"So, what's your favorite part of parenthood?" say people who find out I wrote a show about parenthood.
I should have an outstanding answer to this question. It should roll off the tip of my tongue. But images of soft baby toes, smells of curly sleeping heads, and sounds of wavy little boy laughter get tangled in my thoughts and I say something benign like, "oh all of it," which isn't true at all. There are plenty of un-favorite parts. Wrestling a toddler to the floor in an effort to cut his fingernails would be at the top of my un-favorite list.
When I was teaching drama to kindergartners many years ago, a mentor advised me never to ask small children "what's your favorite part?" but rather to ask "what part do you remember most?" He felt it was a too much pressure for a child to determine one moment as the best moment of an experience. However, to be asked to simply remember the experience allowed the child to naturally conjure up the moments that mattered most. I have always liked this system.
When my older son was three years old I decided that for my birthday, I wanted to take to him to his first Broadway show. I wanted the experience all to myself. I wanted to see his face light up as the conductor struck up the band. I wanted to hear his little gasp as the curtain rose. I wanted my lap to be the lap he jumped to if a chandelier came crashing down or something. We dressed up and I parted his hair to one side. We held hands on the subway and I picked him up at the box office window so he could be the one to get the tickets. We got our playbills and were shown to our seats.
The first time I saw The Lion King on Broadway, Oprah was in the audience. She stood up and waved with a closed palm to the crowd at intermission and I was very excited about it.
The second time I saw The Lion King, my son was in the audience. I was way more excited the second time.
The show was magical. Life sized puppets came streaming down the aisles and I was certain I was changing my son's life forever. The instrumental introduction of live theatre felt monumental.
I remember the black patent leather shoes and scoop necked blue and white smocked dress I wore the day that Annie exploded onto the stage and blew my mind for all eternity. That day in the theatre, sitting between my mom and grandmother, shaped my future. What would this day, this moment of watching wild animals come to life through the grace of stage illusion, do for my child?
Here was the conversation after the show:
Me: What part do you remember most?!
My Little Boy: The ushers.
Me: What? The lions?
My Little Boy: No. The ushers. They have uniforms and flashlights and they know where every single seat is. I like the ushers.
Beat. Silence as mother and son exeunt.
Yesterday, I was reminded of ushers. My younger son, now three, sat beside me atop the Chicago Ferris Wheel. Towering above the glistening lake and the city that raised me, I snuggled him tightly and pointed out the landmarks below. When we were walking back to the car, I asked him what he remembered most about his view from the sky. "That bird," he said pointing at a seagull passing by and I squeezed his hand a little tighter.
A splashy Broadway sensation. A view of the world. Children come back to you with ushers and seagulls. I think that is the beauty of parenthood. I hope that's what I'll remember.