When your Mom cheers louder for other people’s kids

My mother is a teacher at the high school I attended. Her tenure began about 11 years ago when my English teacher unexpectedly died. At the time, my mom was working in the school library, and the principal felt that offering her the job to replace the deceased teacher would help ease the transition process, since the students at school already knew her.

As a result, my mom has become involved in the school community, from selling hot dogs at football games, editing the school paper, to writing recommendations for college bound students. She also is a big fan of the annual high school musical, in part because as an English major in college, she studied theatre. In general, she has always been impressed by stage actors and musical performers, and took my brother and I to see Les Miserables once.

Just after I left high school for college, one particular student caught her eye (and ear). He was junior year, and had a very good singing voice. As a member of the school chorus and select choir, he auditioned for many state and regional honor ensembles. He also participated in a statewide male vocal contest, and was coronated “the best voice in the state” one year.

While in college, my mom invited me back one night to watch Theo* (name changed) as the lead in the high school’s rendition of the musical “Pippin”. My little brother, who had a decent voice and good stage presence earned a spot as a supporting actor, in part because he was an underclassman at the time.

So, I attended to see my brother perform, and also because I participated in my school’s musical pit orchestra as a trumpet and piano player while I was in High School.

Theo performed very well, and his voice was definitely worthy of all its accolades. The problem, however, was not with him, but with my mother.

As I watched the musical (sitting next to my mother), every time Theo had a solo or intricate duet with another actor, my mom would swoon and applaud wildly at the conclusion of the song. It was as if she was a teenager at a boy band concert, barely contained in her seat and practically yelling “Whooo….. Good Job….Amazing…”. When my brother performed, she was generally happy as well, but even more so if Theo and my brother sang, in which case she was ecstatic once again.

At the conclusion of the show, the usual parade of the show’s actors took place. When Theo presented himself for recognition at the end of the show, my mom was one of the first on her feet to offer a standing ovation. Meanwhile, my Dad and I, somewhat complacent because she was part of our family, casually stood up and gave a “golf clap” round of applause. Once the theatre cleared and parents and children had gathered in the lobby, my mom made a special effort to compliment Theo on a job well done.

At the time I thought that my mom was just having a good time. Time would tell a different story.

Theo continued to participate in a number of select choirs and vocal contests as his high years wore on. During his Senior year, he was encouraged by his vocal teacher to audition for a part in a local theatre’s first run musical. He would be competing against professional actors and vocalists who made a living perfomring, much different from amateur high school students.

Sure enough, Theo landed the lead role, and my mother was absolutely amazed. When I called her from college, she would often talk about how impressed she was that her (and my) high school had produced a talent like Theo, good enough to take part in a pre-broadway musical.

Meanwhile my little brother was still finding his own vocal and performing abilities at the high school level, and was not at Theo’s level. When I was home for the summer from college, he told me one day that my mother called Theo to the school stage in front of the entire school during an assembly. After introducing him, she declared, “Let the world know that Theo is from our school”. When I heard this from my brother I was a little upset: in part because this made him feel bad, and also in part because my mother was so star struck and proud of another parent’s child.

That summer, Theo and the musical opened at the local theatre, and my mom organized a group of teachers to attend the show. She also was first in line for a special post-production meeting where the audience had the chance to have Q an A with the cast.

As luck would have it, Theo’s musical eventually wound up on Broadway, which is no small achievement by any stretch. This was a major accomplishment and well deserved. But my mother, however, felt as if it was the most astounding, amazing thing she had ever witnessed in her life. One moment she was cheering at the high school musical for Theo, the next moment Theo was performing on Broadway.

Needless to say, she organized another group of teachers to travel all the way to New York City to watch Theo. Once again, they also got a special meeting with Theo and the cast, and my mother showered him with praise and pride. I knew all this happened because during a phone call home from college, my mom proudly recounted her trip to a Broadway theatre to watch one of her former students perform. Funny enough, my Dad didn’t really have much to say on this point. He really didn’t care about musical theatre that much, and thought it better to stick to cheering for his own kids.

To be perfectly clear, there’s nothing stopping anyone’s mother from going to see a Broadway show; but, the thing that anyone’s mother SHOULD NOT DO is go on and on about another parent’s child as if he is God’s gift to the planet, especially when around her own children.

In other posts, I write about how I become easily jealous and envious of others. In this case, I was jealous of my mother’s sense of amazement and dedication to Theo’s accomplishments. Swooning and cheering wildly at his performances, organizing trips to see him perform on broadway, and continuously bringing up his perceived greatness when around my brothers and I was more than I could bear. It made me completely furious. I was also equally mad that my mom decided to push my little brother into more formal vocal studies, while at the same time minimizing his own achievements as a vocalist. On one hand, she wanted her own son to become like Theo, but on the other, she forsaked her own children to become the founding member Theo’s fan club.

All this was about 7 years ago. My mom has moved on (a little) and has refocused her life on other things. To be fair, she is now very proud that she and my Dad were able to put 4 kids through college, only the second generation in my Irish immigrant family to do so.

After Theo’s musical fell off broadway I didn’t know what happened to him. I think he and other cast members made a CD with hits from the show a year later, but as far as I know he is not actively performing in any major/on broadway musical. For all I know, he could be seating people in the mezzanine or working the lobby cocktail bar. 🙂

Seriously, though, I want to remind all parents that they should ALWAYS put their own children first. Don’t compare your own children to what other children have done, this is unfair and cruel. Respect your children and your role as their parent and honor them. Secondly, don’t carry on like a starstruck teenager at a boy band concert when around someone else’s child. There’s nothing wrong with being amazed by a performance, but to physically and vocally act as if the other child is a gift from heaven is really completely inappropriate. Furthermore, if this other child goes on National tour (or a Broadway musical) don’t be the main organizer of the trip to see him/her perform. This hurts the feelings of your own children and makes them feel as if they have to achieve at a similar level, in spite of challenges in their own life that they must overcome.

My mom used to say, “you only have two parents, so respect them”. My natural retort was, “you only have four children, honor them and the family first.”