I knew the first time I drove into Pittsburgh that I was in trouble.
I’d just moved from Reno to the small Pennsylvania town my husband grown up with. My daughter was visiting from Oregon for the holidays and we took a drive three hours south.
As soon as I drove over a bridge and saw the skyline ahead of me, I knew.
What I didn’t know until recently was that the view that took my breath away was the same one that made Charlie and his friends in Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower feel infinite.
But I did know immediately: We were going to have to move again.
That’s a traumatic thought, six weeks or so after moving across country. It wasn’t something I wanted. I wanted to fall in love with the little town we’d landed in. At least enough to stay there until Ruby graduates high school in four years.
But there’s an arts-based high school in Pittsburgh. Right there, at the base of that bridge. And God, she belongs there. I knew it the second I saw it.
I didn’t fall in love with Pittsburgh because I miss living in a city — although that’s at least some of it. But I’d been to Erie and to Buffalo before I went to Pittsburgh that first time and neither of those lovely cities made me feel an urge to move.
No. There’s something about Pittsburgh that sings to my soul. You know how sometimes a place just becomes one of your places? The whole state of Nevada is like that for me, of course. And also Long Beach, where I grew up. And New York City. And Nashville.
We left it up to fate.
Since there was no way we were moving in January — we’d barely started unpacking in the house where we were and we had a six month lease on our house. Plus Ruby needed to finish the school year where she was.
But Ruby applied for that school — the art school — for her ninth grade year. She applied late because Pittsburgh wasn’t even a blip on the radar when the deadline passed. But they were taking late applications, to fill spots if any remained.
Ruby wrote an essay about art and why it matters to her and what it means to her to be an artist. And her school counselor and art teacher sent in recommendations.
That was it. Just that essay, those letters, and a standard fill-in-the-blanks application. No art samples.
That was in January. When Ruby was still the new girl in our little town. When she barely knew the girls who would become her crew. Before she started working at her aunt’s roller rink on Sundays. Before she joined a soccer team and a basketball team and her band teacher asked her to think about the marching band.
And we waited. And waited.
Through the longest, grayest winter I’ve ever experienced. Long enough that it seemed like the school probably either hadn’t chosen Ruby for a late audition or wasn’t holding them at all this year.
Long enough that Ruby was talking herself out of even wanting to go — maybe staying with her new friends and her new teams and her fun little job and joining the marching band would be okay. Better than okay.
Last week we went out for Thai food after a soccer game and Ruby said she thought she wanted to stay in Warren after all. And (of course) two days later we got an email. Ruby was one of five kids called for a late audition to the visual arts department of this high school.
I don’t know how many kids turned in late applications. And I don’t know how many openings they have.
My kid is an absolute perfect fit for this school.
The right mix of talent and enthusiasm and work ethic. They made it clear they’re looking for kids who work on their own, without adult direction, to become better artists.
They don’t want to see the art she created in class. They want to see what she creates when no one is watching.
She has to put together a portfolio of fifteen pieces of art, plus bring her sketchbooks. She’ll have to write an essay on the spot, discussing a work of art. And complete a drawing under observation. She’ll be interviewed.
I wondered if she’d be upset that she was finally called for an audition. I think, though, that she was maybe trying to protect herself from disappointment by trying to find a way to be okay with not being offered the chance to audition at all.
And also trying to protect herself from having to make a tough decision.
You Can’t Choose What You Don’t Know
I want my daughter to know her options, even when it’s hard.
My baby has been humming with excitement for a week.
She has worked for this, every day since she was ten years old and read Raina Telgemeier’s graphic novel Smile and decided that she wanted to be an artist. She’s worked at it every day. She’s become an artist.
So, Pittsburgh. I’m a little sick to my stomach at the idea of packing up and moving again. I wish I could skip over the moving part and just be moved.
We’re not actually quite done leaving it up to fate. Kevin and Ruby and I are going to Pittsburgh next week for her audition. It’s hard for me to imagine this school not seeing what I see — that Ruby is their ideal student. But they might not.
Or I might be wrong. It happens, sometimes.
One of the most anxiety-ridden experiences in the world is watching your kid put herself out there.
I want her to show up, to see if this school feels right to her. I told her that she’ll know, in the three or four hours it takes to audition — she’ll feel it in her gut if she’s supposed to be there.
But what if she feels it and they don’t offer her a spot?
I truly believe that there’s value in getting your hopes up that has nothing to do with whether or not your hopes materialize. It’s very easy for me to embrace that for myself. It’s harder when it comes to my kid.
This is the part where I take a deep breath and help my daughter understand the value in risking disappointment. Whether or not she’s offered a spot at this school, I hope she understands the value in trying and in getting excited about something she has no real way of knowing will turn out the way she wants it to.
Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She is an out-of-place Nevadan living in Northwestern PA with her husband, three superstar kids, two dementia patients, a good friend, Alfred the cat, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter @shauntagrimes and is the original Ninja Writer.