My six foot four baby wants to go to film school, so at 7:15 am on Saturday morning, we loaded up the car, grabbed coffee and a map (which he thinks is hilarious and old fashioned and so mom-ish of me) and headed down the highway for his big interview. I figured that while we were there, we’d get a campus tour, check out the student union and maybe buy a tee shirt. I had no idea that by the end of the day, I’d fall in love with a group of kids I don’t even know–and have a strange desire to give them a gift I dreamed up. Oh, and there’s one for Barron Trump too, no matter how I feel about his daddy. Maybe he needs and  deserves it more than anybody right now.

So this story actually begins Friday afternoon before we left, when apparently I decided to make Sam’s life hell by asking him for the third time what he planned to wear the next day. It’s not that I was trying to control things. I just know how he feels about dress clothes and wanted to make sure that he didn’t end up pulling something smeared with taquito juice out of the dirty clothes basket. We found some passable khaki-like pants he’d hidden in the back of his closet which I forced him to try on (AUGH! I HATE THIS!) And we found collared shirts in his dad’s closet, which I forced him to look at (AUGH! I HATE THIS!), upon which he began a diatribe on menswear which contained words like stupid and hypocrisy and ridiculous. I held up a tie, to which he shrieked that FILM STUDENTS DO NOT WEAR TIES TO INTERVIEWS!!!! I found a blue plaid shirt in Todd’s closet that didn’t make the statement that either he was trying to look like a stockbroker or a nerd. “That’ll do I guess,” he said, and then added. “Sorry, Mom. But you know how I hate this.”

“Yeah, I know,” I said, and grabbed two more shirts for the car as well, just in case we had a jelly emergency or a sudden hatred of blue plaid.

The trip was pretty fun. We listened to the soundtrack from Hamilton all the way.

I am not throwing away my shot
I am not throwing away my shot
Hey yo, I’m just like my country
I’m young, scrappy and hungry
And I’m not throwing away my shot

We’re gonna rise up! Time to take a shot!
We’re gonna rise up! Time to take a shot!

See? It kind of fit. It was Sam’s time to take a shot at one of his two top schools, and I was excited for him. He was too, but by the time we arrived he had gotten a little green. As we sat in the parking lot and walked around and then sat some more, Hamilton had begun to wear off. Sam started talking about how much he liked things the way they were, his friends, his school, his home. He wasn’t sure he wanted it to change.

“It’s normal to feel like that, honey,” I said. “Sarah and Ben did too. I bet you’ll be ready when the time comes.”

By the time we walked to the registration desk, he’d gotten his mojo back. They gave him a number and said that about fifty kids would be interviewing today and we could go ahead and have a seat. The chairs were arranged in little circles, already crowded with creative looking high school seniors and their ordinary moms and dads. We found seats in a circle with a baby-faced boy wearing a suit and tie. Sam introduced himself. The boy said he hoped to major in animation, and Sam said he wasn’t sure what he wanted, maybe directing or producing.

“I feel a little overdressed,” the boy said, pulling at his collar.

“Naw,” said Sam. “You’re fine. Looks like there’s a range.”

Soon the circles of chairs were full. A nice family from Pittsburgh sat down with us and we all made cheerful small talk- what we had heard about the program, where else everyone was applying. After a while there was a lull in our circle.

“Thanks, Mom,” Sam whispered.

“For what?”

“Thanks for not being that lady.” Sam nodded at the circle opposite us, where a mom was talking loudly, her son staring at the floor.

“She won’t stop talking about how great her kid is.”

“I have to say that we’ve been fortunate,” the woman said to the group as her son closed his eyes and folded his arms. “Everything’s always come easy to this one. He’s never struggled. Not once.”

As she rattled off the list of schools where he’d already been accepted, I swallowed my embarrassment for him and looked around the room at the other kids. Never struggled? These kids have all struggled at one point or another. Every teenager has! You could tell it by looking at them. They were struggling now, and who wouldn’t? In five minutes they’d line up to be interviewed. They’d sit across from an adult who would decide whether they belonged at their school. Whether they belonged! Facing that isn’t easy. Facing decisions about what kind of person you want to be, what you want to do with your life? Trying to figure out how to separate yourself from a family that’s held you and treasured you- or even a family that might not seem to care too much, but still is all you know. This is the hardest work ever!

EVERY CHILD STRUGGLES AT SOME POINT IN HIS OR HER YOUNG LIFE. Every child does. Every child, every young person will do stupid things and silly things and wonderful things. They’ll make good decisions and bad decisions. They’ll be thoughtless at times and mean and conniving and kind and sweet and generous. It’s how they learn. It’s how they help us to guide and teach them. It’s how they make their way. All children will struggle with something at some time. And sometimes it lasts for a while.

The lady in charge got everyone’s attention and led our children away for a fifteen minute writing prompt (surprise!) followed by their interviews. “Parents, you’ll see them in three hours or so, so say goodbye!”

As this beautiful range of artsy kids walked by I looked at their baby faces, the blue hair, the torn jeans, the suits and ties, the way they shuffled or clutched their bags, the way they bit their lips or stood straight and proud, projecting confidence. I watched them as they made their way to show that they’re film school material, that they’re good enough, and I wanted to say, You beautiful people! You have made it this far and you’re almost there!  What you’re doing is such hard work!

And then I knew just what they needed. Remember Harry Potter’s cloak of invisibility? The one that when you wrap it around you, people can’t see you at all? What these children need- what all children need- is a cloak of grace! We could drape it around them and it would shut out any judging eyes of others. The child could do his struggling (which ALL children do!) in the privacy of his inner circle, without any negative nosiness, without speculation and gossip. Wearing the cloak would let us honor that our children are really still buns in the oven, still rising, still taking shape and figuring out what they will be.

I want this for my child and yours and Barron Trump and the boy who belongs to Loud Lady at Film School.

All children struggle. All children need privacy. And all of us parents need support and encouragement and big time prayer to help our children rise up and take that shot.

A little coffee with our Hamilton might not hurt either.


Photo by A♥ through Creative Commons