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A star is born

by Claudia Grazioso

“You should get them agents.” “She should be in front of a camera.” My husband and I have heard that about our children for years, but we have never bitten. In fact, we have carefully avoided trying to encourage any interest in acting in our children.

We both work “in the industry” and acting is a rough road, especially, I think for women. Happily, none of our kids show the slightest interest in pursuing fame. Given their choice in the vast world of Kid Extracurriculars of “Circus Performance” or “Build A Zoo”, they build a zoo; between “Drawing” or “Theatre”, they choose drawing; between auditioning for the solo or evaporating into the background in the chorus, they evaporate. Once one of our daughters was in a small play where she had a single line of about three words. Her comment to me upon leaving the stage and running into my arms: “That was terrifying!”

Our oldest child is particularly reserved. She likes to draw and read and write and do science experiments. She agreed to play tennis only with the understanding that she would never have to play in a tournament. And she also happens to be, in my unbiased opinion, super beautiful. She is one of those people who no matter how ratty her hair, how smeared with chocolate her face, how inexplicable her outfit, glows in every picture taken of her. So on some level it didn’t surprise me when a friend called and asked if she would be in a commercial he was shooting. What did surprise me was my reaction.

Maybe I didn’t see stars, exactly, but I definitely saw bragging rights. Not that I intended to build on this at all. I made it clear to my daughter that this would be a one off. I had no intention of working auditions into my schedule or spending my Saturdays at kiddie cattle calls. Mostly what I was excited about was that this might give her playground critics pause.

My daughter is what is sometimes called a “different drummer.” She likes re-writing Greek Mythology (Perseus does not prevail against the fierce Gorgon sisters in her version) and drawing “blueprints” for inventions like flying suits that allow for travel but use no fuel and bigger, faster, loop-di-loopier waterslides. She is sometimes out of step with the general population of her generation: she never caught the Hannah Montana bug, and has referred to Justin Bieber only as “ridiculous.” So when she said yes, okay, she would do the commercial, I got a little charge of excitement.

As a writer, one of my favorite narratives has always been The Mouse Who Roared, The Shy Girl Who Shines, The Misfit Who Triumphs.

And when I thought of the girl with the perpetually knotted hair and mismatched socks carrying around her small folder of well-imagined stories and hand drawn blueprints casually announcing on the playground that she would be shooting a commercial that weekend, I couldn’t help but smile.

Suddenly all at once she becomes not a weird kid, but a creature of endless intrigue. How is that for a trailer moment?

A few days later when I was driving her to school, chatting on about how exciting shooting a commercial would be, I was oddly crestfallen when she said, “Mom, I don’t think I really want to do it. Is that okay?”

Sure it’s okay. But… but… but…

But you’ll make money! (Accumulation of wealth is one of her goals). But it will be such a great experience! But you’ll have so much fun! But – I stayed away from the term “bragging rights,” but couldn’t help but point out what a fun story it would be to tell her friends.

My daughter is, apparently, already a bigger person than I am. She assured me she would think about it, and then on the way home told her Dad that she wanted out. He accepted her decision with more grace than I did, but shared my disappointment and we were both mystified as to why. We had always agreed that acting was not the road we wanted to see our children venture down. That if we could dissuade them from putting their hearts on the line to get crushed time and again, we would. And yet we both – father and mother – saw it as an opportunity missed.

Our daughter, ever sensitive to the mood of the house, retreated to her room with her sketch pad and markers while I brooded in my office, robbed of my favorite narrative. How could I make her understand that she had to embrace new experiences – especially if they might give her some cool points? Why couldn’t she accept all that I could teach her, as a former misfit myself, about the landscape of childhood? If anyone could help her navigate the road before her, it’s me, isn’t it?

When I did walk into her room, not knowing what I would say, she looked up at me, fully expecting my “gentle persuasion” to begin. I sat cross-legged across from her and asked if she was just scared of a new experience. She shook her head. “No. I just don’t want to.” And then it just came out: “I’m proud of you,” I told her. “I’m proud of you for knowing yourself, and standing your ground even when Daddy and I really wanted you to do something else. It takes real strength to do that, and I’m so happy that you have it.” She smiled her shy smile – the one she uses when she’s genuinely elated – and hugged me. Then she gently patted my shoulder in an oddly consoling way and said, “Thanks for understanding, Mom.”

I got up from the floor, and looked at her golden colored head stooped over her drawing pad. Understanding what? That she is no longer the small child for whom I make all the choices? That she is on the road to discovering if she hasn’t already that Hogwarts and Harvard are not really as similar as I claimed? That my well-honed passive aggressive attempts to steer her choices will ultimately be rebuffed? That I cannot script her life, and that the narrative she chooses for herself will not be the one I would choose for her?

All of that and this too: That she is not mine, she is her own.

Claudia Grazioso

About Claudia Grazioso

Claudia Grazioso is a writer in Los Angeles. She has written for most major studios and networks. She confesses to a insatiable addiction to reality television.

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