My daughter Maria is always excited to do just about anything. Literally. Just about anything can be turned into the most exciting adventure through her mind and eyes. Whether I pick her up early or if I ask if she wants to run to the store with me, whatever the scenario, she has the magical ability to turn it into the possible event of a lifetime and usually, without disappointment. It has gotten to the point that I rarely give her specific information about our plans because when I do, the result is a never ending barrage of questions. When are we leaving? Where are we going? What time will we get home? The list goes on…and on…and on.
She has only lived with me for three or four days of the week for the past 12 of her now 15 years, but for the most part, when she is with me, she is with me. We do stuff. We may spend some tired hours on the couch watching a movie here and there, but we do stuff. Together. I guess that’s a little unusual for most 15 year olds, but Maria is not like most girls her age. She doesn’t have a lot of friends to hang out with and go places with. Her disabilities affect her capacity to make friends, so we hike, we go on adventures, we play with animals, we shop distant and local stores, we see live music. We do normal and not so normal things, but I always try to keep her moving and learning and having fun. While we make our way to and from our escapes, we are always listening to music- usually my music, which she has grown to accept and in many cases, embrace. I’ll never forget the morning I was driving her to school when she was very young. Twisted Sister was cranking from the car speakers and while stopped at a light, I heard a little voice squeaking out the words, “…we’re not gonna take it!” A proud parent moment, indeed.
Maria loves living in the country, but she also loves visiting the city..well, she loves everything. When I saw the ad for the ten year anniversary production of Rock Of Ages, I knew it would be a great birthday surprise, so I booked the tickets. Great seats. Right up front. During her six month, daily birthday countdown, she would give constant hints of what she wanted to do on the big day- one of those things was to go to the city. My response, as usual was, “we’ll see,” which to Maria means, yes, of course. In her mind, “maybe” and “we’ll see” are affirmative answers. This in turn led to a non stop, high speed train of the never ending questions- When are we going? What are we doing? Will we get home late?
Thankfully, the day finally arrived and with some clever planning and assistance, Maria was convinced she was going out to dinner on that fateful evening- until I got home from work and she read a card which told her today was the day for her birthday trip to the city!
On our way to NYC, I contacted my cousin Betsy, who lives there and she graciously offered to go to the restaurant we were having dinner at so we could meet our newest cousin, six month old Lincoln. Maria was absolutely thrilled, as she has been asking steadily for months…six months…to see him. They arrived at the restaurant and Maria was all smiles! She loves babies and she loves her family and this little guy was both. The evening would have been complete enough for her right then and there, but there was more to come.
After dinner, we rushed to get to the theater on time- and just made it, thanks to Betsy and Jon. That’s where the next surprise was unveiled- we are going to see Rock Of Ages! The play that is comprised of 80’s hair metal music and memories. Once again, her face was erupting with happiness. We walked to our seats, right at the edge of the stage. Any closer and we’d have to be on the cast payroll! The show was great- the band was awesome and Maria was singing along to several of the songs. At the end of the first act, she turned to me with a huge grin on her face and said, “Daddy, she smiled at me!” She, being one of the cast members who was onstage directly in front of us for most of the show. I was worried that Maria was going to lose interest as the show went on, but with the attention from one of the actresses, she was instantly reengaged. She watched, clapped and sang through the rest of the show right up to the end. After a standing ovation of applause, the cast returned for a curtain call. The young lady, who I now know is Zoe Birkett, was directly in front of us again. With a big smile, she bowed and looked down to see my daughter’s big brown eyes fixated on her. She then gave Maria a little wave. This simple gesture nearly brought me to tears, as I watched the smile on my daughter’s face grow even larger than before. Then, as if Zoe knew Maria was someone special, she knelt down on the stage, while the rest of the cast was basking in the adulation and she extended her hand to my little girl and gave her a high five. For a moment, it was as if there was no one else in the theater. Then, as she turned to walk into the wings, she reached down and grabbed a prop hundred dollar bill from the play and handed it to Maria. At this point, my allergies must have been kicking in, as I had to wipe my eyes, watching my little girl smiling a smile so big that I thought she was going to burst.
We grabbed a few pieces of sparkly chrome confetti from the stage steps and made our way out to the lobby- as we did, Maria turned to me with the biggest smile possible and exclaimed, “This is the best day of my life!”
Reflecting on the night’s events and the extraordinary kindness of a talented actress/singer, I felt the need to express my gratitude to Ms. Birkett. I shot her an email thanking her for having the ability to find the special person in the crowd who needed to be reached out to. She was kind enough to promptly reply:
“Wow Mike , thank you so much for your lovely email , it made me cry !! I’m so happy your daughter enjoyed the show and felt a connection with me as a performer , I remember her face , she was so happy!
As a mother myself to a little toddler age 2, I know how it feels to see such joy in their eyes, I’m touched at your email. Please send her my love and I’m pleased you both enjoyed the show!“
Thank you Zoe- for restoring my faith in the world for a few more moments. There are still good people out there who appreciate what they are blessed with and can give a child the thrill of a lifetime through a simple gesture- and thank you Maria, my daughter who doesn’t care about having a disability or being different. She only cares about other people, all animals and enjoying every best moment of her life- the present one, and especially the next one.