Read an Excerpt
Go West, Young Man ...
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A lot of the time I feel as if I'm living in a dream. Everywhere I travel with Aaron, people recognize him. I walk by a newsstand and pictures of my two sons smile at me from slick covers. I hear the music of the Backstreet Boys all the time, Nick's voice coming through so clearly to my ears. Songs from their first CD, as well as Millennium, seem to be on every station on my car radio, or in the restaurants I enter, or in stores where I take my kids to shop. I turn on MTV, or MUCH MUSIC, and there's Aaron in his wetsuit singing "Surfin' USA." Sometimes I feel like pinching myself. Is all this success real?
These days, I'm definitely feeling like a cross between the Beverly Hillbillies and the Partridge Family. I'm unpacking Aaron's belongings along with those of the rest of our family and trying to get our new California home organized. I'm getting Aaron and his sistersBobbie, who we call BJ, now seventeen; Leslie, thirteen; and Angel, Aaron's twinsettled.
I'm knee-deep in Diddles. They compete for space around here with Beanie Babies. I suspect they breed when I'm not looking.
BJ began collecting Diddles because throughout Europe the fans hurl them at Aaron the way American fans throw teddy bears and Beanie Babies. Whenever Aaron's on stage, he's a target. A Diddle is a soft, cuddly, furry stuffed mouse with big ears, floppy oversized legs, and a long skinny tail. They are only eight inches tall, but they're biggerthan Beanie Babies. Diddles come dressed upfor instance as brides complete with wedding bouquets or lifeguards complete with red-and-white life preservers. BJ has tons.
In our new home here on the coast of Southern California, Aaron and I are a long way from Florida, where he was born. It was a tough decision to leave the Tampa Bay area. Florida was so much a part of the Carter family dream.
I can remember as if it were yesterday when Aaron's dad, Bob, and I first crossed that Florida state line driving south all the way from New York. Nicky and Bobbie were just toddlers. The first thing we did as we entered the Sunshine State was to scout for palm trees. We spotted one in the median of the highway. We pulled over, jumped out of our van, and gave that palm tree a big family hug, screaming, "We're in Floridaour new family home."
We loved our years in Florida. Aaron played out his early days there among our extended family of elderly residents. Our first home doubled as a retirement home. We christened our family business The Garden Villa because a landscape filled with tropical plants surrounded the house and the outdoor porch.
Bob and I worked hand in hand. He handled the maintenance and the office work. We shared the cooking, cleaning, and the responsibility for the personal care of the residents. Life was hectic; poignant at times, hilarious at others. I talked a lot about that in my first book, The Heart and Soul of Nick Carter: Secrets Only a Mother Knows.
During those Florida years, we Carters went from struggling homesteaders to folks starring in a real-life version of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. There's an unauthorized tape floating around showing Nick as a preteen ogling a jewelry case in the famous New York Plaza Hotel. He was on the Backstreet Boys' first trip to New York, years before they became successful. Young Nicky eyes those gems, then pipes out, "Welcome to Lifestyles of the Rich and Nicky." Well, he didn't know it at that moment but out of the mouth of that thirteen-year-old babe came the uncanny forecast for our future.
Nick's success as a Backstreet Boy enabled our family to buy a beautiful house, a dream house really, on the water in a suburb of Tampa. Aaron and all of us loved the lifestyle of Tampa Bay's Inlet. Our little corner of paradise had a gorgeous view across the canal. We had easy access to the Gulf of Mexico. Life held lots of fun timesbeaches, fishing, boatingfor all of us Carters.
So why did we pack up and move clear across the country just when life seemed more perfect than we could have imagined?
Stardust and Wanderlust
In life you can be sure of one thing: change. Things always change. California promised a different life, more suited to what Aaron and the rest of us Carters need now.
As Nick's fame grew and Aaron's determination to follow in his big brother's footsteps blossomed, our perfect house in our comfortable hometown posed a few problems. Backstreet Boys bandmate Howie Dorough joked on MTV that when tourists came to Florida, first they headed to Disney, then Universal, and then to Nick Carter's home. That's not far from the truth.
Having fans outside the house was a novelty at first. In fact Nick usually would go out and sign autographs with Aaron in tow. It wasn't long, though, before the fans' enthusiasm got out of hand. It started with a starry-eyed few grabbing handfuls of grass for souvenirs. Then plants were uprooted. Pretty soon, our front lawn looked pockmarked. Bob had to put up a large wrought iron fence.
Even when we sat down to dinner for a family holiday celebration, we had hordes of hopeful girls waiting at the gate.
Soon, Nick was gone most of the time touring. In 1998 when Aaron really started to step into his brother's dancing shoes, he and I found ourselves on the road off and on for nearly nine months. We traveled the world to promote Aaron's first album. Countless numbers of young people in a score of countries lined up, eager to hear the newest, youngest Carter boy sing and to watch him perform. Aaron created quite a buzz!
He aroused a great deal of interest even before his CD was released. People in the entertainment business, both movies and television, noticed him. While the Backstreet Boys filmed music videos or attended events, Los Angeles folks wanted to know who was this outgoing, bubbly, mini-version of Nick Carter who was always hanging around the set? Aaron wasn't exactly getting offers at this point, but he definitely was getting more than the once-over, especially from agents.
Meanwhile back at the Carter ranch house, all of the newfound celebrity status surrounding Nick had repercussions on my other children. Up until now my girls had led quiet, ordinary lives. No longer.
BJ, Leslie, and Angel ceased to be like everyone else because they had these famous brothersNick, a legend, and Aaron on his star-studded heels. My daughters became targets of other girls' assumptions as in "Just because their brothers are famous they walk around thinking they're something special." I worried about how their self-images would be affected by such cruel and incorrect labels. Friendships ceased to be easy. My girls' lives were at risk of becoming more cluttered with others' natural curiosities about the teen idol and the new little star whose toothbrushes were right next to theirs.
So our wanderlust in part was a side effect of fame. Another part was exhaustion. After touring with Aaron for so much of 1998, a career in movies and television in Los Angeles looked as if it would offer us a lot of a relief. After all, TV stars like Brandy and Will Smith proved that a television series could launch record sales. Aaron could remain in one placeTV landand still promote his CDs without having to fly around the globe quite so often.
With the electronic highway paved, cyberspace had become a virtual stage. Logging on to the immediate and interactive virtual highway sure beat being in a tour bus literally covering highways in the U.S. and throughout Europe. The Internet could deliver Aaron into the homes of children and young adolescents worldwideand he wouldn't even have to leave his room!
Ah, a more normal life. Time to spend with the rest of the family. That's how our California dreaming started.
A New Place in the Sun
We'd been to Southern California before. The beach in Santa Monica, the locale made famous by Baywatch, is where Aaron filmed his music video Surfin' USA. He likes to think of himself as a surfer, ever since Backstreet Boy Kevin Richardson gave him his first surfing lesson in Hawaii.
So this past summer we headed off to California to explore the possibilities of trading the Gulf Coast for the Pacific Coast. While driving down the coast from Los Angeles, we fell in love with the beach townsManhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach, and Redondo Beach. This South Bay area offered much of what we had grown accustomed to in the Sunshine State: beautiful beaches, piers bustling with activity, and a casual atmosphere. Trails for joggers and hikers, not to mention Rollerbladers dressed in protective gear, bathing suits and little else, seemed to go everywhere. To top it off, if you traveled two hours to the west, you could ski in the Sierra Mountains. If you ventured two hours in the other direction, you could experience the desert.
Beach, snow, trails, desert, all in one neat packageand Hollywood, too. It seemed as if the land itself was beckoning us to move West. Aaron was ready to get out his surfboard wax.
Southern California was the best choice for Aaron. It included Los Angeles, where opportunities abounded for TV, movies, and even recording. Aaron says he loves it because "It's just two minutes from the beach! And I can ride my XR80 motorcycle up in the Mojave Desert. I can run outside and climb down into hills filled with crystals."
Our house hunting led us to a great home up in the hills.
A Room with a View of Aaron
When Aaron lived in Florida, he shared a bedroom with Nick. They were hot stuff together. The key word here is "stuff." There was tons of it. And every time Hurricane Nick came home, stufftoys, baseball cards, clothes, video games, hats, CDslittered the floor. Back then Aaron was the neatnik. At nineteen now, Nick has moved into a home of his own back in Florida. For the first time, Aaron has his own room.
That doesn't mean Aaron sleeps alone. He has a roommate, Oscar, a weimaraner. On a trip through the pet store, Aaron found this mouse-gray puppy irresistible. He named his new pet after a fish by the same name swimming in a tank nearby in the store. Oscar was just twelve weeks old when Aaron fell in love with him. According to my son, "Oscar is the best fetcher of a dog I've ever seen."
"Weimaraners are smart," Aaron also says. "They're descended from bloodhounds." That's the good news. The bad news is that Oscar has a foot fetish. He is forever chewing on shoes. He could do a Skechers commercial, he's so fond of them! And typical of his breed, known for acting like members of their owners' families, Oscar changes from dog to hog at bedtime.
Aaron says, "Oscar grew pretty fast. He loves to sleep on my bed with me. That's become a bit of a problem. He's so big. One night he sprawled across my bed, and there was no room for me. So I finally just got out of bed, piled up my blankets on the floor, and went to sleep."
I wish I'd had a picture of that. I remember going in to check on my youngest and there he was, curled up on the floor alongside the bed. Above, his pet snored away. What's wrong with this picture? I wondered. Shouldn't this be the other way aroundAaron under the covers and Oscar nestled down next to the bed? Yet the two of them looked so content and peaceful, I didn't have the heart to wake either from a perfect boy-and-his-dog dreamland. So I quietly blew Aaron a kiss goodnight, letting sleeping dog and boy lie.
Aaron's room is a window that permits us to see who he truly is. Like a typical adolescent, he is car crazy. He has an assortment of toy cars. Some are the electronic radio-controlled variety. Others, like a red Ferrari, are fantasy vehicles he's made from kits. He has a black Mercedes convertible he is proud to have built. "I put this all together myself, took me fifteen months," he explains to anyone who notices the Mercedes. "It's not from a kit. I'm Proud of every detail. I found all the pieces and fitted them together. I even painted the silver stripe down the middle."
European music awards stand on shelves. His favorite is a beautiful golden old-fashioned microphone. He's got a television and his Nintendo. There's a lava lamp that casts interesting dancing green shadows all over the place. Several ceramic tigers covered with orange and black velvet stripes watch over him.
He surrounds himself with things that he loves. There's a stuffed golden retriever and a silly jet-black gorilla. BJ may have cornered the Diddle market, but Aaron is running a close second here with his growing Beanie Baby collection. Guess who started him on hoarding these little critters? Nick! It presented quite a challenge, figuring out where all these Beanies were going to go.
Aaron and I went hunting around in some local junk shops for just the right furniture to hold his prized stuffed pets. We spied two antique chests, very rustic looking, even if one is very rickety. These became home base to most of the Beanies. Aaron selects from the collection certain favorites to display on his glass and wood shelving unit that he and his dad built.
Here are Aaron's top six
favorite Beanie Babies.
1. Bronty Brontosaurus, the dinosaur
2. Razor, the red wild boar
3. Flutter, the butterfly
4. Bumble, the bumblebee
5. Garcia, the tie-dyed bear
6. Crunch, the shark.
"If you had to trade places and become one of your Beanie Babies," I asked Aaron, "which one would you be?" Sitting atop his spotted Cheetah quilt, his bare feet skimming his soft cream-colored carpet, Aaron petted a couple of his Beaniesa pink Valentina bear and a white Valentinobut selected another, a bear wearing the flag of the United Kingdom where a heart belongs.
"I'd want to be Britannia Bear. She's special. You know, she's only sold in England. She doesn't feel rough like some of the others. Her coat is soft, just like velvet. I love to touch her fur." Yes, I thought to myself, Aaron would go for a soft touch.
While recording in Pittsburgh for his second CD, Aaron had his eye on Millennium Bear. But when it came time to buy a new one for his collection, he bought Kicks, a turquoise teddy bear with a soccer ball for a heart. It wasn't for his own stash, though, but for big brother Nick. It was a moment of truce in an ongoing brother-against-brother war to see who could amass the best Beanie collection.
If Aaron buys little presents for his big brother, it's because Nick got in the habit of shopping for Aaron first. He'd bring home all kinds of sports gear, like the Miami Dolphins jacket that hangs in Aaron's closet from a few Christmases ago. Aaron has a miniature Miami Dolphins helmet he bought for himself. Plenty of stuff, much of it sentimental, all of it Aaron.
A Regular Doctor Dolittle
The Carter house has always been host to a variety of animals. Often they come in twos like our lizards Mariah and Babyface, only one of whom remains. Babyface is our best-behaved pet. He had to live on the bar in our dining room for weeks when we moved in. He never moved. People passing him thought he was stuffed, a knickknack. After I nagged Bob to get that lizard out of the kitchen, Babyface finally made it out back into his brand-new large cage by the pool.
Our pets seem to be growing from pairs into threes. In addition to Oscar, we have Simba, a golden retriever, and Merlin, BJ's new shih tzu. These three are always chasing Aaron or each other. We had two other mini-schnauzers. Unfortunately, that pair went home with Aaron's grandmother for reeducation, and probably permanent relocation. Since we were away so much, the pair had taken to relieving themselves around the house. No matter what we tried, we couldn't break them of this habit. So, we decided our life has become too hectic for the pair. They are now living a more quiet existence on a nice farm in upstate New York. Our cats are down to only one. And last but not least, we have three birds: a white cockatoo named Ladybird, a blue parakeet named Chubby, and a green tropical I'll talk about more later.
Inspired by his relationship with his latest best friend Oscar, Aaron has been taken with the entire subject of dogs and is fascinated by a book I bought for him called The Complete Dog Book for Kids. His nose is always in that book. He's become a regular walking encyclopedia of facts and history about many breeds and which famous kings and queens owned what breed of dog. He can't stop talking about all of the assorted breeds and what part of the world each came from originally.
Naturally, he's busy planning which dogs might play a role next in his life. In his words, here's the latest rundown. "The bichon is the coolest. The Pomeranian is the smallest, some only twenty-one inches. When I get older, I'm definitely going to have a Pomeranian and a pug."
Nick has four pugs that Aaron just loves. Now, thanks to Aaron, I know more than I ever thought I would about the ancestry of our family pets. The shih tzu came from China, thanks to our soldiers who saw them in England during World War II and brought them home. Pugs were companions to Buddhist monks in Tibet. Oscar, Aaron's sidekick, is from a long line of hunting dogs originally from Germany.
Evel Knievel Sleeps Here
Aaron loves to ridebicycles, a motor scooter fitted with a small engine, dune buggies, jet skies, skateboards. His favorite is his motorcycle. He now has a white Honda XR80 that shifts. Aaron and the rest of us go tiding on trails in the Mojave Desert, up the side of a mountain some 6,000 feet. It's beautiful country up there. Bob has taken to calling Aaron "Evel Knievel."
When we aren't off to the desert trails, Aaron's been known to ride up and around our California property's driveway. More often than not he's steering the scooter, not the Honda. Although he does attempt some daring moves, mostly he rides sensibly on the driveway. Yet I know he's thinking about the off-road possibilities. How do I know that? I overheard Aaron as he plotted his extreme cycle route.
"I went out into our backyard, the part that's overgrown, along with my dad and someone helping us move in. I had the machete. I wanted to clear out the tangles of brush to make a track for my motorcycle. As I stepped through a jungle of bush back there, suddenly a big snake popped its head out. I chopped off its head faster than you can say rattlesnake."
One day I heard Aaron revving the Honda's engine around outside. I looked out to check up on him. The sight of a female passenger straddling the seat behind my son took me by surprise. She had her arms wrapped around Aaron's waist and her legs strapped to the sides. They both had helmets on. I don't know who was squealing louder as they took the bumps and the turns, Aaron or his girlwho turned out to be his grandmother Barbara Jean Carter!
Grandma Barbara, Bob's mother, is very close to both Aaron and Angel. Being a twin herself, she's got a special bond with my twins. Grandma Barbara says, "There's nothing that I haven't done with Aaronfishing, shopping, baking his favorite desserts like chocolate cake, peanut butter cookies, and peanut butter fudge. And riding on the back of one of his toys. Neighbors have criticized me, saying things like `I can't believe you are a grandmother and you're doing thatriding that thing,' but I don't care what they say!"
Grandma Barbara worked alongside Bob and me when we ran our elderly care home. She always spent lots of time with us, but the image that wins the prize, surely, is of her with her hair sticking out of a motorcycle helmet getting caught in the wind with my little Hell's Angel.
Living here in Southern California is the start of a new episode in Aaron's life. He dreams of singing his way to fame just like Nick, but also of many other things: daredevil tricks, dogs, fast cars, stuffed toysthat's what my Aaron is made of.