Monday, April 23, 2012

Defining Talent

When the letter came home from school I had no idea the can of worms it would open.

A school talent show. We’ve done that before.

Last year, in fact. Sam had been a fourth grader who loved to dance. Because he is a great dancer, but is the most confident and comfortable when he feels like no one is watching, we were a bit concerned about what might happen once the curtain was pulled back and the bright lights hit his face.

He practiced with his group of friends, choreographing a simple but entertaining number that perfectly fit the fun pop song that played nonstop on the radio. On the big night his older siblings rounded up their friends and we filled the front two rows with his personal fan club. And he did great.

He was the most confident one in his group. Hiding behind his backward ball cap and dark sunglasses he lost all inhibitions and gave it his all. The crowd loved it and my son got a huge confidence boost that stayed with him for days afterward. Our big kids and their friends slapped him on the back and we all went out for ice cream to celebrate.

So of course this time around we felt like pros. We knew how this went. Sam would be ten times more confident this time, knowing he could actually pull this thing off. The only glitch was that we are now in a new state, with new friends at a new school. But Sam’s dancing abilities have only improved and I had no worries that it would all turn out well.

Then he came home and announced that he and his best friend were going to sing.


Um, I’m all for encouraging your kids in their dreams, but we are just not singers.

My husband’s family is very musical. His brothers play many instruments and one even has a recording studio in his basement. Sam is a born drummer and has had perfect rhythm since he was a toddler. But singing. None of the relatives sing.

It’s not really our strength.

Sam loves to sing. I’ll give him that. If he’s alone in his room, alone in the shower, alone anywhere, you’ll find him humming or singing. But to say he can actually carry a tune is another thing. And carrying a tune well enough to get up on a stage in front of an audience…it just was not an option.

I sent out an email to a few friends, asking them what I should do. Do I call his school and tell them to fail him at his audition, to save him from embarrassment? Do I tell Sam that he could do the talent show, only if he chose dancing or drumming instead? Do I let it all play out and let him face the consequences? Do I record him practicing, play it back for him, and try to help him see that he was headed into possible social suicide if he was determined to go forward with his plan?

I got a variety of answers from friends. Some said to get him singing lessons. No time for that. Some said to be honest with him and pull him out of the show. Some said let him do it, and accept the consequences as a life lesson. This last one scared me the most, especially considering he is still technically the new kid at school and he has a lot at stake as they all move into middle school in a few months, dragging elementary school reputations along with them.

I finally emailed his teacher. She has been a great support to Sam as he’s adjusted to this move and has always been up front and honest with me. I told her my concerns and she said she’d have a talk with the woman in charge of the show.

Time moved on, the paper was turned in, and Sam invited his friend over to practice. His two older brothers and I huddled at the bottom of the stairs, cringing as we listened to the two of them belt out the song, a current hit song with an impossible vocal range. They had enthusiasm, there was no question. But talent? Not so much.

His teacher emailed me back. She’d spoken to the director of the show but wasn’t sure what decision had been made. Try outs were the next week and Sam and buddy were still on the list.

As I drove Sam to school on that fateful day, he was nervous. Auditions were during lunch and after school. He was excited but still a bit scared. I told him to do his best. I told him it was all about having fun. I reminded him that I was proud of him for trying, something I was never brave enough to do when I was his age. I got ready to console him when he was inevitably going to show up at after school pick up with a sad face, devastated that he had not made the cut.

But it didn’t happen. He came bounding out to the car with a big grin. They’d made it! Even though his friend, half of their act, had bailed on auditions to go play in a team soccer game, their act had made it through. I swallowed the lump in my throat, congratulated him with a big hug, and knew this was going to play out, whether I wanted it to or not.

More practice sessions. More cringing as we imagined what the future might hold.

Two days before the show I got a phone call. Since we’re new here, I didn’t fully understand how the show worked. The director called me, at my request, to explain it to me. I was relieved to hear that there were actually two versions of the talent show. The formal, night version, that was held in the auditorium for parents and the public, was only a select group of kids. My son was not on that list.

My boy was on the list for the show that was to be performed for the school population only. On Friday afternoon all the acts that didn’t make the ‘big show’, did their numbers on the stage of the gym, for their fellow classmates. This was getting better.

But then Sam came home and announced that he and his buddy had decided to wear their morph suits. You know, the clingy full body suits, all in one color, that cover your body from head to toe. And they had also decided not sing along to the song, but sing on their own, with only musical accompaniment. Now we were headed back to the ‘worse’ category.

Friday was the big day. His dad got off work early. I took his high school brother out of school an hour early. The two big kids came along too. Once again we showed up in force, ready to support our boy, no matter how this thing turned out.

We sat through many acts. Simple violin versions of Twinkle Twinkle. Basic line dances by little girls who seemed to have spent more time planning their outfits than practicing their coordinated moves. A few really talented kids, playing the cello or doing gymnastic routines that made the whole student body take in a collective breath. We counted down in our minds, and his siblings cued up their cell phones, ready to take video.

The curtain pulled back and there they were - Sam and his buddy - one fully green figure, one fully blue one. I instantly realized why they’d chosen morph suits. Even more than sunglasses and hats, in a suit that covers your whole face, anonymity is much easier to achieve. Even though their friends technically knew it was them, under all that stretchy fabric, the boys felt invisible.

The music started. My boy was first up, singing the first verse. He wasn’t perfectly on pitch, but he wasn’t terrible either. The beauty of using a song everyone already knows is that even if you’re pretty close, people will accept it as good enough. The chorus began and his blue buddy joined in.

 They slowly warmed up and did a few dance moves in the middle of their very long song. The crowd ate it up. Even the terrible, long note runs, that couldn’t even be considered ‘close’. All those six through twelve year olds saw were two crazy kids, giving it their all, and they cheered appropriately.

When it was finally over the crowd clapped and hollered and let the morph boys know they’d appreciated their effort. Then it was time for the next act.

I finally exhaled.

For the rest of the show I continued to do what most parents do at a school talent show. I forced myself to listen intently, even to the little girl who decided to sing an impossible Adelle song, acapella. I willed her my encouragement through my attentive face and bobbed my head in time to her brave attempt.

I clapped loudly for the little boy who played the electric guitar beautifully (I think….there was no amplifier so we had to imagine what his strumming sounded like as he sang along to his suddenly quiet song).

I smiled knowingly at the huge muscular dad (with tears in his eyes), as he watched his tiny girl on the stage, with ribbons in her braids that matched her frilly ballerina tu tu.

We were all in this together.

Parents who found a seemingly innocent paper in the middle of the Friday folder, announcing an upcoming talent show.

Parents of brave little kids who haven’t experienced enough of the world yet to realize you can’t just throw yourself out there and expect the world to love you.

You can’t just love something enough to make it into something worthy of sharing with others.

You can’t just decide to do something, when you have no experience with it, and expect it all to go right.

Or, like the ballerina girl and my green suited son … maybe you can.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Meredith's Easter

The phone rang at 4:40 a.m. on Saturday morning. It’s never a good thing when the phone rings that early. I picked it up and didn’t recognize the voice but understood the words she was saying.

“Mrs. Berna? I woke up to find Meredith having a seizure. We held her down until it was over but she’s not responsive now. We called the ambulance. I thought you’d want to know.”

My 20 year old had flown to NY on Friday. By the time I got the call she’d only been on the East coast for six or seven hours. She had looked forward to the trip for months, as she’s missed the friends she left behind when she moved to Colorado with us in December.

“Who is this?”, I asked.

“It’s Amber…” was the reply.

Amber is Meredith’s best friend. She’s a child I know well. She spent a lot of time at our house when we lived in NY and has been my daughter’s best friend for years. I realized later that I didn’t recognize her voice because she was so calm and in charge. She stepped up to the plate and did what needed to be done, in the order it needed to be done. Her maturity helped me stay sane as the day unfolded, knowing my girl was in good hands, flanked by her best friend as she made her way through the chaos of the emergency room.

As soon as I got off the phone I told Jeff exactly what I’d been told. We sat up in the dark of our bedroom, trying to figure out what to do next. Our daughter was two thousand miles away, in an ambulance, and we had no idea why she’d had such a big seizure.

“Who do we call?”, we asked each other.

We have many friends in New York. Many friends who would do anything to help us in an emergency situation. But most of them have little kids. If at all possible, we wanted to pick someone who would be the least disrupted by our early morning call.
Then her name popped into my head. Marion.

She was one of my best friends at work in New York and she was the exact person I wanted to be in charge of this situation. She is compassionate and intelligent, and would know exactly what to do for my girl.

I called her number, which I’d plugged into my phone on the day we drove away from New York for the last time. She picked up on the third ring and before I could say much more than, “Marion? It’s Judy…” I fell apart. I couldn’t stop the tears, so I handed the phone to Jeff.

He explained the situation to her and gave her our numbers, and Amber’s number, so we could all stay in touch. He briefly told her Meredith’s medical history (healthy girl, no known allergies, no history of seizures) and gave her permission to make medical decisions for our daughter.

Then he hung up and the waiting started. By then it was almost five a.m. I was due to be at work at six thirty. I was the only one who went in that early, it was up to me to open the doors of the Rec Center by seven.

I showered, just in case I couldn’t find someone to cover for me at work. It’s been a long time since I’ve sobbed in the shower. It was a common occurrence after my mom died, and then again when we almost lost our son to an undiagnosed medical disorder.

Anyone who’s gone through grief can tell you how therapeutic it is to weep in the shower, where the tears mix with the warm water that flows over your body, trying its best to wash away the pain. I let the water run and let the tears fall, until I finally felt calm and ready to face the next step.

By the time six thirty came we knew which hospital Meredith was in and we knew Marion was there, watching over her. Amber’s mom had also arrived and was doing all the right mom things to make Meredith comfortable. Just before the ambulance had arrived, Meredith had regained consciousness and was alert, although a bit confused. She became more coherent as they continued to run tests to try to figure out where the seizure had come from.

I went in to work, since there was not much to be done on our end, and we tend to be short staffed on weekends. I knew being distracted at work while the NY drama played out might be the best thing for me. I knew Jeff was at home, right by the phone, and would let me know of any updates or changes.

By mid day Meredith was discharged and sent home under Amber’s mom’s watchful eye. The CAT scan and blood work had come back clean. The ER doctors recommended she do follow up testing with her family doctor. Instead of going back to Amber’s apartment, they decided to stay at Amber’s mom’s house, just to have more help in case another seizure hit.

Meredith was very tired on Saturday, which I’ve found on my Google searches is common for the days after a big seizure. She slept a lot of the day on Saturday and then took a long nap after the Easter dinner at Amber’s house on Sunday. She checked in with us every few hours, letting us know she was okay, just recovering.

On Sunday night I got a disturbing text from her, saying she was ‘still in pain’. I had not been aware that she was in any pain at all, so I called her to find out what was going on. She told me that since the seizure she had a lot of pain, only in the right side of her body, and it made simple things like walking very painful and difficult. She said she felt like she’d worked out for twelve hours straight, she was that wiped out, but only on her right side. She also couldn’t seem to get enough sleep and was tired all the time.

Mixed in with that was frustration. She had a very limited time to see all of her friends, including some of her babysitting kids, and she’d already spent half her time in the hospital or sleeping. I assured her that we just needed to get her WELL, and once we got her feeling better we could always fly her back out, to finish her visiting.

First thing Monday morning I was on the phone with our family doctor here, and our family doctor back in NY. Our doctor in NY, who knows Meredith’s history inside and out, was due to come back from vacation on Tuesday. I grabbed Meredith a slot for the middle of the day.

Our family doctor here in Colorado hesitated to make any guesses as to what happened until he had seen her himself, so she has an appointment to see him on Friday, the day after she flies back home.

At this moment I am waiting for another phone call. In just a few hours our family doctor, who I deeply respect and trust, will be done examining my girl, and her emergency room records. She will tell us if it’s safe for Meredith to fly home this week. She’ll tell us which parts of this thing worry her the most and which parts don’t. She’ll tell us which tests we need to have done, even if we do them back here in CO, and what answers we need to find.

Then our priority will be getting my girl on that plane and getting her home. She continues to be exhausted and frustrated, as the exhaustion gets in the way of her visiting with friends. I keep reminding her that there will be time to see friends, after she’s well again. I know Amber is doing her best to keep Meredith at peace and help her make responsible decisions about her health.

It’s been a tough weekend, trying to enjoy the Easter holiday with the boys, always having our daughter in the back of our mind.

Every night we go to bed anxious, wondering if we’ll be getting another call in the night, if the seizures decide to come back when she sleeps again.

Every morning we wake up relieved, but immediately text her, asking, “How are you feeling?..”

Her answer is always ‘tired’.

We didn’t want to upset anyone’s holiday so we kept this information from family and friends until today. There wasn’t much to report besides, “We don’t know anything yet”.

But it’s been four days since it happened and we felt like we eventually needed to get the basic word out there. I’ll post any follow up information we get and let you know when she’s back on CO soil and in our house again (scheduled to fly tomorrow, getting home late in the day). Watch my Facebook status updates, it’s easiest to post things there.

For now we’re back to real life. The boys are back in school. Michael is back to running trails during the day and helping me with errands. Jeff is back to work, getting as much done as he can while always having his daughter in the back of his mind.

We would appreciate your prayers and good thoughts as we go through the frustrating process of getting more medical tests done and figuring out what this means to Meredith’s future.

The poor girl has had a couple of days of bad luck, after weeks and weeks of pretty good stuff unfolding for her. The day before she flew to NY (24 hours before her seizure) she was attacked by a dog at Red Rocks amphitheater while she ran the stairs for exercise. The dog was technically on a leash, but a very long one, and tripped her, causing her to scrape up her palms and knees pretty badly, as well as shattering her ipod. She didn’t hit her head and didn’t get a dog bite, so we don’t think the two events are related…only a frustrating pair of circumstances that are not fun for my girl.

Keep her, and her medical health, as well as mental health, in your thoughts and prayers.

Until there’s more news to report…I'm off to throw in some more laundry.