While I was in Northern Ireland this summer, I started making a list of all the stories I tell that I'd like to write down. This is one of them.
Last year, Alice had a bit of a crisis. She told me that she didn't know what she wanted to be when she grew up. This was news to me--the last time I'd checked in, granted a few years ago, she'd wanted to be a ballerina/astronaut/chef. But now she didn't know.
When I was six years old there was a special on TV called "Really Rosie". Based on various stories by Maurice Sendak, set to music by Carole King, it was the story of a girl named Rosie keeping the kids on her block entertained on a boring summer day by convincing them all to be in her movie. I loved that show. I convinced my parents to buy me the album, which included a bunch of songs not in the show. I knew every word, I acted them out in front of the mirror, I was Rosie. The following year my elementary school did "Really Rosie" as our annual pageant and I was the only first-grader recruited for a speaking role, as the Narrator.
The first time this came up, I told her that nine is a great time to not know, that there are many more things to do in the world than she can really fathom at this point, and it's hard to choose when you're a smart kid who's interested in a lot of different things, and it's completely ok not to be sure. "OK, Mama, thanks," she said.
When I was eight years old I decided that what the world needed was a modern adaptation of "Twas the Night Before Christmas," so I wrote one. I reserved the hall at our church and recruited everyone in my third grade class to be in it and my mom to provide punch and cookies. We had a single performance, to a standing ovation of our parents. When it was over my mother asked what my next project would be and I said "Directing is too much work! I'm not going to do it again until I'm...nineteen!"
The second time this came up, a few weeks later, I tried to explain the timeline for making this decision: a sense of whether and what kind of college by junior year of high school, a major a couple of years later, whether or not to go to grad school in that field or something else a couple of years after that... "OK, Mama, thanks," she said.
When I was nineteen I somehow ended up directing "A Little Night Music" for the Tech Random Music Ensemble at MIT. That was the second of four fledgling theatre groups I was involved in, at four different schools, during my college years. When I graduated I had this idea about going out to Minneapolis and trying to become a stage manager, but never really figured out how I would do that. By the time I was 25 I was tired of theatre, tired of Boston, tired of a lot of things about my life, so I moved out to California and didn't do theatre for ten years.
The third time this came up, a few weeks later, I finally figured out that this was a real crisis, so it was a longer conversation and I asked more questions until I finally understood what was bothering her: not that she didn't know what she wants to be, but that she didn't know how to answer grown-ups when they ask her what she wants to be. OH! I explained that it's not a test--what they are really asking is what they might talk to her about. I suggested that she reframe the question in her own mind to "What are you really interested in at the moment?" Instantly she said "Interior design."
When it looked as though I might not be able to conceive, I felt a deep need to create something. Jason and I had talked for years about doing a show together and other opportunities emerged that led to the creation of Theatre@First. And then Alice was born. When she was four years old, we introduced her to "Really Rosie" and at dinner one evening she asked me if I knew who Really Rosie was. I told her yes, that when I was six years old I wanted to be Really Rosie. And as I said that I realized that's exactly who I am.
Six months later, Alice wants to be a fashion designer. We'll see.