I am writing this from the magnificent hilly, enclave of La Jolla, California. It’s less than twenty-four hours since I received the late night subdued, but urgent call for HELP from my eldest son who goes to the U.C. there. After all, isn’t that what mothers are supposed to do? Drop everything and run to help their children even if they are twenty-two and a senior in college.
So after a fitful night’s sleep, a morning packed with calls to cancel and reschedule several appointments, a rushed visit to my accountant to do my taxes, I pack a small bag, stop to fill up the tank, and get on my way for the short trek to San Diego. But L.A. traffic being what it is, it took me almost two hours to go barely ten miles and the trip, which would take two hours, now took almost five hours. After only going 10 miles in two hours I was so tempted to turn back, my already sore back was throbbing in pain from being in the same position and not being able to switch on cruise control. It doesn’t quite work at less than five miles per hour. What a mother won’t do for her children!
While it may sound like I am not complaining mind you. I am not. I am actually over the moon as it’s really been a long time since my son reached out for my help. That coupled with unusually quiet panic in his voice, not his usual holier than thou demands, signaled that this was really serious.
As most parents know, your relationship with your child will have many ups and downs and when there is a contentious divorce punctuating those milestones, that road is even rockier. Our relationship, or lack thereof, had been sorely tested over the past ten years. Come to think about it, we haven’t spent more than a few hours together in a single day and barely ever more than two days in a row, and now I was getting a chance to spend a few days, which in my time frame, is practically a lifetime.
Since he was little, my son always said he wanted to be a lawyer. I used to joke with him after the divorce and all the lawyer BS he witnessed through the years, didn’t he think there was a better career path for him? He would not be swayed. Until last year. Somehow, he decided to be a writer/filmmaker seemingly out of the blue. Now I have been in the “biz” for a very long time, and he has certainly been around TV production, location shoots and post-production edit bays his whole life, but it never seemed to interest him much. It was my life. My passion and thankfully I was very good at it and made a good living at it. But for my boy to say he wanted to do something in that realm was quite astounding. I guess I never thought of him as the creative type. He was always the athletic type. Sinewy and faster than lightning since he was five years old, he was blessed with the body and speed to make him a premiere soccer player which took him through college and was his passion above all else.
As parents we know about lost dreams and failures and missed opportunities. As parents we try so much to shield our children from same or at least help cushion the blow or ease the pain of those experiences. Well when my son found out he couldn’t play his last and supposedly best year of college soccer, I think a piece of him died. I know I mourned the loss of his promise of great success from afar, wondering for him, what it would be like to have that one last final hurrah. But it was not meant to be and as I believe life hands you the cards you are meant to play, I accepted my son’s fate begrudgingly, with a few tears and with the hope that what will not kill him will make him stronger.
Was it that defining moment of inertia, of accepting that his body wouldn’t do what his mind willed, that made him find his inner voice, his inner muse and allowed him to tap into his creative juices and abandon the life legal? Whatever it was, it renewed his desire to learn and explore and filmmaking sparked him like a great kick made from 30 yards out. But I didn’t know much more than he had changed his major. Like most kids, explaining or details were not their strong suit and our phone calls were perfunctory exercises in formalities. How are you? Fine. How are your classes? Fine. Do you have alot of work? Fine. Communicating with your child from teenager onward is a delicate art form of trying to decipher verbal hieroglyphics on a cave wall without light. But with that Sunday phone call that was all about to change.
Apparently my son was in the middle of a project for class and everyone who was helping him was flaking out – including the actor. So he needed me to operate the camera while he acted out the rest of his scenario for the five minute project that was already half shot. He obviously could not shoot and act at the same time and he realized that…my boy was growing up! The good news was by the time I got to San Diego, his actor had changed his mind and was available to shoot that night so my primary function was to help secure some supplies and cater a “crew” dinner for all which included his roommates. After dinner we got down to business, and I was very conscious of not taking over the project and wanted to let my son do his thing.
To my surprise, he was quite aware of what he wanted to shoot, how he wanted to shoot it and, to my amazement, my “little boy” had a very sophisticated vision for his project. I wondered, who that man was who took the place of my first born son. The evening progressed and I was pleased to take his direction, hold a light, fix a make-shift “gel” of colored tissue paper, to suggest an angle shift here and there, and just let him do his thing. Having never seen the footage already shot, I didn’t know where this was all going, but I trusted he knew and that’s all that mattered. The shoot was over in a few hours and my son seemed happy with what he got. But the proof would be in the pudding – how it all cut together and that would be the next step. Before we went to sleep, he thanked me and told me I was the best “producer” he ever had. Not one bit of praise in my 25 plus years of working ever meant more to me than that. I was basking in son-shine.
I have probably spent thousands of hours in editing rooms but the best time I have ever had was watching my son in his “editing suite” work on his labor of love. Slowly and surely he progressed scene by scene and I watched enraptured. He’s really got talent. This isn’t a fluke or some flight of fancy. He really knows what he is doing. Words cannot express how I felt watching him do his thing. Like his first step or his first word, I witnessed the birth of my son’s creative soul. It was truly a transcendental moment in time. What’s more is that he let me in, he invited me in to be a part of this, a part of who he was becoming for the first time in a very long time. It was my birthday and the editing went on for hours. I knew what he was going through, weighing every edit like the entire piece depended on it. Crafting bit by bit his vision, moving toward the perfect conclusion. I watched and only offered suggestions when asked. I held his hand with my heart as I watched him toil for hours and hours to make this project just right. God, he’s such a perfectionist, just like me! I smiled inside as years of rift and separation melted away with each edit and each hour. Yes, he is like me and in a very good way! My heart grew lighter as the years of lost time with him melted with these new moments of collaboration and communion.
When he was finally done, it was much too late for dinner and a dreamy dessert supporting a solitary birthday candle but it didn’t matter. I had already received the best birthday present money couldn’t buy – magical time spent with my son – bonding in the trenches, discovering our shared passion and sharing the joy of creation. What a blessing!
P.S. He got an A on the project and after one student compared his work to his idol, Micheal Gondry, he said he almost cried. When he told me about this, I couldn’t hold back my tears of joy.