the kids played at the tournament – to see what they did correctly, what they did wrong, and how they can improve. Of the seventeen kids who participated in the program, only three showed up to class (and two of them were mine) even though this type of exercise is one of the keys to improving your chess skills.

Another opportunity lost.

Of course, the kids have no say in this matter. Their parents are in charge of enrolling them, paying for them, and driving them to activities. Kids only decide whether they like it or not. And to some parents, that’s equally irrelevant because you don’t enroll your child in a sports program, so they make it their career.  After all, it is highly unlikely that your kid is going to be the next Yankee baseball player or prima ballerina or international grand chess master. Instead, you enroll them in sports programs to develop mentally and physically, to entertain them, to explore their talents, to keep them busy, to teach them discipline, and to help them discover their passions.

But this article is not about playing second base for the Yankees or doing plies at the Met. And it’s certainly not about playing chess or becoming a grand master.

This article is about life.

It’s about training.

Sure, the boys learned some good chess techniques with this teacher and their games have improved. But that is the least important of their training.

 What really matters is that they learned that this grand master has been studying chess five hours a day for twenty years. They learned that it doesn’t matter if you win or lose, what matters is your progress. They learned that no matter how much higher someone is ranked above you, you can beat them if you play a particular game better than they do. They learned that to succeed you need self-discipline. They learned that their talent only makes up about 20% of their success, the other 80% is consistent dedication, discipline, and hard work. They learned that when you are amongst the best in anything you do, you have more possibilities (like this master who received a full scholarship and room and board for his family at a prestigious university.) These are lessons they can apply to anything they do.

I don’t care if my kids excel in chess or not. I want them to succeed in life.  As “Dilbert” creator, Scott Adams, said, “You can’t control luck, but you can move from a game with bad odds to one with better odds. You can make it easier for luck to find you.”

I know we all want our kids to be successful, which is why I was so surprised to see how few of the kids who enjoy playing chess were allowed to take advantage of this rare chance. Maybe the school didn’t communicate the magnitude of this program effectively or maybe there were some legitimate reasons for some parents not to enroll their child in the program. But regardless of what the reasons were, it reinforced a valuable lesson that I learned a long time ago…

A Moment of Clarity

Successful people are willing to do things that unsuccessful people are not willing to do. And sometimes that simply means showing up.

What Are You Thankful For?

Are you always repeating yourself with your kids?

“Brush your teeth.”

“Comb your hair.”

“Do your homework.”

Sometimes the repetition can be exhausting. But there is actually a reason why we parents have to do this. In order for anyone to learn a new concept or adopt a habit, repetition and consistency is key. It stands to reason that our little ones need this reinforcement – even if we sound like a broken record. Parents often wonder: will it stick?

Parenting is delayed gratification in its truest form.  We invest and invest in our kids, without knowing what the end result is going to be.  And we never really know if we’re doing any of it correctly.

But every once in a while, we are rewarded for our efforts.

I drive my kids every morning either to school or camp. The first thing I do when we’re all buckled in is ask my kids what each of them are grateful for. This is not always easy to do. Sometimes they’re extra cranky because they didn’t sleep enough. Sometimes we’re just recovering from a yelling match because they were fighting or they weren’t cooperating in the morning and I lost it. Mornings with three small boys can be rough. But no matter how frustrating our morning is, I take a deep breath and say, “Okay, what are you thankful for? Who’s going first?”

I want the practice of gratitude to be a part of my sons’ daily routine. And no matter how frustrated or angry we are, I want to teach them that we have the power to change our attitude and our mood at any moment.

There have been days my boys have challenged me.

“We should do this at bedtime, Mom. It’s too early to know if there’s anything to be grateful for,” or

“I don’t have anything to be grateful for.”

And my response is: “Oh, that’s precisely why we do this first thing in the morning. How about saying thank you for being alive, or waking up this morning in our beautiful home, or thanking the universe for our wonderful family and that we’re all healthy? How about being thankful for the sun or for nature or for oxygen? There is so much to be grateful for that has nothing to do with how your day goes.”

Some days it’s easy. Some days it feels like I’m pulling teeth. But day after day, I ask them to express gratitude. And then I leave town.

One of the things I dislike about traveling is the disruption to the routine. It’s that control-freak mom syndrome where you feel like nothing is done correctly unless you’re the one doing it. I’m constantly asking my husband if the kids brushed their teeth or if they made their beds. They have way much more fun with their father! But they are loved and cared for and that’s what matters most. I’ve learned to accept that life is going to look a little different when the enforcer has left the fort.

The last time I was away, the most wonderful thing happened. I left before my kids woke up. When I landed, I called my husband to let him know I’d arrived. He was driving my sons to camp. We were connected via bluetooth so we could all hear each other. We said our usual “I love you” and I miss you” and then I said, “Okay guys, I have to get going so I can request an Uber to the hotel.”

“Mommy, wait!” Justin interrupted hurriedly, “What are you thankful for?”

My heart melted.

It hadn’t occurred to me to have gratitude mornings on the phone! Justin was now the enforcer and all I could think was: Oh my God, it stuck! Justin was even teaching his dad how we do mornings. And the best part of it all, my son sh0wed me that I am there even when I’m not.

“What are you thankful for, Mommy?” He repeated after a few seconds of my silence.

“I’m thankful for you buddy. So thankful for you.”

A Moment of Clarity:

For those of you who are working hard to create meaningful relationships with your kids: Keep doing what you’re doing. Be consistent and repetitious. You may think sometimes that your kids aren’t listening or paying attention. They may not respond immediately, but they are paying attention. When you least expect it, they’ll remind you what an impact you’re making in their lives and how deeply ingrained you are in them…even when you’re not around.  There is no greater reward than that.