We were watching Hamilton for the gazillionth time as “My Shot” blared from the speakers. Usually, I’m singing along in my living room, but as the angelic voice of my 5-year-old daughter sang along with Lin Manuel Miranda, I stopped. It looked like I was staring at the TV, but I was looking back at the goals I set out for myself a long time ago. Before the song ended, the realization I threw away my shot took over.
For the rest of the musical, I sat next to my daughter as she sang and danced to various numbers, and then it was time to put her to bed. I walked her into the bathroom where I brushed her teeth and then gave her an airplane ride to her bedroom, where she asked me if she could sleep in my bed. This means her bed was only a layover, so I boarded her into my arms and flew her to my bed, where we huddled close as I read her a story. After reading, I asked her what song she wanted me to sing, and she replied, “The Room Where It Happened.” I sang the song and added tickling moments, causing her to giggle and laugh. Once the song was over, I said a brief prayer with her and then rubbed her back as she drifted off to Dreamland.
As I walked out of the bedroom, I was met by my 8-year-old son reminding me I promised to finish the X-Men movie that we started the day before. I grabbed some snacks and we plopped down on the couch. While we watched Hugh Jackman spear people with his claws, I was still processing passing up my shot.
After the movie and his teeth were brushed, I grabbed “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” off the bookshelf and guided my son into his bedroom. We’ve been reading the Harry Potter books and are on the last one. We climbed up the stairs into his loft bed and I answered his thousand questions that popped rapidly into his mind. Pausing him mid-question, I suggested we read. And so we did. And as usual, when I read to him, he placed his hand upon my arm as I shared Harry’s fight against Voldemort. The story finished and I answered another thousand questions and then we prayed. I slowly slid out of the room as he joined his sister in Dreamland.
My two teenagers were doing their own thing and not in need or want of cuddling with dad. I made my way into the kitchen where dishes overflowed the sink and leftovers of the day’s meals were hardening onto the marble countertops. Before I began scrubbing the crust off of plates, I propped my phone on the windowsill and searched for something to watch/listen to as I cleaned. I came across a documentary called “We Are Freestyle Love Supreme,” which is about Lin Manuel Miranda and a team of other talented actors and musicians that started a rap improv group before they were household names. The movie showed old and new videos and interviews. Once again, I was sucked into a time warp about my days of being a struggling actor.
Acting and creating on the fly with a team of actors you work well with in front of a room full of people is exhilarating and self-satisfying. Improv helps the audience feel like they are in on the creative process and when it’s going well, a spirit of oneness fills the room. Those moments were in my head as the sponge went around and around the plate. During those improv days, I would run from an improv gig to theater rehearsal or performance and back to another improv gig that was scheduled around my performances.
Piecing together the puzzle that is the dishwasher and making sure all the dishes fit, a reflection on my life’s choices filled my brain. Did I make the right choice? Am I artistically satisfied? If I had it to do all over again, would I? I pressed the start button on the dishwasher and scrubbed the food and ingredients off the counter. Looking up from the marble reflection, an unshaven and balding man looked into my eyes. 45 years have gone by and the goals of my youth are goals unmet.
I sat down on the floor next to a pile of laundry and finished watching the documentary. Stacking up rows of towels and underwear, I wondered if I would have stuck with acting, would there have been a documentary about the groups I was in? (Yes, I’m that narcissistic.) Backstage memories from my improv group flowed through my mind. I recalled the many drinks we had after performances, the laughs as we put make-up on, and being in the moment on stage. There was the time an actor overdosed before a show and I yelled at her for being selfish as she was carted away in an ambulance and my apology to her later in the hospital. Getting in an argument with an audience member that caused me to step through rows of people and be restrained by the stage manager, actors, and people in the audience. Performing while having a migraine and moments where I was off because of some stressful moment that happened on the way to the gig. And the many nights of receiving the audience’s appreciation during a long ovation during curtain calls. Times were not always glorious, but I missed them all.
The show ended and I hit the power button and made one final lap in my house, straightening things up as I went to my bedroom. There on my bed slept a tiny 5-year-old girl with blond hair matted to her head because I forgot to give her a bath and wash her hair. I pushed her over and placed her head upon the pillow, which she quickly spun back around to where her feet would kick me in my side the rest of the night. But there was something about her angelic face that answered the overall question of the day. Was it worth it? Was it worth throwing away my shot?
Choosing a life away from the stage gave me a front-row seat to my children’s lives. I have not missed a major moment. First steps, first words, first ice cream cone, first bike ride, parties, field trips, getting to know their teachers, movies, cuddles, storytime, library visits, lessons learned, and I could go on and on. I have missed nothing. And each of those moments came without a script. Learning on the fly and being a team participant. There is no standing ovation for me at the end of my daily performance. There are no nods of approval as I make my way from one duty to the other. My answer though is “yes.” It was worth throwing away my shot.