№36 Front Row Center

Photo by Felix Mooneeram on Unsplash

I took my 15-year-old daughter, Tashi, to see Hamilton. Our seats were in row W, which was W rows back. They weren’t bad seats, but they were all the way on the side, and for $350, I wanted the best. Before the show started, I walked to the front and spotted two seats in row G, right in the middle — the only two open seats in the entire theater, as far as I could see.

Tashi and I had tried for better seats before, in a movie theater. We bought shitty seats in the first row because that’s all that was available online, but when we got to the theater, there were only a few people there. We sat in the middle and ate our popcorn. A few minutes later, the seat owners showed up so we moved back a row, which was entirely empty. Then just as the trailers were ending, a huge group came in and filled up our whole row. Tashi and I laughed. We looked around and by this time, the only seats open were our two in the front.

At Hamilton, Tashi shot up and we went for it. We rushed past two ushers who asked if we needed help. I said, “No thanks, we know where our seats are.” Our butts hit the chairs and the lights went down.

For the first two songs, I worried the owners of the seats might show up with an usher who would shine a flashlight on our tickets and cause a scene. But by the third song, I forgot we were trespassing and enjoyed the rest of the show. We were seven rows from the stage. We could see facial expressions and spit flying. It was awesome.

Everyone seems to love to brag about seeing Hamilton. I love to brag about snagging such good seats. But when I told my friend Robert, I didn’t get the high-five I was expecting. He acted like I had stolen something. Then he questioned my parenting judgement.

Robert doesn’t have kids, so I dismissed his concerns and bragged to my brother. My brother was impressed. He has three daughters and was pretty sure they, especially the older two, would never have the guts to take empty theater seats. He held out hope for the little one. I took all this to mean he thought I was a stellar mom.

Last Sunday, my family got together for a birthday party. I asked my brother’s oldest, Rachel, who’s 23, if she would have taken the better seats. She’s super smart and logical, someone I’d hire to do pretty much anything. She said, “No. I’d be nervous that someone would come after the first song or something. Also, taking the better seats feels wrong since we didn’t pay for them and the people around us did.”

What? I argued that no one was losing anything or getting hurt by us taking the seats. The people around us had those seats whether or not anyone else sat next to them. I conceded that I do have big hair, but that I didn’t think I blocked anyone’s view.

I asked Danielle, the middle child, who’s 21. Danielle is also super smart and logical, someone I’d hire to do pretty much anything. She said it would be embarrassing if the seat owners showed up and then she’d miss part of the show. She said, “After watching the TV show, The Good Place, I’m very invested in making sure I do the right things in life.”

Who is this good? I argued that taking the seats was the right thing. I was teaching Tashi to go after what she wants.

Natalie was my last hope. She’s younger, 18. She’s more renegade. But she’s also super smart and logical, someone I’d hire to do pretty much anything, so I worried when she started to talk. She said she wouldn’t take the seats if she didn’t pay for them unless the entire theater was empty.

Good grief.

This Hamilton question reminded me of a time, several years ago, when I took Danielle grocery shopping. She was probably eight at the time. She was hungry and I told her to open up the Chips Ahoy. But she wouldn’t.

When I brought this up last Sunday, she said, still today she wouldn’t eat the cookies because people in the store would think she was stealing and the people who worked there would look at her sideways and she’d have to constantly assure everyone, “Don’t worry, I’m gonna pay.”

I haven’t once been to the grocery store with my kids when they didn’t eat half the Chips Ahoy, the Cheez-Its, and the beef jerky by the time we got to the register.

What I realized is my nieces genuinely want to do good, but they are also afraid to be perceived as law-breakers. They care what people think. I’d do anything to relieve these girls of that self-consciousness. But as a parent, I have to wonder if eating Chips Ahoy before paying or sitting in better theater seats that are empty are the gateway drugs to harder crimes. So, I’ve been wondering: Will my daughter drive to the front of a long line of cars and then merge into the exit lane? Will she use power tools and then return them to Home Depot? Will she become a tax-evader?

I can use only my own experience to answer these questions because Tashi’s still a kid. So according to me, the answer is no. I don’t cut in line in traffic, return power tools, or evade taxes. I just don’t.

But I do see an opportunity and take it. Why? Because I’m entitled? Maybe. But isn’t everyone else in the theater watching Hamilton? For sure my nieces are as entitled as I am, so why didn’t they jump at the seats? Or why did I?

I don’t know, but I want to teach my kids to be like me in this way. If they see an opportunity, take it. I want them to take a chance and to risk feeling embarrassed. Otherwise, they’ll always be sitting in row W.


This is №36 of my #weeklyessay challenge, which I started the week I turned 50. My goal is 50 essays in 52 weeks.