Two wheels and a dream, a nine year old’s road to glory

There was a genre of films that seemed to be very popular in the eighties and nineties that focused on the central character or characters taking to the road and we followed their journey comfortably from our seat in the movie theatre munching popcorn and dreaming of our own escape. Road movies, I think they were called, Thelma and Louise was a block buster in this genre although the outcome of that movie, as I recall, was not so happy. I am sure this is still a popular genre to this day but I don’t see many movies that don’t involve animation so I’m a little out of the loop.

My son Cooper owns an orange BMX bike and has a penchant for travel. Now, one might argue that in this day and age letting your high functioning autistic son take to the streets creating his own road films is not the best choice, but I want a chance to defend our position before I go on. Cooper has been riding a two-wheeler bicycle since he was three-years old; by the time he was four he and I would go for bike rides together and by the time he was five those rides could go on for eight or nine miles through towns bordering ours. Cooper also loves to travel on the New Jersey Transit. We stick to our local train line for the most part but have been known to transfer to more exotic places like Gladstone, New Jersey. Long story short, our Coop likes to travel and is always on the move. He knows not to go near a strangers house or car… so we contently let Cooper live his dream in our town.

Cooper is well known in the village of our town where he is friendly with the owners of the Maplewood Stationary Store, the Maple Leaf Diner and the Maplewood barber as well as a few local haunts nearer our house such as the hobby shop, the skateboard park which is housed behind the police station in a neighboring park, the Seven-Eleven and recently the Burger King and Dunkin’ Donuts. Any given Saturday when Doreen doles out his allowance Coop will board his bike and live his life with three bucks burning a hole in his pocket. He has even been known to show up at the homes of our friends and hang out for a while or invite them for dinner.

We are generally aware of Coop’s path and he’s never gone to long but one recent Sunday Cooper took off to make his own indy road flick. He burst into our room bright and early and leaned over me pressing his face into mine and asked if I wanted to go for a train ride. I with blurry vision I saw six am on the clock and begged for a half-hour reprieve. Doreen mumbled something indecipherable to Cooper about my working late and let Mommy sleep and then she rolled over and re-visited the backs of her eye lids. I started back in for my thirty minutes for good behavior and was just fading off when coop asked if he could go for a bike ride. I told him of course he could and we would go to the train when he came home. I did manage to sleep peacefully for the next forty-five minutes but as soon as Cooper walked back in the door it was game over, 6:45 AM and time to get dressed for a quick trip on the NJ Transit to Summit with my boy. Doreen and I were awake but in an effort to stall a little longer we suggested to Cooper he should eat first. Cooper informed us that he was not hungry because he had ridden his bike to the Parkwood Diner and had, “pancakes and sausage for breakfast.” I asked Cooper how he paid for this and he said he had money from Grandma (which is true, my mom did send him money recently) but he didn’t need to use it because some man had bought his breakfast. Stifling laughter and horror we further inquired about this act of generosity of a stranger in the Park-Wood and he went on to let us know how very nice it was of that man to buy him breakfast. We of course told Cooper that we were very impressed by his resourcefulness but not to do that again. Coop and I then made the short trip West to Summit train station, picked up some green bagels in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day and returned home on the next Eastbound train. It was a brief but satisfying journey. The week before he and I had made a three-hour round trip journey so we kept this week simple and short.

We got home and both of the girls, Olivia and Ruby, were awake so I was looking forward to spending time with the two of them since I had a rare Sunday off of work. I decided I would hang and watch a movie with the girls and then the three of us would go for a bike ride. My girls were not as confident as Coop on the bike yet despite Olivia’s ten and a half years. Ruby at six seemed much more stable than her sister but still needed loads of attention on the bike, so our ride turned into me running and getting the girls re-started every 100 yards. It was fairly pleasant weather outside which was a huge welcome surprise given the stronghold winter had on all of us East of the Mississippi. Cooper rode circles around us for a while and eventually became weary of the pace his sisters and marathon mommy kept so he took off on his own. About an hour later Olivia and Ruby finally had mercy on me and we all came home. The girls immediately grabbed up the neighbor girls and were off to their room to play and Doreen’s phone rang. With a too calm voice Doreen said, “thank you, I’ll be right there.” It seems Cooper decided to ride the rails on his own. He rode his bike to the Maplewood train station, purchase a ticket from the vending machine with the money from his Grandma and boarded a train to head back to Summit where he was fortunately recognized by a conductor who we had met the week before. The conductor asked where his mom was and when Cooper couldn’t produce said mother he decided to take care of Cooper rather than call the police, which is what transit is told to do when minors are on the train. Cooper complied with this very friendly conductors request for a phone number and the conductor agreed to wait with Cooper in the neighboring town of South Orange until Doreen could come get him. The conductor went on to explain that he had a nine-year-old son who was “very busy” so he understood. We, however, did use New Jersey’s finest to let Cooper know that joy riding was not an option in the future.

Cooper is a boy with adventure hard wired into his soul and I never want to squash that, but I certainly don’t mind relying on “the kindness of strangers” to keep an eye on my God given treasure.


Vibrating Motown Style (a midwestern girl’s revelation)


There are times in my life where I learn that I am far more sensitive to unidentifiable sources than my mid-western roots should perhaps allow. Take vibrations for instance. What in the heck is a vibration? I never grew up in a world where I acknowledged that people or experiences can make a room vibrate so differently.

In the last two years, I have been on a crash course of vibrations and recently I had an overwhelming wash of vibrations handed to me within one hour on a silver platter. I gained the career-changing opportunity in the fall of 2012 to join the “Motown Family” as a Stage Manager on the Broadway Show, not surprisingly called MOTOWN, THE MUSICAL. This cast and its creative team operate from the gut, each person’s talents off the charts and they know it, not in an arrogant way but in a God-given chosen child sort of way. My opportunity recently extended to be the Production Supervisor for the National tour of MOTOWN. We started rehearsal for the tour in Chicago in the usual way; music, choreography, and sneaking in scene work whenever possible. One productive day ran into the next, the room vibrating with the excitement of new energy. The pulsation of the room kept climbing as each creative added to the mix; the music turned into staging and the staging turned into acting and acting into storytelling. The story this wildly talented bunch of performers were assigned to tell was Mr. Berry Gordy Jr.’s story. What happened at Hitsville as told by the founding force of Motown with the help of loads of amazing hit songs. The show is a ride through history, a passionate plea for all who come to see it to join in a celebration of many of the most elegant and talented stars of the music industry both onstage and offstage. The struggles both professionally and personally this self-proclaimed Detroit hustler went through to bring so much to this world in the way of music, acceptance, and blurring the color barriers that consumed our country. I am not writing this build-up to somehow testify about Mr. Gordy but rather to illustrate the feeling that many of us have who have the opportunity to partake in this life-changing theatrical journey.

This day started with more vibrancy than most days in spite of the cold Chicago spring and the dim artificial lighting in our basement rehearsal space. Our show’s director, Charles Randolph-Wright, came into the room with a plan and the rest of the creative team was more than ready to comply. The show’s resident Choreographer, Brian Harlan Brooks (AKA, BHB), started setting the plan in motion. The touring Stage Managers seemed a little thrown by a rehearsal that started with such clarity before they had even noticed the clock struck ten o’clock, our typical rehearsal start time, the cast also a little puzzled by the urgency fell right in line working the shows opening number. Already the room seems to come alive with new vibrations. Everyone working, creatives with laser focus, managers a buzz with activity and then the man appeared in the doorway that made all of this energy make sense, Berry Gordy Jr had come to meet his newest company of actors. Many of these performers he had met in auditions but he hadn’t seen them since they were to assume the role of “Motown Family”, the closest I have ever seen to theatrical mafia but the only thing these young talents are going to “deal” or “knock off” are hits, dozens of Motown hits. Charles spoke briefly and with great admiration and then turned the room over to Mr Gordy. Now I have had the good fortune of spending time with Mr Gordy throughout the Broadway process so I was able to take my eyes off the Hitsvillian Head Honcho and scan the room. Each one of these young black faces living their lives as Mr Gordy spoke of their talents and what this tour meant to him. Whether it was them, or their parents, or their aunts and uncles who had grown up with this generation of music and change in our country they all knew, they felt the “vibrations” in the air that they were in the presence of a man who changed the face of America. Smiles were unstoppable as they spread across all of their faces. The vibrations bounced off the walls as the performers portraying the Temptations and the Four Tops stepped forward to perform the shows opening number for the same man who created a path for legends like Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross, and Stevie Wonder. The man who is able to describe the fierceness a young Michael Jackson brought to his performance with personal experience and fatherly passion. All of the white performers and support team who did not perhaps experience the life-changing effects of Motown’s music felt the power in the room that day and, not unlike myself two-years earlier, realized the beauty of the journey they were embarking on.

That my friends is a vibration, an experience that causes your heart and body to come alive and take notice of everything around you.

A young boys Acts of Kindness

I’ve always considered myself a fairly kind person. I have my moments where jealousy or competition unfortunately comes into play but for the most part I try to conduct myself from a place of kindness. Today I was humbled by my son’s acts of kindness and shocked by how I almost interfered being concerned that he would be criticized which based on his emotional deficits is never good.

It started off a pretty typical Cooper OCD morning which involved an early morning train ride to any number of New Jersey Transit Morris/Essex line stops. Today’s pick was Morristown. Cooper always wants to be at the very front or the very back of the train, better engine to child relationship. After boarding the train and realizing that the back car was blocked off we doubled back in time to see a woman struggling to get her piggy back luggage off the train. Cooper grabbed her top bag and took some of the weight down the steps. The woman said, “thank you Cooper” and the door closed. “Hey, how did she know my name?” Cooper questioned and then moved on. Later in that same trip as we were surfing from car to car in search of the perfect location an elderly gentleman with what appeared to be some physical limitations was struggling to board the train’s steep steps. Cooper reached down to him to offer a hand to help, the the man seemed genuinely grateful. I realized on both occasions my instinct was to stop Coop as if he were going to cause the opposite reaction and annoy these two individuals. He continued to display good manners the rest of our journey; plenty of please and thank you the rest of our trip and he even made small talk in the bagel shop in Montclair with a woman who let him sit at the table with her family to enjoy his bagel. Later as I thought about these good feelings he experienced I was glad I didn’t inter fear, I was happy he had the opportunity to be rewarded for his kindness (especially his response to the elderly gentleman which is often outside Cooper’s comfort zone).

Later in the day when we were leaving a shop at the Costco we witnessed what appeared to be an injured woman who had been alone surrounded by a few people on cell phones. I defaulted to a quick Hail Mary (being solidly my mother’s daughter), as Doreen kept the girls shepherded toward the car. Coop had made a detour to check on this lady. I came around the corner to gather Cooper up and another lady was guiding him away saying she would be okay. Coop came and reported to us that he was worried because she looked cold and there was a lot of blood coming from her nose. Doreen and I did some instant awkward parenting letting the kids know that if a situation is being attended to best to “stand back and keep the area clear”, “never try to move an injured person”, “if you are the only person around a blanket and call 911 was the best thing to do.” We got in the car and I made the kids do a little prayer, again my default, as the ambulance arrived. As we pulled away cooper rolled down the window and shouted, “I hope you feel better.”

Again, the thought that resonated with me is that in some realm Cooper’s shout out came from such a genuine and honest place I just felt a sense of pride. Could this be the same kid who yells in frustration multiple times a day. Mercilessly teases his sisters until a physical battle ensues. Looses his temper daily at the word “no” or when he feels like he is being scolded? I am often questioning if we are parenting these very special children correctly. Then, I have a day like today where, while not perfect behavior by any stretch of the imagination, our parenting is paying off.