Our daughter experienced two major life transitions last week. She performed in her final fall musical at school, and voted in her first election.
“Hello, Dolly” did not have to be her last fall show. Elizabeth could have arranged to stay in high school for two more years, but she has always been determined to graduate with her class. Sometimes a little too determined for her own peace of mind. When a teacher told her one day that she was improperly dressed for her work/study assignment, she confronted her mother about the mistake (Carol had helped her pick out her clothes). Holding her finger and thumb an inch apart, she said, “Thanks, Mom! I came this close to graduating.”
Granted, it was an inappropriate, if amusing, overreaction; the point is, she wants that diploma on time.
She picked a good show to go out on. “Hello, Dolly” is always a crowd pleaser, this production more so than most. Director/choreographer Jonathan Miele made the most of a cast of more than 30. Teenagers. Often on stage at the same time. Singing and dancing. In tune and on the beat. I did not attend the rehearsals, but I’m pretty sure a whip and a chair was involved.
Elizabeth did well in the small, but pivotal role of a paper hanger whose presence foreshadows Horace Vandergelder’s marriage proposal to Dolly Levi. She also held up her end of the dancing, marching and singing in the ensemble.
Pursuing her passion for theater has been invaluable to Elizabeth, giving her a strong incentive to maximize her strengths and overcome her deficits. More importantly in the big picture, her presence has always given her cast mates the opportunity to see a person with special needs in terms of her abilities, not her disabilities.
I hope Elizabeth will find ways to continue indulging her passion for theater in adulthood, and I hope her example will inspire more true integration between people like her and those who fit the profile of the mythical “typically developing” child.
I also hope she will be able to transfer some of her passion to citizenship. It is good that her voting life is beginning in Maine. There is something comforting about living in a place where you can still run for Congress with student council posters. I once overheard a major party candidate for U.S. Senate planning a campaign over soup at Panera.
It’s hard to picture the Washington insiders you see staring into TV cameras with the cold dead eyes of career politicians orchestrating a media blitz over a bowl of broccoli and cheddar, then tossing their campaign manager for his baguette. They’re more the sitting around a conference table at a marketing firm type, figuring out how to pander to “the base” at the expense of the majority of their constituents.
In contrast – and I don’t know these people personally – one of our senators projects the buttoned-down competence of the best high school class secretary in history, while the other has the avuncular wisdom of a 1950s TV dad, a guy who could get you out of a pickle when you accidentally invite two girls to The Big Dance.
Also fortunately, Elizabeth’s first election was a local one, with issues she could relate to. Her education has focused on learning how to advocate for what she wants and needs. That is local politics in a nutshell.
A friend who grew up on the East End of Portland told me a local politics story about his mother. Dutch Elm disease had devastated her block. She wanted a new tree in front of her house, and she got one – by refusing to give permission for the city to cover the space with a sidewalk, by attending council meetings and asking for her tree, and finally by meeting the workmen and stopping them from pouring cement. It was an example of how sometimes politics is as simple as not letting yourself be pushed around.
I could see my daughter getting involved on that level, maybe even with the same zeal she has invested in theater. If there is one thing she likes as much as being on stage, it is making sure nobody pushes her around.
Elizabeth may never synthesize the vast difference between what they teach you in school and how politics works in real life. She will probably never get why it makes sense for “the base” and “value voters (people who go to the polls to force their values on you, because they know better)” to trump the rest of us.
Truth be told, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, either. I guess in that respect, we’re both special needs people.
Mike Langworthy, an attorney, former stand-up comic and longtime television writer, now lives in Scarborough and is fascinated by all things Maine. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter: @mikelangworthy.