Saturday night, as we rounded the corner in Penn Station, my seven year old and I nearly tripped over a terribly unfortunate homeless man, passed out cold in a pool of his own urine. Tightening my grip on my son's innocent hand, I swiftly guided him towards the turn-styles, without comment. I've known my son long enough to know that a question about that man was imminent. But that didn't make it any easier to have an answer at the ready when he asked:
"Mom, what happened to that man?"
Under the blaring fluorescents of the 34th Street Subway Stop, I squeezed his hand a little tighter. How do you begin to discuss the wicked chain of poverty, hunger, homelessness, untreated mental health, and drugs with a second grader? His sparkly blue eyes, finally able to register and process the nitty and the gritty of NYC, looked at me, yearning for understanding.
Choosing words slowly and carefully, I began to talk about the unfairness of this world. Of being born into messy situations, of lives without opportunity, of bad choices, and unlucky turns of fate. He interjected every so often, with a sadness in his voice that comes with heart-breaking maturation and worldly realizations.
We came up for air at 42nd Street, Times Square. The cold October air shocked us into a snuggly walk as we approached our destination, Dave & Busters (a super fun restaurant/arcade/sports bar - perfect place for a special date night with your kid). Thankful to be off of the sad topic of global poverty, I announced, "We're here!!"
But, I wasn't off the hook yet. Standing in front of the entrance was a guy in a shabby looking Elmo costume holding a tips bag, looking at us with pathetic, enormous, chipped plastic googly eyes. I waited for it ...
"Mom, what's with that weird Elmo guy?"
Riding the escalator through the throngs of people making their way up to the 3rd floor of fun, I explained that the guy in that Elmo suit didn't have a lot of money and was just trying to make some cash.
"But, we didn't give him any" he said looking at me with a little less sparkle.
The hostess greeted us and we were in. Thanks to my friends at Mama Drama, Isaac and I had been invited to participate in a New Victory Theatre Family Circus Workshop held in one of the party rooms at Dave & Busters. There was food, (Isaac said the mini-pizzas were the best he's ever had), a juggling lesson with a young and energetic New Vic teaching artist ("Go, Mom!" Isaac cheered when I got on a roll with my neon colored scarves), and lastly a chance to play the hundreds of enticing video games (Isaac was on a roll with the enormous Doodle Jump game, while I showed off my skills at ski-ball). Before we knew it the party was over and it was time to cross the street and take our seats at a performance of URBAN at the New Vic.
We passed poor Elmo as we crossed the street. Isaac said nothing while I silently wondered if I should give the destitute muppet some money.
Distracted by the comfort of the majestic theatre, we quickly found our seats and opened the playbills to read about the show. URBAN is a show starring performers from the Circo Para Todos school in Columbia. I read aloud to Isaac:
[Circo Para Todos is] the first professional circus school in the world specifically dedicated to disadvantaged children and displaced youths ... CPT works with young people from the most in-need barrios of the region, allowing them to transcend their difficult backgrounds in the most spectacular way: as world-class artists on stage performing with a volcanic energy that can be felt in the very back row.
His wheels turned as the lights dimmed. "Mom," he whispered as the show began. "Does that mean everyone in this show was poor?"
"Yes," I whispered back." They all came from really difficult situations, without a lot of money, but then they worked really hard, and studied at this circus school, and now they get to perform all over the world."
"And they're not poor anymore?"
"No, not anymore."
Loud music curbed our hushed conversation as these Columbian street kids (turned acrobats) took to the stage, performing impossible feats of strength and skill. We ooohed and ahhed our way through the show, wishing that the lyrics were in English instead of Spanish so we could understand the context better. The performers were increíble.
On our way back to the train, we wondered together what would have happened to that man we'd seen earlier in the evening if someone had given him a circus school to go to when he was a kid. We decided he probably wouldn't be homeless today if that had happened and felt sad together that we'd never really know.
Somehow my plans for "dinner and a show" with my little boy, turned into something so much more. His eyes are open to the world in a new way. Parenting now involves navigating the reveal of the world's harsh truths while encouraging his power to make a difference within it. So thank you to Dave & Busters and The New Victory Theatre, for treating us to a night that opened our eyes and inspired me to empower my child to find his own feats of strength and skill.
FOR MORE BLOGGING BUZZ ON THE NEW VICTORY, VISIT MAMADRAMA'S BLOG.
SANDY RUSTIN is an actress, writer, and mom. Her critically acclaimed musical, Rated P ... for Parenthood, premiered Off-Broadway in February 2012 and will begin running regionally this fall. She appears regularly at Upright Citizen’s Brigade in “Gravid Water”(named "Best Improv Show” by Time Out NY). For more scoop on Sandy visit www.sandyrustin.com or read her blog at RatedPforParenthood.
Disclosure: Dinner & show were comped. Opinions are completely my own.