Everyone has at least one defining moment in childhood. One snap decision or event that solidifies their identity. My gangly neighbor, for example, threw an astounding three-pointer that won an important basketball game in high school. He went on to receive a full basketball scholarship from Penn. The neighbor to my left – a perpetual understudy from the age of six – was called to play Annie one night when the real one came down with the Chicken Pox. She now has an Emmy.
But for me there were three moments that defined my childhood. The first involved my mother’s car – an old, muffler-challenged Fiat. She sputtered into my private school on my first day of kindergarten, and the sound/exhaust/flying paint chips(?) turned the heads of all the moms and daughters who had just floated in via purring Jaguars.
That morning cemented my identity as the new girl with the crappy car.
My second moment involved a bag of pretzels. Not any bag, mind you, but the low sodium kind. The kind with big round sticks, not the cute pixie rods that normal people eat. I had a small group of friends over after school one day – I had acquired some, despite my cool car deficit – and when snack time came around, I pulled out…The Bag.
“Ooh, these are gross!” Jessica complained.
“Yeah, they taste like toilet paper!” added Michelle.
“Well, my Stepdad is on a low-sodium diet,” I explained. “Everything we have here is salt-free.”
I then became the girl with a crappy car and snacks.
My third defining moment happened one night while watching Doogie Howser, M.D. on TV. Here was this kid – my age – who had achieved greatness (A doctor! Saving lives!) before he could even drive. He accomplishes more in one hour than I probably will in my entire life I thought to myself. Doogie became my weekly slam – the girl with the crappy car, the crappy snacks with a crappy future due to her average, if not crappy, brain.
Anyway, I muddled through my teen and adult years with little incident – secure with my crappy status – until last Saturday night. Laguna Beach throws a Gala event in celebration of their world renowned Pageant of the Masters and each year, a different celebrity hosts the event. So when I was invited as guest, that was my first question.
“Who’s hosting it this year?”
“Neil Patrick Harris” the Public Relation director answered.
“As in…Doogie?” I asked.
“Well, yes, among other things.”
I couldn’t believe it. I was actually going to be in the same room with him – the guy who served as my perpetual juxtaposition to all things crappy. All things me.
“You can interview him, if you’d like.” She said, breaking my silence.
“Yeah, yeah, that would be great…” I muttered through my fog. “Thank you.”
I spent a long time getting ready that night. I wanted to prove to him that – although I may not have amounted to much – I at least have nice hair when shampooed, blown out and straightened and that I have nice taste in shoes. Hey, some people think I’m pretty funny, too. That may not save spleens or anything, but laughing is good for people’s health, too, right?
When I arrived at the event, press was swarming, my heart was pounding – I almost turned around to go home. And then the PR director broke through the crowd and escorted him to me.
“This is Sugar Mama.” She said. “She’s a writer. OK if she asks you a few questions?”
“Sure,” Neil Patrick Harris said with a smile. And then she left us alone.
“Um, I don’t really have any questions…” I stammered.
“Okaaay…” he said, confused.
“But may I, um, tell you something?”
“Okaaay…” still confused.
And then I explained my crappy existence, and how crappy I felt watching his show because I knew I’d never amount to anything remotely like Doogie and, “Well, I just felt like sharing that with you.”
This was how I handled my once-in-a-lifetime meeting with Neil Patrick Harris.
“Well, what did you amount to?” he asked me.
“A writer. And, well, you know – since you asked – I’ve won some awards and stuff, and, well, I guess I turned out…”
“…Pretty OK, if you ask me, Sugar Mama.” And then he gave me a hug.
You see, those childhood moments do define us, but sometimes we don’t get the meaning until much later. Like that morning at school in my mom’s crappy car – what you drive has nothing to do with your worth, I learned. And those pretzels – nutrition should be a priority in ever family’s household.
I learned nothing from Doogie, as it turned out. Comparing yourself to others – especially fictional characters – is a waste of time. Neil Patrick Harris, on the other hand, taught me that hard work, commitment and a little bit of grace is what makes a person successful.
But I guess I already knew that.
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