An­other par­ent­ing level reached, and I have no idea what to do

The Trentonian (Trenton, NJ) - - NEWS - Jeff Edel­stein Jeff Edel­stein is a colum­nist for The Tren­to­nian. He can be reached at jedel­stein@ tren­to­nian.com, face­book. com/jef­freyedel­stein and @ jeffedel­stein on Twit­ter.

Par­ent­ing is like Pac-Man. You work so hard to mas­ter a level, and then you do, and then the next board ap­pears on screen and you’re ready to rock and to­tally kill it but Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde speed up and be­fore you know it you’re hear­ing the “whir-whir-whir-whir-woot-woot” sound and it’s time to put an­other quar­ter in the ma­chine.

OK. Wow. That metaphor got away from me quick. Let’s try this again: Par­ent­ing just got harder for me, and I didn’t see it com­ing.

See, my son is try­ing out for a role in McCarter The­atre’s an­nual pro­duc­tion of “A Christ­mas Carol.” The try­outs are to­day. Odds be­ing what they are, I don’t ex­pect him to get a part, but you never know. He wants it, that’s for sure. He’s got to do a script read and sing a song from a mu­si­cal. (He’s do­ing “To­mor­row,” from “An­nie.” Clas­sic, right? Any­way …)

Any­way, here’s the “par­ent­ing got hard” part of it: I had no idea he wanted to act. Zero. And quite pos­si­bly, he didn’t ei­ther.

We were on va­ca­tion in Mexico at the end of the sum­mer and at the re­sort we were at, they had nightly shows. These were hour-long pro­duc­tions, and they were good. I’m not say­ing they were Broad­way qual­ity, but they were cer­tainly a step above lo­cal theater. It was a full-time job for the ac­tors, set de­sign­ers, etc. One evening they were putting on “The Lion King,” and my son — who is a bit of a ham — was asked to be part of the show along with a hand­ful of other kids.

Next thing I know he’s got a 2:30 p.m. re­hearsal, and then a 6:30 p.m. re­hearsal and cos­tume fit­ting, and af­ter we dropped him off at that point, we weren’t go­ing to see him again un­til he was on­stage at 9 p.m.

So now it’s 9 p.m., the cur­tain comes up and ... he wasn’t there.

My wife and I pan­icked in the “holy crap where is our 8-year-old son we left him back­stage in Mexico and now he’s dis­ap­peared” kind of way you might ex­pect a par­ent to panic.

Only hitch to this well-de­served panic? He was there. We just didn’t rec­og­nize him on stage. Sure, he had on some lion makeup and such, but the rea­son we didn’t rec­og­nize him be­cause whereas all the other kids on stage were lost and go­ing through the mo­tions, our kid was all LinManuel Mi­randa up there, full of en­ergy and pop.

We didn’t know he had it in him.

When it was over, we asked him if it was fun, and he was like, “YES !!!! .” You have to un­der­stand: He’s usu­ally like most 8-year-old boys in that get­ting any­thing out of him is not easy. So to see his ex­cite­ment was pretty cool.

So we get home, my wife starts Googling, we see au­di­tions for “A Christ­mas Carol,” we ask him if he wants to try­out, he says “YES!!!” and next thing you know ev­ery­one in the house is mind­lessly belt­ing out “To­mor­row” while they do the dishes.

OK. So. What’s the hard part here, you ask? Ev­ery­thing seems hunky-dory A-OK, right? Well, ex­cept this: How the hell was I sup­posed to know my kid might be in­ter­ested in act­ing? I mean, it was a fluke. Speak­ing of flukes, how do I know he’s not in­ter­ested in fish­ing? I’ve never taken him on a boat. Speak­ing of boats, how do I know he’s not in­ter­ested in boat re­pair? I never even bought the kid a tool set. Speak­ing of sets …

This line of thought went on for some time in my head.

See, he’s my old­est. I’ve got two younger daugh­ters. For ever and for al­ways, he’s go­ing to be the parental guinea pig. At each level of par­ent­ing, you have no idea what to do the first time you en­counter some­thing.

And now I’m en­coun­ter­ing some­thing new, and I’m re­al­iz­ing, pretty damn im­por­tant. I’m guess­ing around 8 years old is the be­gin­ning of a new level, a level where his in­ter­ests will come from some place other than me say­ing, “I’m sign­ing you up for soc­cer.” And I have to be on the look­out to ex­pose him to just about ev­ery­thing there is out there, other­wise I’m not do­ing the best I can for him.

To­day, it’s try­ing out for a play. To­mor­row, it might be any­thing. My eyes are open.

And be­fore the an­gry emails come in, my dad didn’t take me fish­ing ei­ther, so back off. We’re not a fish­ing fam­ily. I’ll take the kid fish­ing. Set­tle down.

Par­ent­ing is like Pac-Man. You work so hard to mas­ter a level, and then you do, and then the next board ap­pears on screen and you’re ready to rock and to­tally kill it but Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde speed up and be­fore you know it you’re hear­ing the “whir­whir-whir-whir­woot-woot” sound and it’s time to put an­other quar­ter in the ma­chine.

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