Your Opening Act

Dear Caroline,

You I worried about from the start, even before you were born.

The doctor told us you were in there in an unusual position. Transverse breach, she called it.

Somehow you were upside down and slung across sideways. It was a form of occupancy less than ideal.

It might even be dangerous, the doctor told us. The umbilical cord could get tangled up, even strangle you as you came out.

Hardly what Mom and I needed to hear.

She took it pretty well, or at least seemed to. Me, I was another story. I kept thinking about it day after day.

Please, I thought, let her be okay. We’d already had one perfect child. Was it too much for us to hope for a second perfect child, too? Go two for two?

The doctor kept close watch, of course. Mom went to see her more often than usual, as I recall, just as a precaution, just to check on your position in the womb.

Nothing changed. Transverse breach you remained. I kept thinking those words.

Please, I thought, let her be perfect.

It was sort of a prayer, but sent out to the universe at large rather than to any kind of God. I swore never to expect or ask for anything else again. I kept my concern to myself, avoiding upsetting Mom.

The doctor even showed us a sonogram of you so we could see your awkward position. It was decided that day that the safest course of action was for you to be delivered by Caesarean. And that meant I would have to stay out of the delivery room, unable to see you born, as I had Michael.

When Mom went in the operating room, I waited outside, more nervous than I had ever felt. We had a perfect boy and now we wanted a perfect girl. I needed to do something to keep my mind off my worries.

So I wrote.

I had an assignment from Omni magazine, owned by Guccione, Sr., now defunct. It had to do either with mummies or robots. Just a short piece, maybe 200 words. I tinkered away, trying to make it as perfect as I wanted you to be.

An hour went by, maybe more. I’ve forgotten so much. I should have written about all this right then and there, while it was all still fresh.

But the next part I remember fine. The doctor came out to tell me you had emerged without a hint of a problem, and now I could go see you.

Back I went where all the new babies hung out, all in those little bassinettes, or whatever. Now I stood over you, so pink, your eyes closed, your mouth puckering, your fingers squirming, your hair matted, crying.

And I felt a rush of relief almost stunning in its force. You were okay. I could see that for myself now. And then I felt my whole face wrinkle and warm and I broke down crying.

“Hello,” Caroline, I said through my tears. “I’m your Daddy. Glad you could make it.”

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Quiet Hour

Dear Caroline,

About three weeks after we brought you home from the hospital, we took you in the stroller to the square in Forest Hills Gardens. Mom and I were beside ourselves with joy at your arrival – our second-born, a girl, delivered healthy and perfect. We felt absolutely celebratory, life suddenly new again.

We wheeled you over the cobblestones clickety-clack under the train tracks and past the inn to a new café with a table and chairs on the sidewalk. It was November, or maybe early December, so a little cool out, but mild enough to park ourselves outside. We got ourselves coffee and some pastries and took our seats.

You promptly went to sleep. You lay there, swaddled in your blanket, a little cap on your head, your eyes closed. Can you possibly conceive of just how beautiful you looked to us at that moment? Can you fathom the depth of the adoration we felt for you? We had brought you home and taken you out into the day, into the light, under the autumn sun.

We sipped our coffee and savored our danishes as you slept, your nostrils flaring as you breathed. We marveled at the quiet all around us. We talked little, basking in the rare silence.

We gloried in our great good luck, too. We now had a daughter. Our son now had a sister. Grandma Nettie now had a granddaughter. A second child meant a second chance, a chance to do even better this time around. You completed us, made us everything we wanted to be, a family of four, boy plus girl.

Every few minutes we peered into the stroller to check on you. On you slept, on and on and on, perhaps tired from the rigors of birth, the shock of new life, perhaps just relaxed, feeling so safe and secure with us in the historic square at that little café.

It’s such a beautiful spot, Forest Hills Gardens, one of my favorite in the city, so much like a turn-of-the-century English village, or so I imagine. But now it felt better to be there than it ever had. We had our own little girl.

Mom and I probably talked about you a lot at the café. Again and again we peeked in on you, and on and on you slept.

Can you believe how long she’s sleeping? I must have said.

Neither of us could quite believe it.

Oh, this is going to be so easy, I thought, so much easier than with Michael. You were going to be a really good sleeper.

You slept something like 20 hours that day. I guess you needed it.

You never slept that long again (never went that long without talking either).

But it worked out fine. You took a break, and we caught one, too. Those hours gave us a special peace, some time to reflect on our good luck and brace ourselves for the years ahead.

Somehow You Already Knew

Dear Caroline,

One summer afternoon, when you were only a year or so old, our family went to a family gathering at my Uncle Leonard’s mansion in Brookville, Long Island. Nana was there, and my mother, and my cousins Peter and Danielle, and maybe some others, too.

We hung out in the backyard, near the swimming pool and the bocci court, but it was hot and sticky, almost tropical, so we shuttled into the house to cool off now and then.

It was our chance to show you off, our beautiful, perfect little girl, tucked into your stroller, the cutest creature on the planet. Certainly everyone admired you, and said as much, leaning over to check you out, taking you out to hold you.

But we had one little problem that day. You cried almost the whole time we were there. You cried inside the house and outside the house, cried during lunch and afterwards, bawling away at the top of your lungs, even then operatic.

We had no idea why – hunger? indigestion? a rash? – and nothing stopped you, no matter how much we coddled you and cooed at you. Inconsolable, you were.

At first everyone accepted your crying as par for the course. After all, a baby’s gig involves crying now and again. But your wailing went on and on. It became the sound track for, the white noise behind, all our conversation that day. We felt frustrated, annoyed, puzzled.

Finally, even though the afternoon was still young and we would otherwise have liked to stay longer, Mom and I decided we might as well leave. We gathered our belongings and started saying our goodbyes. And before we even took a step toward our car, you stopped crying.

Just like that.

And for a second we considered changing our minds and staying. But no. It seemed you had sent us some kind of a signal. You seemed to be telling us we should go. It was as if, in being with my family, you had caught a certain vibe. Just being around my family, it seemed, had upset you.

How else to interpret the sequence of events at Leonard’s house on that hot summer day? No sooner do we get there than you commence to cry. No sooner do we decide to leave than you cease and desist said crying. One could see a pattern there, a cause-and-effect relationship.

It was as if you had intuited something, divined a certain truth, even though you were still only a baby. It was truly strange and remarkable, as if you had already come to understand my family. That’s why you stopped crying at that particular moment.

You realized that after being there all day, now you were finally going to get away.

Just Kidding

Dear Caroline,

You want funny? Maybe I can give you some funny. Here’s my latest attempt, a fresh, heaping plate of it:

· Husband to wife: When did you stop knowing how to take a joke? Wife to husband: When you stopped knowing how to make any.

· Husband to wife: I think that last remark might have come out wrong. Wife to husband: If it came from your mouth, I’m sure it did.

· February is really getting to me. I’ve started my weekend drinking on Monday.

· Okay, here’s the message I, as CEO of this company, would like to send our shareholders. Fuck you. Now you’re the writer. So you go do what you have to do. Feel free to wordsmith it.

· I would eat more tonight, but I’m watching my hairline.

· How can you complain about getting older? It’s indecent – almost like complaining you’d rather be dead.

· My favorite abs work is lunch.

· Some day a court might find me guilty of mirth aforethought.

· Remembering is good. But forgetting can be better.

My Little Water Sprite

Dear Caroline,

It was at the Silver Point Beach Club in Long Beach, Long Island, that it happened, probably around 1997, when you were still only eight or nine years old.

We’d gone to the pool there, walking along the rickety wooden planks, past the cabanas, for a little swim on a brilliantly sunny weekend morning. As I recall, you loved the pool – loved splashing around, loved swimming, just loved the cool, clean water.

Going in the pool was something we could do together. And so in we went. You liked to ride on my back, your arms wrapped around my neck, as I plunged underwater like a submarine.

“Do it again,” you would say, and I would do it again.

We tried all kinds of stunts in the water — racing, doing handstands, swimming between each other’s legs. You seemed pretty much game for any experiment.

After a while on this day, we were having so much fun we felt exhilirated. And you swam into my arms. And I held you close to me, my arms around your back, your face right in front of mine. You were smiling a big smile, your face gleaming with water from the pool, gleaming in the brilliant sun, looking so happy, so perfectly happy.

It was a sublime moment, my favorite moment in my whole life.

Oh, I’ve had wonderful moments.

Hitting a home run over the right fielder when I was about 12 as a girl I wanted to impress watched.

The first time I kissed a girl.

Getting hired for my first job out of college on a weekly newspaper called The Eastside Courier.

Marrying Mom.

Seeing Michael born.

Being published in The New York Times at the age of 26.

I’ve had so many wonderful moments in my 58 years, too many to recount here, so many, of course, related to Mom and Michael and you. But that moment with you in my arms in the pool at the beach club took the cake. Seeing you so happy that day made me happier than I could ever imagine.

It really was a glimpse of the divine.

All I can do now is wish you many more such moments in the sun.

“Read to Me,” She Said

Dear Caroline,

You’re still only a few years old, your face still round and soft, and I’m reading a book to you. It’s probably the Berenstain Bears I’m reading because Mom bought so many of those.

We’re lying on your bed, you snuggled on my chest, and I’m reading you the story, maybe the one about too much birthday. I’m turning the pages and you’re looking at the pictures and hearing me say the words.

I can feel your breath on my neck, whiff your scent, see your eyes blink as you listen, utterly absorbed in the Berenstains.

We went like that for years, sometimes sitting on the sofa in the living room, other days elsewhere. We sailed through the whole Berenstains oeuvre, and who knows which other books.

“Shall I read you something?” I would ask, usually at night, right after dinner.

Usually you said, “Yes, read to me.”

The readings gave you a sense of story, of language, and took us beyond the apartment, into another dimension. You might ask me about an unfamiliar word or about why something happened in a story.

You loved the Berenstain Bears; the books always seemed to be about too much this or too much that. I read to you regularly for years, and it all went into your eyes and ears, all those words and pictures, unleashing your imagination.

Later, we graduated to the great E.B. White, to “Stuart Little” and “Trumpet of the Swan” and, of course, “Charlotte’s Web.” You were older then, maybe seven or eight, and bigger, too, taking up more space in my arms.

But it made no difference. I read to you all the same, read to you about the pig and the spider, chapter after chapter, night after night, until we finished three weeks later.

Mostly I remember how close the readings brought me to you, the intimacy of it, sharing a book with my daughter, reading it together. By then you could read on your own, but you seemed no less glad for me to read to you, and I was pleased to do it.

No doubt it served us both well. It gave me the chance to give you something of value, a love of reading. And you took it all in, all the words and pictures, making a world of your own.

The books came alive to you, and today you read still, widely and with hunger, novels, biographies, histories. And you tell stories so well, too, with a real sense of the beginning, middle and end, the logic of drama, the joys of narrative.

You can really see the connection between then and now, how it made a difference. It’s hard to say which of us came away from those readings, those special moments, the most rewarded.

See Me Here, Your Face Says

Dear Caroline,

That’s you in the photo right there. You’re maybe two years old and wearing kind of a court jester outfit, a red jumper with a frilly polka-dot blouse, plus a polka-dot cap. But the outfit, adorable as it is, takes a backseat to the expression on your face.

You’re giving off a little smile, showing just a hint of little teeth, and your eyes are bright and alive. You know the camera is on you. You know it’s a performance. And you’re ready to do your stuff.

Here’s another shot now, this time the camera in close, maybe a foot away from your face. You’re older here, possibly three. You’re smiling again, your eyes wide, your eyebrows raised. You’re connecting with the camera, delivering yourself through the lens. Your face takes up almost the whole photo.

I’m here, your face says, and I’m happy, and you should be happy, too, and – guess what? – I can probably make you happy. All you have to do to be happy, your face says, is to look at my face.

Oh, you know how to play to the camera all right, how to give a performance.

Now we move on to a photo of you with with Grandma in a restaurant, maybe Frost in Williamsburg. She’s seated against a banquette, red linen in the background, with you squarely in her lap, her arms around your waist, her fingers interlocked. She’s holding you as securely as anyone has ever held you.

And you’re smiling so hard, all your teeth showing, you’re almost laughing. Maybe Grandma had said something funny to you, or tickled you, or you simply delighted in occupying her lap, or all three.

Will we ever know?

Does it even really matter?

As always, the photo says it all.

Let’s look at one more shot today (we could go on and on – we have so many photos – but we have to draw the line somewhere). It’s you and me and we’re lying in bed. You might be four or five years old, your face narrower now, more defined. Our heads are propped against some pillows, our faces right next to each other. We’re both looking over to the side at the camera, smiling modest little smiles.

It’s a quiet moment, no teeth showing, a glimpse of contentment. My left arm is wrapped around your back, my left hand on your shoulder, pulling you close. We’re probably just hanging out on a rainy morning in December, in need of nothing else but each other. You’ve got nowhere to go just yet – though of course soon enough you will – and so we’re just savoring our time together.

See me here, your face says. See me here with my Daddy. My Daddy loves me. My Daddy loves me with all his heart forever and ever.

How You Found Your First Stage

Dear Caroline,

I guess that moment in late August of 1995 is by now chiseled into family legend. You know the moment I mean.

We’re with the Heymanns in Martha’s Vineyard, at the beach, pretty close to the shoreline, and it’s a gorgeous day of vacation for us all. You’re all of six years old, about three months from turning seven, and the cutest water sprite ever born.

In my memory, you tell Don how much you like to sing.

Oh, really? he says.

Yes, you say.

I’ll sing something for you right now.

Well, then, Don says, by all means please do.

And with that, you in your one-piece bathing suit turn to look for a fitting venue. And right near you, as it happens, is a boulder. How perfect! You clamber onto the boulder as if onto an outdoor stage, the dunes behind you, the reeds rustling in the summer breeze, the sky a sublime blue. Don watches you with no small admiration.

You clear your throat, establish your footing and settle in for your performance. And then the big moment: you start to sing. Your selection is “Colors Of The Wind” from the new Disney movie “Pocahontas.”

I’ve heard you sing it all summer, ever since seeing the movie and buying the CD. You’ve sung this song in your room at home and wherever we go. It’s your favorite song. But I’ve never seen you sing it like this, with a boulder as your stage, taking command of your audience. Your rendition is lovely – your pitch perfect, the emotion heartfelt.

And I can see – the best treat of all – the effect you’re having on Don. He’s listening raptly, mesmerized. No doubt he’s thinking, How well she sings, this little six-year-old girl. But no doubt he’s also thinking – as I most certainly thought – how confidently she assumes her makeshift stage. Such stage presence! Such bravura!

I felt so proud. Now, of course, it’s all well and good for me to appreciate your singing. But for me to see someone else appreciate it, someone of taste, is something else again, something special.

Of course I had no inkling back then, 15 years ago this month, what would come next. I had no idea that you would decide to be a singer.

No idea that you would beg Mom to get you singing lessons until she finally gave in.

No idea that you would learn every song from “Phantom of the Opera” backwards and forwards.

No idea that you would learn to sing so well, so purely and powerfully and truly.

No, I really operated without a clue about what lay ahead for you. Little would I ever have suspected that before you turned 20, you would already have performed the lead in “Kismet,” and in “The Mikado,” and with opera companies in Manhattan, in Brooklyn and in the Hamptons. No idea at all.

But you probably knew even then. I’ll bet you saw that boulder as a steppingstone. I’ll bet by the time you finished singing for Don that day, you were already looking for the next boulder to climb.

P.S. – Profile of Caroline in The New York Daily News: http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/queens/2010/06/18/2010-06-18_dream_gig_sang_out_loud_overcoming_odds_to_make_her_way_in_the_opera_world.html

The Goldfish That Got Away

Dear Caroline,

You once owned a goldfish. Maybe you were seven years old. We all talked about what kind of pet to get you. It was decided a goldfish would be inexpensive and easy to keep.

You probably named him something, but I forget what. You drizzled food into the water and cleaned his bowl. Given the chance, I’m sure you would have walked him, too.

You really loved your little goldfish. You wished him good morning and good night and asked how he was doing. You also asked if he had enough light to see or wanted a different spot in your room. A more dedicated owner no pet goldfish ever had.

But then your goldfish died.

How and why we have no idea, but no foul play was ever suspected. Chances are, it came to us unwell already. Or maybe it was old. Or it committed a goldfish version of suicide (holding its breath?).

I remember Mom and I discovered your goldfish dead and had to tell you. That was hard for us to do, just as we knew it would be. You broke down in tears.

We had no success comforting you. We probably offered to get you another goldfish, but you declined.

Now came another tricky issue: what to do with the body. Clearly, a headstone or cremation were out of the question.

As it happened, your goldfish died during the summer, and at the time we belonged to the Silver Point Beach Club in Long Beach, Long Island. I think maybe it was your idea to bury your pet at sea.

So off we went to our club, your pet goldfish in a plastic bag filled with water. We went to our cabana and then on the hot sand toward the shoreline. You stood there with us at the edge of the surf holding the bag.

You told your goldfish you loved it and were sorry it died and would miss it.

Then you said goodbye and dropped it into the waves. The surf took your pet out into the Atlantic Ocean, quickly out of sight. You waved goodbye, pouting, then crying.

It just showed the kind of kid you were, and still are. Sweet at heart and sensitive to the suffering of others, particularly the helpless, such as children and small creatures.

That kind of empathy and compassion is organic and hard to teach, though it can be learned from experience.

It’s why you grew your hair for Locks of Love, to give the kids who go through chemotherapy and have no hair left.

It’s why you break into tears at the sight of a dog missing a leg.

It’s why you cry at certain movies.

You hate to see the vulnerable hurt. Maybe it’s because you know how it feels to be hurt. Maybe that special ability to identify with the victim comes from all of the kids who made fun of you in school (you never once told me about any of that; I had to find out from Mom).

Now, I’m no believer in martyrdom, but I’m sure suffering has a valuable lesson to teach. It has the potential to make each of us a better, more giving, more understanding person. I can already see that’s how it’s affected you.

Your Arms Outstretched for All to See

Dear Caroline,

That’s you in the photo again, you being unmistakably and unforgettably you.

You’re wearing a white dress, almost a gown, plus a hint of a tiara. You’re decked out like a princess, or maybe a bride, or a fairy godmother. Whatever the case, you look literally divine, an angel on earth.

The dress itself is pretty, of course, with a cinched waist and glovelike sleeves and a scooped neck and a flaring, glittering crinoline skirt. But the dress is nothing without you in it, just an empty costume. It’s you who embody the intent behind it.

You truly look, in this photo, like a princess or a queen or a fairy godmother. You’re smiling the most darling smile, your head tilted slightly to the left, an accent of a gesture meant to convey – and convey it does – adorableness taken to the nth degree.

But check out your arms. Here your innate sense of the theatrical is abundantly on exhibit. You’re holding your arms out to your sides, your palms up, almost as if you’re about to curtsy.

The pose says, Behold me, mortals. Witness the glory that is me.

You know exactly how cute you look. Those outstretched arms say it all. I’m here and here I plan to stay, so get used to it. As always, you’ve taken command of the stage.

Now we shift moods. In the next photo, you’re the private Caroline. You’re kneeling on the floor, your hands laying a strip of text on a board for some science project.

Again, you might be – what? seven years old? You’re bent forward over the board, your hair dangling over your face, as you arrange the text just so with both hands. You seem altogether unaware of the camera.

And that’s because you’re altogether absorbed in this particular school activity. You are a profile in focus, singleminded in pursuit of perfection. It is a characteristic we will come to see again and again as you train to be a singer.

P.S. – Part 2 will appear tomorrow.

Your Arms Outstretched For All To See: Part 2

Dear Caroline,

Now we go on to a quick series of my other favorite photos of you.

You with your hair pulled back and your hands on your hips, your head cocked to the left and your smile all-knowing mischief. You’re wearing a plaid dress, red and white, and your stance says – if I translate correctly – I’m the boss here. Who are you kidding? You’re the very definition of an imp come to play pranks.

So it is in this next shot, too – you, somewhat younger, maybe only five, smiling, your fingers overhead interlocked, a classroom behind you. It’s a ballet pose and you’re delighted with yourself, as well you might be.

And here’s you, around the same age, in a shirt with yellow and green horizontal stripes, a turtleneck , and matching yellow hairband, pointing right at the camera. You look serious, no smile this time, as if you’re giving an order (imagine that).

Has no one informed you? the look says. You’re here to do my bidding.

Now we see you with me. We’re at some event with people milling in the background. I’m kneeling next to you and you’ve flung out your arms, your mouth wide open, as if in a giddy delirium.

Those outstretched arms signaling your arrival, your presence, your importance, are by now a signature gesture. Again and again we see you in full flower.

The earliest such shot comes in a classroom at your first school. It’s the kind of photo that makes you realize something special was meant to be.

Your whole class is there in the frame, your teacher and maybe eight other kids. Overhead are tubes of fluorescent light. In the background you can make out a giant ruler against the wall, plus a bulletin board bearing drawings by students. The teacher looks quite happy, most of the kids, too.

But guess who’s front and center, arms outstretched? Guess who’s smack in the middle, wearing a tall, red cardboard crown with her name emblazoned in gold glitter?

That’s right, my dear. It’s you, you being unmistakably and unforgettably you. Once again you’ve outshone everyone around you. You’ve stopped the show. Your face and those outstretched arms deliver your message.

Welcome to my world, folks. Let me entertain you. Let me make you smile.

If ever destiny had a foreshadowing, it comes through loud and clear here.

Your Audition with Nanna

Dear Caroline,

We were all at Nanna’s apartment one day and you were going to sing for her. I think you might have told Nanna you liked to sing and she said go ahead, let me hear you.

You were young, maybe eight or nine, still new to singing, but already feeling strongly about it. I remember we were in her den. You were so pleased to be getting an opportunity for a new audience for your singing.

Nanna stayed seated on the sofa and you stood in front of her, hands clasped, and began to sing. It was probably one of those Disney songs you loved, something from “The Little Mermaid” or “Beauty and The Beast,” or maybe it was “Colors of the Wind,” a song you early on claimed as your own.

Whatever you sang, you went right into it like a little professional, all business. I looked at you and saw you focus so hard, your pitch perfect, your delivery heartfelt.
And then I looked at Nanna. She had tilted her head back, her nose in the air, her eyebrows raised.

Her look said, Go ahead with your song, impress me, I’ll be the judge.

I was none too crazy about the expression on her face. The look had a certain hauteur, as if you were auditioning for her and she were some kind of agent or producer or casting director. I hated her at that moment for having such a look on her face. As far as I was concerned, it was the wrong look.

After all, you were her little great-granddaughter. She should have watched you as a great-grandmother should, with absolute approval and affection, smiling and nodding her head up and down with encouragement.

But no, I kept you watching you, then watching her, all the while expecting her expression to change, to improve, to soften. Surely at some point Nanna would recognize your talent and ambition and signal her satisfaction.

But as you sang, her face stayed the same, judging you as if were a cadet going through your paces at West Point. After your song, she corrected your diction and told you how you should stand. I forgot what else she said, probably something like, “That was very nice, dear,” more mild and noncommittal than anything.

No matter. I wish she could hear you now. I wish she knew how much you’ve already accomplished in your career. That would show her. That would wipe that stupid look off her face.

Giving it Her Best Shot: Tennis With My Daughter

Dear Caroline,

You had to be about 12 or so the first time you and I played tennis together. We went out on to the courts at the beach club where we were members for nine years. You must have had on a bathing suit and sneakers, maybe without socks. The tennis racquet looked so large in your hand. We each took our side of the net and began to hit the ball back and forth.

Right away I could see you could be a good player. You ran after every shot hit to you, and tried to return everything, too. You had a strong, smooth stroke, better on the forehand than the backhand. I was excited to be playing tennis with you, and to see how you took to it right away.

I love tennis, first played as a teenager, at maybe 18, but never gave it much time, too preoccupied with basketball, only to come back to the sport years later. And now I was out there on a warm summer day at the beach playing tennis with my daughter.

We played once in a while at the beach club, and then a few times a year at Cunningham Park, and you got better and better. You seemed to learn something new every time we played. You would get in front of the ball faster or bring your racquet back earlier or swing harder to smack a shot back at me.

That was no small skill right there, educating yourself as we played. It showed concern for craft, for performance.

But there was something else that impressed me the most, more than your natural abilities – your quick feet, your smart hands, your grace and your mobility – and even more than the close attention you paid to playing.

Your sharp, unwavering focus.

It was the effort you always made. You always tried your best. I never had to try to encourage you or motivate you, never had to call out and say, “Come on, Caroline.” Oh, no. It came naturally to you, instinctively, to push yourself hard, to try to discover what you could accomplish.

That always made me so proud. Trying hard at anything was a reward I discovered late in life myself, probably in my 20s or so, and even then still none too well. I was just one of those kids who would do my homework or play softball and if I got tired and it felt too hard, I would quit.

Just enough was good enough.

It was only much later that I realized there was never all that much need, when tired, to quit. You could keep going. And if you kept going, if you broke through that barrier of fatigue, you could find new strength, what athletes have called the second wind.

So to see you giving your best every minute at tennis brought me a double pleasure. Unlike me at that age, you had no quit in you. And I’m guessing now, seeing your dedication to everything you do, especially your singing, that you’ll never have any quit in you.

P.S. — Question of the Day: What do you tell your kids about trying hard?

She’s Too Legit to Quit

Dear Caroline,

You’d made up your mind. You had a rehearsal at DiCapo Opera Theatre on the Upper East Side that afternoon and now you’d decided against going.

You were to play Diana in the Irving Berlin show “Of Thee I Sing.” But now, halfway through rehearsals, with the show about two months away, you refused to participate.
We knew you could sing, and you knew you could sing, and everyone at DiCapo knew you could sing, too. You had other issues, as I gathered from Mom.

You knew nobody well there and almost everyone knew everyone else, so you felt out of place, an outsider. You disliked the show, too, and how Diane directed you to sing – the style felt all wrong – and the role itself.

Besides, the schedule of rehearsals had begun to take a toll – all those nights after a day of school, all those weekend afternoons, schlepping in on the express bus or the subway to be put through your paces, practicing the singing and the dancing, going through number after number.

You were only 15 years old, only in your second season at DiCapo, but you felt worn out and cranky, completely out of it, enough so to quit cold. You’d complained before, just a whimper here and a whine there, but this decision – to drop out, to cut your losses – took Mom by surprise.

Mom had asked you to get ready to leave that Saturday morning in March, and you’d said no. It was about 11, the sky grey with clouds.

You have to go, Mom said. You should finish what you started.

I can do what I want, you said. Nobody can force me to do anything.

You have to stop giving up on stuff so easily, Mom said.

I can change my mind, you said.

You still should go, Mom said.

Are you going to make me? you said. It’s my decision to make. Mine.

But this is what you always wanted to do, Mom said.

You’re acting like a stage mother now, you said.

I heard your voices from the other room, right through the bedroom wall. Your voices grew louder, angrier, more insistent. I had no idea what the fuss was about. I came out to find out.

Mom told me and we huddled in the bedroom.

P.S. – Part 2 will appear tomorrow.

She’s Too Legit to Quit: Part 2

Dear Caroline,

Mom and I agreed you should go to rehearsal at DiCapo for “Of Thee I Sing,” no matter what. You’d invested months in the show and so had we, often picking you up by car on the Upper East Side on weeknights to make it easier for you to get to sleep earlier and make it to school the next morning.

We knew it had to be hard going for you, but we also knew from our own lives that doing anything special often turned out to be hard going. If you were to be a singer, as you told us you wanted with all your heart to be, then you would have to get used to the rehearsals, however grueling. You would have to get used to rehearsing even while fatigued, singing songs you might dislike, taking directions you disagreed with, giving it your all while others skimped.
Otherwise you would have no future as a singer. In this moment, we saw all that clearly.
And just as doggedly as you refused to go, we adamantly refused to let you quit. It would be a mistake and you would come to regret it. Worse, if you quit on a show once, you might never try again, or – equally bad – you would get in the habit of quitting.

Mom went out to talk to you some more, and I joined her, and we tried to reason with you. All in all, the argument must have gone on for more than an hour, complete with yelling and crying. Back and forth we went, you making your case, we making ours.

Finally, after all this, your face red and wet with tears, you relented. You would go. You would rehearse along with everyone else, even though you knew nobody there well and felt out of place and disliked your role and felt too tired to sing or dance or smile on any stage.

And go you did.

And come opening night, there you were.

And then, over the next few years, came all the other shows at DiCapo. “The Mikado” and, most triumphantly for you, “Kismet.”

You fulfilled your potential there – just about everyone with eyes and ears knew it – and then you simply outgrew the place.

You would go on to perform with other opera companies – Amato Opera and Opera of the Hamptons, among others. You would appear in “La Boheme” and “The Merry Widow.” Just this past May, you sang at a concert fund-raiser on the same stage as Marcello Giordani, lead tenor for the Metropolitan Opera, and “Phantom Of The Opera” star Lisa Vroman.

I’m glad we took a stand that day. Who knows for sure what might have happened if we had let it slide?

But let me tell you this: I believe it would have made no difference in the long run. Somehow or other, sooner or later, either at DiCapo or elsewhere, you would have come back to doing what we all knew you were always meant to do.

Singing. On stage. In the spotlight.

The Night You Sang Your Solo

Dear Caroline,

You were going to be in “Kismet,” playing Lalume, at the DiCapo Opera Children’s Chorus on the Upper East Side. You went to rehearsals for months, several times a week, on nights and weekends. I had no idea how rehearsals were going because you never wanted to tell me.
What I did know was how hard you practiced your songs at home, and how good you sounded, how strong and beautiful. You would practice in your room, in our bedroom, in our living room, wherever you could find a space to practice, just as always.

And then came the night of the show itself, all those months finally coming down to the opening. The theater was packed, maybe 200-strong in the audience, on this Saturday night, aficionados of light opera from the neighborhood, family members and friends.

And the lights went down and right away we were all transported to the Arabia of yesteryear. Everything was lovely – the sets, the costumes, the songs.

And then came the best moment of all. You came out to sing your solo about Bagdad.
Now, I’d heard you practice the song for months at home, heard you stop to repeat a line, to refine it and rephrase it, holding your arms out as your voice soared.

But this was different. You were no longer practicing at home. Now you were performing for real, on a real stage, in a real theater, in a real production, with a real opera company. The audience had paid for tickets, even dressed up for the occasion.

And there I sat, too, with Mom and Michael, as you took your spot and sang your big number. You sang about Bagdad being gaudy and bawdy, sounding gutsy. It was a tribute to the city and all its life, and it painted a portrait of a time and a place in history. You looked so beautiful, and sounded so beautiful, all your practice now playing out as perfection. You hit every note just right, your heart in every syllable, telling the story you had to tell about romance and intrigue.
And then you came to the end and those last notes. Your voice took flight and swooped higher and higher, climbing and climbing from the unlikely to the improbable to the almost-impossible. I’d heard you practice that finish a hundred times, maybe 500 times, but never here, never at this moment, never in front of an audience. You swept me away. My eyes filled with tears. My jaw must have dropped, too. I felt such astonishment at you – at your talent, your poise, your dedication.

But most of all I felt proud. That was my daughter up there singing her heart out so spectacularly, my girl, my baby.

And all I wanted for you at that moment was for you to feel proud, too, proud of yourself. Always you should feel proud. You certainly have every reason to be.

Riding the Hooky Express

Dear Caroline,

We’re riding on the “R” train, just you and I, going from Forest Hills to Times Square. It’s a weekday morning, maybe 7 a.m. or so, you headed to school at Town Hall, me to my job on Third Avenue in the 50s.

It’s quiet on the subway, the only noise coming from the train itself, rattling and shuddering along the tracks. All the other riders are reading, staring or snoozing.

It feels good to sit next to you like this. Somehow it gives me the idea I’m performing a fatherly duty. I’m there to make sure you get to school safe. Of course you’re already – what? 16 years old? – and most kids younger than you ride the subways without parents tagging along. But those kids often go with other kids, and nobody from Forest Hills goes to your school, so you would otherwise have to head in alone.

Besides, I go to my job at about the same time, in generally the same direction anyway, so we might as well pair up. If you minded me taking you to school, I never sensed it, but maybe I missed something.

Sometimes you leaned onto my shoulder and closed your eyes as we rode along to catch a little extra sleep. Sometimes you told me about a song you liked or a restaurant you wanted to try or what our family might do that weekend. But usually you kept quiet, and if I tried to talk, you might say you’d rather just read or look out the window. No matter.

Those rides with you during your years at Town Hall always felt to me like something of a field trip, an expedition, an adventure. There we were, only the two of us, riding the rumbling train into the heart of Manhattan.

Maybe a homeless man, talking to himself, would ask us for money. Maybe some kid would come on the train with his headset playing music too loud. I felt like your bodyguard, alert to every possible threat, ready to face down any attempt to violate your sense of security.
Once in a while, as it happened, we would entertain the possibility of playing hooky, you from school and me from my job.

“Could we?” you would ask.

“We really should,” I would say.

We would imagine how we might go out for breakfast and, if it were Wednesday, catch a matinee of “Phantom.”

“Let’s do it,” you would say. “I’m serious.”

I would agree. “We really should,” I would say again. “It would be so much fun.”

We would go on about all the places we could go, maybe the American Museum of Natural History or Sephora or some Indian restaurant or the main branch of the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue.

You would skip your classes and go the day without teachers and other students, and I would be free of meetings in windowless conference rooms and calls with clients and hours in front of a computer shooting off e-mails to every reporter and his brother.

Oh, we would stroll through the lobby of the Plaza and maybe even stop for a spot of tea with some crumpets. We would ice skate at Rockefeller Center, counting who fell down the most. We would drop in at Saks or Bergdorf or Bloomingdale’s.

In imagining our doing all this, we would get so excited, you and I, listing all the options, our voices louder, our pulses quickening. It came to feel so real, almost as if we were already doing it.

P.S. — Part 2 will appear tomorrow.

Riding the Hooky Express: Part 2

Dear Caroline,

But we never did it. Never played hooky. It all turned out to be just a game of make-believe, of let’s-pretend, nothing but fantasy. I had a job to do and you had to go to school.
My attitude was pretty set in stone. We each had our responsibilities to carry out, our commitments to honor, and to do otherwise might be a disservice, both to others and ourselves.

How could I let you miss a day of school, especially when you had already missed so many?

How would I explain that decision to Mom?

How could I even justify it to myself?

But as much as I might like to pat myself on the back for keeping us on the straight and narrow, I might have shown a little flexibility. I regret that now. It’s minor as regrets go, but a regret nonetheless. We should have played hooky and done some of the stuff we talked about doing.

Just once.

And then we would always be able to say to each other, “Remember that day we played hooky together?”

I would say. “Remember how I said we could and you said we should and then we actually did?”
And you would say, “Oh, yes. It was so much fun. I’ll never forget it.”

Question for readers: Any similar regrets? Please let me know.

Big Little Sister

Dear Caroline,

Where is he? you would ask. He said he would be home by now. He said he would call. Why does he have to stay out so late anyway? He stays out late all the time. He promises to be home by 3, but then 3 comes and goes, and no Michael in sight. It’s hard for me to sleep with this going on. I’m actually losing sleep over this. If I’m tired tomorrow because of this, it’ll be his fault.

And so it went with you on all of those nights, those many long nights over the years, that Michael stayed out late, stayed out until 4 or 5 or 6 or 7 or daybreak. You would be unable to sleep, waiting for him to call or to hear our front door opening. You would worry so.

Where is he? you would ask again and again. What is he doing? He goes out at night and leaves us here worrying about him. He lets us wonder where he went and what he’s doing and when he’ll be home and how could he do this to us.

He knows we worry about him, you would plead. Does he care? It’s impossible for me to close my eyes until he’s home. He should show some consideration for his sister here. What kind of a brother is he? The kind that goes out late and stays out late and never calls to say he’ll be home later than planned, that’s what kind. How could he do this? Because he’s out there with his friends in a bar having a good time and looking for girls, that’s how.

Friday night after Friday night, Saturday night after Saturday night, this drama wound up re-enacted, same script, same lines, same outcome. Such a good little sister you are, such a protective, fretful little sister. Ah, and then came his girlfriends. Oh, yes. And there you went again.

P.S. – Part 2 will appear tomorrow.

Big Little Sister: Part 2

Dear Caroline,

He’s too good for her, you would say of Joyce or Katrina or whoever he happened to be seeing at the time. She’s no good for him. She’s all wrong for him. I see how she looks at him and how she talks to him. No good. I see how she walks and breathes and blinks her eyes. She does nothing right. Even the stuff she does right is all wrong.

My brother is too good for her, you would say – too handsome and smart and artistic and sensitive. What does he see in her anyway? What’s wrong with boys? He should stop going out with her. What a waste of time. He can find someone better, someone I like, too.

He should get my approval first, you would say. Let me give the girl a quiz or hold an audition. It would be for his own good after all. How does he pick these girls? What is he thinking? He really should let me decide for him. I have much better taste in these matters. Trust me.

Yes, that’s what you would say about his girlfriends, or at least what you would think. None ever quite met your standards, and most never even came close. Either they had no class or forgot to say thank you or just wanted a free dinner or had the wrong eyebrows or never read a book or called at 3 in the morning or acted rude toward Mom or put on too much perfume or had a bad attitude or crossed her legs wrong or liked movies you hated.

Hey, you were just doing your job. A sister has to look out for her brother, even if it’s a little sister looking out for her big brother. You had his best interests at heart. You love him more than those girls ever might, and you always will. Those girls better watch out, now and forever.

Caroline is on the case. One wrong move and they’ll be history. You’ll see to that.

Christmas Comes Calling for Caroline

Dear Caroline,

You start to look forward to the next Christmas right around the second day of January. You’ll talk about it, about everything we’re going to do, about how much fun it will be.

All year, you’ll keep going about how soon Christmas will be here, how it will be the best Christmas ever, even better than last year. You’ll list everything you want to do, ticking off your agenda items rapidfire. And then we’ll do this, you’ll say, and then we’ll do that.

It’s great. Mom and I always get caught up in your excitement, in your spirit, even though we admittedly feel it more in, say, October, than in March. We love how much you love Christmas, every last aspect of it.

How we always go to the “Nutcracker” at Lincoln Center.

How Mom always takes you to see the tree at Rockefeller Center.

How we always have the Vilettas over on Christmas Eve.

The tree at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Tiffany star hovering over Fifth Avenue and 57th Street.

The window displays at Bergdorf Goodman.

The Christmas music we play.

The annual pilgrammage to the Cathedral at the Church of St. John the Divine.

The purchase and bringing home and decorating of our own Christmas tree.
The watching of Charlie Brown and “It’s A Wonderful Life” and “Miracle On 34th Street” and “A Christmas Carol.”

The baking of Christmas cookies, the drinking of hot chocolate with whipped cream.
The anticipation, and opening, of presents under the tree.

Oh, yes, the whole nine yards, maybe ten. You feel Christmas in your soul. It really gladdens my heart to witness your ecstasy every year. I see it as a respect for ritual and tradition, an honoring of commitment to your family and the world.

I know you and Mom share Christmas deeply together. For Mom Christmas means everything it means to you.  It means family. It means reminders of a warm, safe past, of relatives gathered around. Everyone now gone, everyone we miss, is alive again.

It also spells a sense of continuity, that what has happened before is happening again and will keep right on happening, that life goes on, that we celebrate Christmas past and Christmas present and Christmas future all at once, that it’s really just all one long moment, and that we’re all still here together.

Caroline Commences Part Two

Dear Caroline,

We see you now at the Wollman Skating Rink in Central Park in winter. You’re bundled up in a turtleneck sweater, tan overcoat and furry black cap, the skyline of Central Park South soaring behind you. You’re smiling adorably, as usual. But something is different from the other photos.
You’re different.

You’re older now, maybe 13 or 14, no longer quite the little girl. You understand more, know more, see more. You’ve already lived something of a life, gathering experience.

So let’s go one more quick round here with some photos of you.

Here you are with your hair cut shorter, a page boy sort of bob with bangs. You’re wearing hoop earrings and some makeup, lipstick and so on. You’re trying to look older, and you do, beautifully so.

There you are in some kind of leotard, your arms bare. You’re smiling slightly, looking off to the side, and you seem somehow tentative, uncharacteristic for you. It’s as if you sense your girlhood coming to a close, and the dawn of the adult Caroline. You’re unsure quite what to expect, even though you know it will be good.

Finally, we see you now at maybe 18 or 19. You’re wearing a black V-neck, your hair elegantly swept back from your forehand. You’re in a restaurant – maybe Violino, the place we go to near Lincoln Center, before we see “The Nutcracker” – and Michael is seated next to you. Your smile is subdued here, no teeth showing. You’re happy, but grown-up happy. You look gorgeous, every inch the refined young woman. It’s as if you already suspect, rightly so, that the best is yet to come.

A City Girl from Head to Toe

Dear Caroline,

You’re such a gal about town. You’ve gone everywhere in Manhattan that counts. The Upper East Side and the Upper West Side. Soho and the East Village. Times Square and the West Village. Harlem. You know which bus line goes where.

You’ve wandered around the Metropolitan Museum of Art (http://www.metmuseum.org/) and can probably find the sarcophagi and the Rembrandts without a map.
You’ve ambled through the long, tall, cool halls of the American Museum of Natural History (http://www.amnh.org/), admiring the blue whale and the shark’s jawbone suspended overhead.

You’ve attended the opera at Lincoln Center (http://new.lincolncenter.org/live/), and the ballet, too, and of course all the Broadway shows, especially “Phantom” at The Majestic(http://www.thephantomoftheopera.com/new_york/).

You’ve sauntered through all the best stores, Saks (htp://www.saksfifthavenue.com/Entry.jsp) and Bergdorf (http://www.bergdorfgoodman.com/) and all the little specialty shops, too, looking at dresses and handbags and shoes and makeup.

You’ve seen so many of the splendors of the city, the lobby of the Plaza (http://www.theplaza.com/) and Radio City Music Hall (http://www.radiocity.com/) the tree at Rockefeller Center (http://www.rockefellercenter.com/).

You’ve gone to school in historic Town Hall,(http://the-townhall-nyc.org/) and saw great cabaret songs sung there, too.

You’ve gone to so many restaurants in so many neighborhoods, sampling the cuisines and developing a discriminating palate.

By now you must know Manhattan as well as any 19-year-old, and certainly as well as any 19-year-old from — ahem, yes, admit it — Queens.

P.S. – Part 2 will appear tomorrow.

A City Girl from Head to Toe: Part 2

Dear Caroline,

It all makes me so happy, all this gallivanting around town you’ve gotten to do, because I know it makes you happy and it makes Mom happy, too.
Mom has taken you all over the place because she wanted you to live the kind of life she might have wanted to live if she had known back then, as she knows now, that such lives could be lived.

And because if she were unable, as a girl in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to be a gal about town, a cosmopolitan gal, a sophisticate about culture and cuisine and couture, then you might as well be.

And that would actually be even better, because Mom would rather see you enjoy the privileges, the entitlements, the little extravagances, especially now, while you’re young and still forming, than to have had it herself.

It’s given her a chance to share with you a city of secrets and surprises that she never really saw much as a girl herself.

And now I see how you are because of all that, all those trips with Mom, all those lunches and shows and shopping expeditions, how savvy you are about sales and specials and bargains and values, how keenly tuned your eye is to quality, how you know your way around, including how to elbow a rude tourist, a valuable skill indeed.

You’re a real New Yorker, proud, tough, knowing. It makes me happy, too, so happy, that you’ve gotten to be a gal about town, because now you’ll always be one. You’ll always have this upbringing to draw from and guide you every time you go to a museum or look in a shop window or order a dinner in a restaurant.

Question of the day: Is it a plus or a minus for a kid to grow up in a city — and why?

The Girl Who Went Gourmet

Dear Caroline,

You’ll be at some restaurant – okay, let’s just say Frost http://www.frostrestaurant.com/ – looking over the menu. Should I get this ravioli, you’ll ask, or the chicken parmigiana? You’ll ask this question as if the question itself is somehow delicious.

Or you’ll be at Rack & Soul http://www.rackandsoul.com/, again mulling over the choices, all listed before you, with that same sense of the delectable in the offing. Should I get the fried chicken, you’ll wonder aloud, or the barbequed chicken? (You always consult Mom, never me, quite practical of you).

Or we’ll be at the Tower Diner http://www.towerdiner.com/ and you’re debating with yourself between the waffles and the French Toast as you weigh the evidence to render judgment.
Ah, but ordering your choice is only the first of several steps. Ordering the meal involves the delights of decision.

But still, as I see you deciding, I realize anew how much you love food. You’re open to just about any experience. Your palate seeks adventure. And you particularly love restaurants.
Years ago, you would go with Mom to Dawat, that fine Indian restaurant in Manhattan. You would sample all kinds of dishes – chicken curry, poori bread, whatever. The manager there took great pleasure in seeing you arrive with Mom. You had to be all of – what? Seven or eight years old? – quite the pixie. He even showed you the Tandoor ovens personally.

So your current sophistication about food is long in the making. You’re a real restaurant gal.
How many different restaurants have you tried? Chinese, Thai, Mexican, Italian, Burmese, Japanese, Spanish, the works. You’ve eaten at The Water Club http://www.thewaterclub.com/ and Tavern on the Green and that Asian place near Lincoln Center with the overpriced and undersized dumplings. Nick’s, Niko’s, the list goes on and on. Virgil’s http://www.virgilsbbq.com/,
the Pop http://www.popdiner.com/, that Indian place down below the sidewalk with the low ceilings in the East Village.

We should have collected menus for a scrapbook.

P.S. – Part 2 will appear tomorrow.

The Girl Who Went Gourmet: Part 2

Dear Caroline,

Then, of course, once you’ve ordered, comes the big moment: the food arrives at the table. Your eyes take it in, all of it.

Oooohhhh, you’ll say, that looks good.

You’ll take your fork and dig in, your senses on high alert, your palate registering every flavor. You’ll munch on your taco or enchilada or empanada, and smile, humming with satisfaction.
Again and again you’ve gone through this scenario, whether with fried cauliflower or pumpkin ravioli or the greens at Virgil’s or the chocolate mousse or the hash browns at McDonald’s or a sundae from Carvel or the New York Super Fudge Chunk from Ben & Jerry.

It’s lovely to witness. You’re a treat to feed. In your love of food, your appetite for adventure and experimentation, you’re very much Mom’s girl, and Grandma’s, too. Food is one of the great frontiers and you’ve always acted like a pioneer.

Every true parent, every parent with the real nurturing spirit, loves to feed his or her children.
Sometimes, if we’re lucky, that love is reciprocated, with a child, who, in turn, loves to eat – and, better still, is fun to feed.

It’s wonderful you can share this passion with your family, especially Mom. And what makes it all the more special is that you’re also a smart eater. Highly discerning, quite selective, as concerned with nutrition as with taste, a perfect food fan. You understand the secret: food is more than fuel; food is also fun. Your love of it brings me as much pleasure as it does you.

P.S. – Your kids like food, too, right? Tell us all about it.

How Being Different Makes a Difference

Dear Caroline,

I know how different you are from so many other girls. I see how they act, what they wear, the cursing. I have an idea what goes on.

I’ve read the articles and seen the TV news, all about cursing and sex and drinking, all about getting pregnant and catching AIDS. So much stupidity flourishes out there. I know how you might have turned out, going to public schools as you have, mostly in Queens, then Manhattan.
But no. You’re you, after all, and Mom is Mom, and what you were always destined to be, above all, is a little lady. No small accomplishment, that.

Ladies are in short supply these days. Now, by the word “lady” you may think I mean a woman in a hoop skirt who enjoys high tea with her pinkie out.

No. I’m talking about a basic sense of propriety and manners and culture.

You know how to order in a restaurant without sounding like you think the waitress is beneath you.

You know how to make conversation in all kinds of company, and to cite your accomplishments without seeming to brag.

You speak with clarity and courtesy, and know the meaning of “please” and “thank you.”

You’re no stranger to Broadway theater and Lincoln Center and the city’s great museums, restaurants and landmarks.

You can hold your own with anyone.

I’m proud my daughter is a lady, just as you should be. A lady through and through, just like your mother and her mother before her – a third-generation lady. It’s a tradition well worth carrying on.

Sometimes different is good. Sometimes – yes, I’m going to say it – different is even better.

P.S. — Question of the day: Is “different” better . . . or worse . . . or just different?

Sing, My Angel, Sing: The Songbird Portfolio

Dear Caroline,

Once again you’re doing that special something you’ve done so well for so long.

Singing.

“Think of me, think of me fondly, when we’ve said goodbye,” you sing, oh so softly and sweetly. “Remember me once in a while, please promise you’ll try.”

Of all the songs you’ve song, and you’ve sung so many, you may have sung “Think of Me” the most. It might be your signature song, the song that meant more to you than any other, the song that made you a singer. You sang that song year in and year out, sang it until you mastered it and made it yours.

Ah, but before “Phantom” took over your life, http://www.thephantomoftheopera.com/new_york/)
before you ever dreamed your Broadway dream, you sang all those songs from the Disney songbook. You mounted that boulder in Martha’s Vineyard, taking the stage.

“Have you ever heard the wolf cry to the blue corn moon?” you sang. “Or asked the grinning bobcat why he grinned? Can you sing with all the voices of mountains? Can you paint with all the colors of the wind?”

With that song, “Colors of the Wind,” (http://www.disneyclips.com/lyrics/lyrics14.html) you established your ambition to be a singer, declared your identity for everyone within earshot. Your voice, then still so new to singing, quivered with emotion. You invested those searching lyrics with precocious soul.

You were only a little girl, but you sang with a big heart.

P.S. – Part 2 will appear tomorrow.

Sing, My Angel, Sing: The Songbird Portfolio (Part 2)

Dear Caroline,

Those Disney movies got you going, really inspired you. Dreamworks went on a killer streak for a few years there, and you ate it all up.

“Look at this stuff, isn’t it neat?” you sang. “Wouldn’t you think my collection complete? Wouldn’t you think I’m the girl who has everything?”

How well and truly you sang that lovely song. You embodied Ariel and her yearning for love, her search for all life can offer. You captured that song’s tenderness, becoming Ariel, a little mermaid yourself, your voice catching the current that carried you to shore (http://www.disneyclips.com/lyrics/lyrics22.html).

How perfectly timed those movies turned out to be in your life, coming as they did exactly when you emerged as a girl. You had new songs to sing, songs being heard for the first time. How lucky!

And then, of course, you adopted another persona, again that of a young woman yearning, a dreamer and lover of books.

“Tale as old as time, true as it can be,” you sang. “Barely even friends, then someone bends, unexpectedly.”

You transformed yourself into Belle, gave voice to her character. You could sing as her because you felt so much like her, so identified with her. How beautifully you sang that song (http://www.lyrics007.com/Disney%20Lyrics/Tale%20As%20Old%20As%20Time%20Lyrics.html)
and all the others from “Beauty and the Beast,” too.

You were already doing more than mere mimicry, more, too, than carrying a tune that danced in your head. Already, though still so young, you understood the lyrics you sang, invested those lyrics with feelings, with soaring hopes.

You sang and sang and sang.

You sang in the morning and the afternoon and the evening.

You sang in your room and our bedroom and the living room.

You sang because you discovered that more than anything else you wanted to sing, because the songs swelled up inside you and begged to come out.

Who knew back then with any certainty that you were just getting started? Who could have suspected, much less forecast, how many more songs you would sing?

P.S. – Part 3 will appear tomorrow.

Sing, My Angel, Sing: The Songbird Portfolio (Part 3)

Dear Caroline,

“He had it coming, he had it coming, he only had himself to blame,” you sang, doing “The Cell Block Tango” in “Chicago.” “If you’d have been there, if you’d have seen it, I betcha you would have done the same.”

Ah, now you were singing a different tune, a song about murder, and you nailed it. You had to come off as tough in that song, the song an aria of injustice and cold-blooded revenge, hardly what you would call a pretty song.

You showed some new chops here, some real versatility. We knew you could play the princesslike perfection of Belle and Ariel. But now you showed you could play tough, too (http://www.smartlyrics.com/Song235651-Chicago-Cell-Block-Tango-lyrics.aspx).

Singing in key is all well and good, but maybe little more than a parlor trick unless you also know how to tell a story. A song is about the right notes married to the right lyrics, a wedding the singer then gets to conduct. Someone else composed the music and lyrics, but the song must ultimately sound like it’s coming from you – must sound, indeed, like it could come only from you.

We could see you now developing that special touch, that magical instinct, for finding the truth embedded in every song you sang. Every time you sang a song you explored its depths, searched for its purpose, its essence.

So it went with the songs from “Mulan” and “The Mikado” (has any Gilbert and Sullivan fan ever seen a Yum Yum cuter than you? Or better at giggling? Or just generally, um, yummier? I dare say no).

Yet so much more still lay in store.

P.S. – Part 4 will appear tomorrow.

Sing, My Angel, Sing: The Songbird Portfolio (Part 4)

Dear Caroline,

For me, a pivotal moment came when you performed in “Kismet” – and, more specifically, when you sang “Not Since Ninevah.”

Oh, my God. I can still hear the opening in my head.

“Baghdad! Don’t underestimate Baghdad,” you sang, those opening words of warning.

“Baghdad! You must investigate Baghdad! And learn a few of the facts you never knew before.”

You are luring the listener into the exotic, the song now a seduction.

“Our palaces are gaudier, our alley ways are bawdier,” you sang, emphasizing “gaudier,” then giving “bawdier” a gutsy, earthy growl. The song is a tour through a land of lust and sin and decadence, with you as the tour guide. How you pulled it off I’ll never know, Oh, but how you belted the ending.

“No, not since Ninevah,” you sang, soaring higher, “not since Ninevah-eh-eh!” and then “Ninevah,” going higher still, impossibly high, a cry of raw ecstasy.

Unbelievable.

You stopped the show. The audience listened, the room hushed, rapt at your rapture. Everyone burst into hearty applause. I whistled my appreciation as loud as my lips could manage.
In that moment, at least in my mind, and maybe in yours as well, you surfaced as a star.

Nothing and nobody would stop you now. You gave me a thrill I can never forget, the thrill of a lifetime (http://www.allmusicals.com/lyrics/kismet/notsincenineveh.htm).

Oh, I’m leaving out some songs here, of course, or else this account would just go on and on.
I’ve left out “Glitter and Be Gay” from “Candide,”
(http://www.allmusicals.com/lyrics/candide/glitterandbegay.htm) and also “Adelaide’s Lament” from “Guys And Dolls” (where, practicing at home, you again proved you could play a tough cookie with just a touch of bimbo). http://www.lyricsondemand.com/soundtracks/g/guysanddollslyrics/adelaideslamentlyrics.html
And now of course – who can ever keep up with you? – you’re onto opera, doing “Quando m’en vo” from “La Boheme,” practicing and practicing and practicing that aria until you get every note, including those last challenging few, just right (http://www.aria-database.com/translations/boheme3_quando.txt); and also “Spargi d’amaro piante” from “Lucia di Lammermoor” (http://www.beverlysillsonline.com/text/l_lucia_di_lammermoor04.htm).

And through it all, I see how you look as you sing, that expression on your face. It’s utter absorption. You’re living completely in the moment. You’re telling a story, telling it and selling it. You’re on the stage singing, making the songs your own. You’re going through a metamorphosis with each character you play, inhabiting those characters, climbing into the skin of Christine and Mimi and Pocahontas.

You’re proving every day, as you mature at a breathtaking pace, as your voice grows ever stronger and your sense of the lyrics ever deeper, that the stage is where you belong, that the stage is truly your home.

Sing, my angel, sing.

P.S. — A 2010 Daily News article about Caroline:

http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/queens/2010/06/18/2010-06-18_dream_gig_sang_out_loud_overcoming_odds_to_make_her_way_in_the_opera_world.html

My Girl, Dreaming

Dear Caroline,

I’ve seen you smile in your sleep.

I’ll come into the living room early in the morning and look over at you sleeping and every once in a while you’re smiling. It’s just a small smile, your mouth upturned at the ends and spread wider than usual.

I imagine the smile in your sleep means you’re dreaming a happy dream.
Makes sense, right?

I also like to imagine the kind of dream you’re dreaming, what you’re dreaming about. Maybe you’re dreaming about yourself on a stage, singing. You’re at the Metropolitan Opera House for your debut as Mimi in “La Boheme.” You’re looking beautiful in the footlights, the audience finally seeing – and equally stirring, hearing – you perform the opera you were born to perform.

Is that your dream?

Am I at least warm?

Maybe your dream is even broader and more ambitious than that. You’re living on Central Park West, already a star, all your awards on the mantle over the fireplace. You’ve sung all over the world, San Francisco, London, Paris, Milan, doing all the great operas, all the Puccinis and Verdis, playing every major role. You’re still young, still beautiful, and your voice grows still better, purer, more mature. You’re living the life you’ve always wanted.

Is that the dream?

Am I in the ballpark?

I could go on guessing. But this much I guarantee. We’re probably dreaming the same dream for you, the dream that brings you all the joy you deserve. I want you to dream your dream, whatever your dream might be, as long as it’s a dream you can truly call your own.

So dream on, my dear girl. Dream away and dream your dream. Dream long and dream hard and dream big. Dream of the life you want and the person you want to be, of what matters most to you. Then live your dream.

What I Love Most About My Girl

Dear Caroline,

Here’s some of what I love about you, the stuff you do and say that I love best, the qualities that make you so special, that make you Caroline.

I love how you looked as a baby, so adorable with those cherry-black eyes, as Grandma once said.

I love how you cried so much then, too, your cries telling us, “I’m here, I’m here!”

I love how hard you are on the outside, how you took issue with me once and jutted out your jaw and challenged me with the remark, “You think you’re tough?”

I also love how soft you are on the inside, how you used to talk to your dolls in your room (I heard you through the kitchen door), how you grew your hair long so you could cut it and give it away to kids going through chemo, how you cry at certain movies (such as all the Disney classics), and how just about every day you tell me you love me.

I love that sweetness about you, how you’re all heart.

I love how you look so at home on stage, so sure you belong there, and how you sing and dance with such skill and conviction, always going for the right note, the right step, usually hitting it, too, but if you miss it, always trying again until you get it right.

I love how very alive you are, how close you live to your skin, your nerves so exposed; and how intent you get before auditions and shows, how focused and zoned in.

I love how you talk, too – yes, it’s true – how you string together the words so well, the words coming in a burst, a waterfall breaking loose, because you have so much to say, pretty much 24 hours a day.

I love how you love Broadway and opera, the theater and Lincoln Center, music itself, the thrill of performance.

P.S. – Part 2 will appear tomorrow.

What I Love Most About My Girl: Part 2

Dear Caroline,

And I love how you always carry yourself like a lady, and how you climbed on that boulder in Martha’s Vineyard (we should put a plaque there with your name on it), and how you swam in the pool t the beach club like a water sprite, and how you showed me yoga and Pilates and gave me a facial.

And how you never complained about having the smallest bedroom (it’s always made me feel guilty), and how stubbornly you argue and defend your opinions and pursue your dreams.
I love how much you appreciate everything Mom and I have tried to give you, and how you say so, too. I love how much you love Grandma Nettie, and hold her dear in your heart and will always remember her all-powerful love for you.

Did I already mention how much I love how you so often say you love me (yes, but it’s worth repeating)?

I love how you love food (just enough) and how excited you get about dessert and how you love going to restaurants (I even love how you order your meals so charmingly).

I love how you look, too, your pretty face, and how strong you are, doing pushups.

I love how you looked paying the check as a tot at the Tower Diner, your head no higher than the counter for the cashier, and how you looked next to me on the “R” train as we rode to Times Square and Town Hall.

I love everything about you (well, almost – it’s hard to love your once telling me, “I hate you”), and I always will, truly and with all my heart, no matter what you say or do, no matter what happens.

But now let me tell you what I love most of all about you. I love how you sometimes smile in your sleep, and how you laugh, and you know why? Because more than anything, I love seeing you happy.

Saying the Unsaid, Finally, To My Girl

Dear Caroline,

Well, now it’s finally time for me to level with you. I’m going to tell you some stuff I’ve long wanted to share with you but never dared.

No, nothing to be alarmed about. Still, reveal I must.

For starters, you really should let me dance a little in public. It never lasts more than a few seconds anyway. Always I’ve picked up a beat and just need to give in to it. You could just walk over to the side and pretend you have nothing to do with me until I’m quite done. After all, I probably love to dance almost as much as you love to sing.

It’s true.

Next, let me once in a while have a conversation of sorts out in public with a complete stranger without getting all freaked out about it. Again, such an encounter will invariably be brief. Nobody really gets hurt here. Just take a deep breath and let it go.

And if you get an extra minute, clear off your sofa, too, so I can sit there for a spell on a cold winter morning.

Oh, yeah, cut all those tourists a little slack, too. They’re here to enjoy a few days in the great city you and I get to call home.

So that right there is definitely enough of a to-do list to get you going. But I’ve got more stuff I’ve never really dared to tell you. Will I ever get a better chance than this? So please bear with me for a bit here. I’m going to get a little more serious now, more serious than saying you should learn to drive because you never know when it might come in handy.

P.S. – Part 2 will appear tomorrow.

Saying the Unsaid, Finally, To My Girl: Part 2

Dear Caroline,

To begin, you should try to appreciate nature. I know: you’re a city girl, and I’m a city guy, and the city is our preferred ecosystem. But you might take a moment, perhaps in a stroll through Central Park, to marvel at the most basic wonders around you – the sky, the light, the trees, even the squirrels. The planet, in its raw, unprocessed state, free of sidewalks and skyscrapers, is deeply beautiful. Admiring it all will bring you great rewards.

Here’s another piece of unsolicited and maybe unwelcome advice. Listen to all kinds of singers and all kinds of music, even those unrelated to opera. Listen to Ella Fitzgerald and Rosemary Clooney, to jazz and big bands and swing. Ultimately it’s all music and it’s all connected.

Knowing music history will be both instructive and influential. You never know which song from Barbra Streisand or Billy Holiday might teach you something valuable that you’ll later decide to apply.

Oh yeah, just in case you’re wondering, it’s okay with me for you to go out with boys. If I’ve never come out and said that before – and I doubt I have – I say it now. You should get all the benefits life has to offer.

You might also forgive me for anything I’ve ever done wrong. I wish we could have surrounded you and Michael with more family and friends – you deserve the love of others, too – and I’m sorry about that. We’ve closed ourselves off somewhat, for all kinds of reasons – Mom and I are largely solitary souls, happiest among ourselves, our standards high, and we’re also easily disappointed in others – and you tend toward the same attitude yourself. We are what we are, and even though we can change, we’ll probably never change all that much, just enough to get by, if that much.

Now let me share with you just one more urging. It’s important, and that’s why I’ve saved it for last. If it comes last, you might also remember it best. Here it comes, something I’ve long wanted to tell you but never dared.

You really should give yourself a break.

Savor your many considerable accomplishments. You’ve earned a degree of self-satisfaction.

You’ve worked long and hard and smart. You strive to excel. And it’s wonderful for you to be so ambitious, because we know you’re going to get where you want to go. But sometimes I worry you’re too hard on yourself, even unfair. Ambition is both tonic and toxin, and you have to learn to regulate the hydraulics involved enough to get just the right dose. Even those intent on success once in a while take a deep breath.

So please, I beg you, start now. Breathe. Breathe deeply. You can always get back to practicing your singing in a few minutes.

What I Love Most About My Daughter: The Sequel

Dear Caroline,

So now I’m once again going to tell you what I love most about you. Let’s start small, or at least smallish.

I love how pretty you dress, how smartly you’re always pulled together, and how nutritiously you eat, never forgetting to indulge yourself occasionally, and how you read your women’s magazines for guidance and entertainment (books, too), and how you like to watch the same cartoons we watch, “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy.”

I love how you act around others, whether friends or strangers, how polite and ladylike and humble (with nothing to be humble about, by the way), and how much fun you are to feed, game to experiment with your palate, ever the adventurer.

I love how beautiful you’ve turned out to be, graduating from adorable, you with your ballerina neck and elegant jawline and perfect, pampered skin and those dark eyes that can win me over or cut me to the quick, depending on your mood that day.

Now let’s get down to brass tacks, a little more serious if you please.

Oh, make no mistake. I’ll always love how you still wake up in the morning so babylike, clenching and unclenching your hands, and how you’ll always think you’re tough (because you are) and how you looked that day I held you in the pool at Silver Point Beach Club, gleaming so gloriously in the sun. I love all that stuff and always will.

P.S. – Part 2 will appear tomorrow.

What I Love Most About My Daughter: The Sequel (Part 2)

Dear Caroline,

But now, as the years go on, I love so much more about you.

I love how you treat your singing career (only 20 and already you actually have a career!), how professionally you practice all through the apartment and the halls and the elevator and the garage and out on the street, and how you focus so intensely on your studies and learning the librettos and understanding the characters, and how everyone important who ever rehearsed with you marveled at your work ethic, your dedication to craft, and how you always seem to be practicing your singing, even if it’s only in your head, imagining the music you will bring forth from your heart, and how you’re in never-ending pursuit of opportunity, of auditions and openings and opera companies and tours here and abroad, how your appetite for new prospects is insatiable, and how you’ve established and expanded a network of advocates for yourself, with so many mentors instructing you and steering you and encouraging you, Gary and Kathy and Michael, and how you keep improving as a singer, your range widening, your voice stronger and more supple, your storytelling more vivid; and how intently you listen to the singers you admire, the heroes you model yourself after, tuning in to other voices to sharpen your ears and give voice to your own soul, how you’re always educating yourself in the substance and style of it all, reading your issues of Opera News and catching the Met online, and how you hate to be interrupted as you’re singing and studying, how very viscerally you object to it, and how it’s all because you refuse to be satisfied with yourself and your performances until you’re perfect.

So there’s that, your singing and all, so much to love there, and love to pieces, too.

But wait.

Did I say I was done yet?

No.

Just a little more here, more about what I love most about you. I could go on and on, of course, but who would listen? So let me say this.

P.S. – Part 3 will appear tomorrow.

What I Love Most About My Daughter: The Sequel (Part 3)

Dear Caroline,

I love how protective you are of Michael, how much you appreciate your big brother, how hard you laugh at his wisecracks (does anyone make you laugh harder than he?), and how close you are to Mom, how much you respect her and how loyal you are to her, how much you value everything she does for you.

I love how loving you are to us, to those still here and the one now gone, and how you climbed into my lap crying and hugging me the other day because you saw a TV program where something sad happened to a Dad, and how you just kept crying, and I love how loved that made me feel.

I love so much about you, so very much, how you look in that photo from second grade with your arms outstretched for all to see, how you wince at thunderstorms and lightning, how you squeal at the sight of puppies and babies, how you stuck with it at DiCapo and look how far you’ve come since, how you’ve blossomed into a songbird belting your songbook from the treetops, and how you’re just starting out, really, everything still in front of you.

If love is an ache, it’s also a remedy.

It’s the darkest night suddenly brightened by the glow from a firefly, a rainstorm followed by a rainbow, a miracle.

And that, finally, is what I love about you. You’re a miracle. First came Michael and then came you. He showed me how deeply I could love someone new, and you’ve shown me I could love someone else new just as deeply. In a single stroke, you doubled everything.

Every day I love you more, more fully, free of question or doubt, more than I ever dreamed possible. Everything else might come and go. But my love for you is different. It’s here to stay.

It’s forever.

P.S. – What do you love most about your kids? Please tell me.