Knocked Out: But A Christmas Baby Keeps on Singing
by Guest-Nancy McLoughlin
My son Collin McLoughlin was born on Christmas Day, which was not at all my plan. There is nothing like that holiday birthday to ensure that your child doesn’t become a diva. But as the very first grandchild in our family, there was much fanfare leading up to the event. The Christmas holiday that year dovetailed with the arrival of my two sisters, who did a lot of “what does it feel like?” during the labor.
Although I failed, I spent life determined to spare any offspring the doom of a December birthday. My own is December22nd. I know what it means. All my own childhood parties were combined and shared with sister’s Lee and Megan in their birth month of May. When the grass is green, no one is as exhausted, strapped for cash or busy. It was like being a birthday foster child. No one really took it seriously and sometimes people forgot to bring the third gift, because honestly, why bother?
But having a December birthday builds character. I see that now. It breeds fighters and lowers expectations about what the world owes. It is one more secret weapon for life’s journey. And so when our Christmas baby Collin landed a slot on the current Season 3 of “The Voice,” NBC’s #1 rated show, it was cause for celebration among us. The challenge brought the old feeling a child has when Santa Claus just might be coming.
After 100,000 singers tried out, Collin made it through two NY City auditions and then on to a pre-audition in California before an invitation to the blind auditions in L.A. There were lots of hurdles to jump through. Ultimately he made it on, and selected Adam Levine as his coach. Later he was stolen by Blake Sheldon before exiting the show.
The program format includes a taped series of episodes, (two thirds of the season) followed by the live portion which will end sometime right before Christmas. In other words, it is a LONG time. For months during the tapings I waved away discussion about “what’s to come” for my son Collin.
Fort Knox I am not known to be and it was challenging to keep the secret, for the better part of a year. My two sisters, proved a trusting place to park such valuable information. They were my vault and by confiding in them, I could still adhere to the “only family can know” interpretation of the rulebook.
During the tapings in L.A., we understood that we might be monitored, even taped at all times. With no way to confirm when and even if big brother was listening, my sisters and I developed a simple sister code phrase that only we could break. We were gone for nail biting weeks at a time, and the sisters were eager for updates on Collins progress after each challenge. We settled on our own phrase, equivalent to a “thumbs up, he made it to another round.” It hails from a time in our history, an era of elephant bell bottoms and Bonnie Bell lip smackers.
A neighborhood baseball game went sour when the batter drove a hit right down the line and it slammed into my younger sister Meg’s forehead. The term traumatic brain injury hadn’t yet been invented and neither had the MRI. But the word concussion had.
The pediatrician instructed my parents to wake Meg up at intervals during the night and ask a pre-arranged question to which she was to deliver the correct pre-arranged answer. If she seemed confused and did not recall the phrase, then the family Buick Skylark was going in gear to the hospital for observation.
For our secret sister Voice updates, we used the same phrase from Meg’s concussion night. My nerves were fraying from several nine hour audition marathons and a west coast time difference, but I dialed the phone and uttered the code into the voice mailboxes of the sisters. After that it was their problem to keep the secret as they went about life in a small summer town where everybody knows everything.
Sister Lee and Collin forged a bond very early in his life because he belonged to all of us in the way that very first children do. I am glad we named him Collin, avoiding the advice of some who thought Christmas Day was a great naming opportunity for “Nicholas,” or “Jesus” or “Noel.” Collin was a chip off the old aunt block and had terrible colic, (like Lee did). It was so intense, Lee was the only one we could trust to babysit without beating him, or overdosing him with cold medicine as one baby nurse did.
Blood curdling screams and infant barf were her reward for harrowing hours that felt like a gift for us to safely run away from. Surely it curtailed Lee’s initial desire to rush in and start a family of her own, especially since our mother always lamented how horribly colicky she was as well. Thanks to Bob’s gene pool, none of her kids suffered with it. Just mine.
At Lee and Bobs wedding Collin wore his very first suit, making a celebrity appearance as only the first grand-baby can. It was a large scale social event at which Collin showed early promise as a performer. We had to leave early, rushing off before the bouquet was thrown, exhausted and disheartened after Collin refused to quiet down. At the time we could have cared less if his commotion would someday morph into a healthy set of vocal pipes. We were barely getting through.
The day after Hurricane Sandy hit our home, we huddled in darkness hoping only for a glimpse of that evening’s “Voice episode. The town was without power or cable TV but the universe eased up enough to comply with a mother’s desire to witness a son (for the last time) on his network T.V. journey.
Trapped by fallen trees we snuggled under blankets. With an hour to spare, my husband drained the last of our gasoline into the portable generator and discovered a way to rig our ancient satellite box to receive just one TV channel, (and in some quirk of electronics, it would have to be the last one viewed before the power was lost)!
NBC was what we wanted and that was what we had. After a full day of jaw dropping storm coverage, Brian Williams took a break from his extended news report and turned the airwaves over to the singers. Despite rain and wind and the stuff that makes disaster on TV hard to turn away from, NBC made a local programming decision to suspend the sadness for a showing of that evening’s episode of The Voice. We all knew what was going to happen for Collin but there is a huge difference between “knowing” and “seeing.”
Collin watched his Knock out round live (no one has a preview of how things are edited) and made a graceful exit from the competition after Michaela Paige a feisty high school rocker with a pink rooster comb was designated the winner of their elimination round. Their battle was like pitting Kermit the frog against a popular and trendy Pokeman character. They are both so different.
Despite the sputtering generator and spotty service, Collin fought to send the obligatory “thank you” twitter to his fans, timed appropriately and coordinated by the show along with his exit. ”Darn, it isn’t going through,” he said concerned it might appear that silence indicated a case of poor sportsmanship rather than storm constraints.
The Voice is not over for our family. Sequestered, gagged, and gossip-neutralized for months after the taped shows, we can now sing to the rooftops because anything can happen in the live shows and we have no more secrets to share.
What a wonderful experience it has been, a fantastic way to tap into America’s continued fascination with its newest top sport. The McLoughlin family has by no means lost its Voice. We have lots of new friends left to root for in the competition. I can still join in on the e-mails of other cluck clucking moms on the show, some of who have singers that are finished and others who still have some distance left to run, and Collin is headed back to L.A. to spend some time rooting for his friend at the end of the Voice from backstage.
On behalf of every mother that sat through years of school shows or singing pageants that made their ears bleed, I say “thank you” to shows like the Voice who give the aspiring musician a way to be heard. It does take a village. And “thank you” to a home town, and to an extended family of aunts and uncles and cousins and sisters who embraced an opportunity to cheer from the sidelines, making every play feel like a wonderful holiday celebration.