Monday, January 28, 2008

Putnam County Spelling Bee

Not too long ago, I was emailed about an opportunity that seemed an incredible opportunity. I was skeptical about whether I would be able to get it, but I made up my mind to go for it.

Every year, there are Neiman Fellowships for mid-career journalists at Harvard. This year they were reserving one of those slots for arts journalists--including freelancers. It's an outstanding program and one that I would love to participate in. As the idea brewed in my mind, I began thinking about research topics and figuring out how my family could rearrange its life to let me leave for nine months.

While there is a stipend for both housing and child care made available, the timing wouldn't be right for our son to have to make a change in his schools, so I'd be leaving him and Richard behind for nine months if I were to be fortunate enough to be selected for the fellowship. Nonetheless, Richard enthusiastically encouraged me to apply.

Then I went to see The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at Wharton Center to review it for the Lansing State Journal. As I stood up after the show, I turned to the friend who had joined me and said, "I'm not going to Harvard."

While I frequently find theater to be compelling, it's rare for it to have such an immediate and drastic effect on my daily decision-making. This show did.

One of the spellers is eagerly and futilely waiting for the arrival of her absent father. Toward the end of the musical, there is a beautiful number in which she longingly sings about both of her absent parents--her father at work and her mother who is off doing an ashram in India. Both parents sing of how they love her and know that she'll do great things, but the fact remains bitingly clear that they are not there. They may think the world of her and they may believe that what they're doing is beneficial for them, for their daughter, and for the family, but they're still apart and missing the important things in each other's lives.

There will be many opportunities throughout my life for many things. Something I will never have another chance at is being a present mother during my son's 10th and 11th year of life.

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