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Life may suck, but this 'Life' is amazing

"I just wanted people to know that, even though I had a disability, I can still have a good life." Cole Massie9-year-old wheelchair-dependent karate student...

"I just wanted people to know that, even though I had a disability, I can still have a good life."
Cole Massie9-year-old wheelchair-dependent karate student

Kids say the darnedest things. In the personal videos 20 children shot for TLC's new documentary series, "My Life as a Child," they also say the funniest, wisest and most gut-wrenching things.

Inspired by the BBC series, TLC asked producer Amy Kohn to compile the most fascinating, insightful footage she could gather from select American grade-schoolers to give a television snapshot of children's lives in the early 21st century.

After appeals sent out last year to schools, YMCAs, Boys & Girls Clubs and specialized organizations, some 400 children ages 7 to 12 sent in video snippets of themselves. From those, 20 were chosen to be the directors, stars and main camera operators for this six-episode series that begins Monday. Most shot for four months and submitted 40 tapes.

Two of three boys profiled in the premiere are from Southern California.


"It was a lot of footage," Kohn said. "It was fun to go through it, though. We got to see a lot of kids playing their favorite games, telling you about what they thought was important. And I think all the producers on the project felt really privileged because we really did get to know the kids and get to know their families, and they were really open with us and shared so much about their lives, and also really trusted the process.

"We told the parents up front, to us this is the children's project. So we didn't want families to be watching tape before they sent it to us, or telling their kids: 'We don't want you to talk about this or that.'

"So it was a real leap of faith for parents to trust that everything would be fine."

Kohn and the other producers talked each week with the young director/subjects and also with their parents so that there were no secrets about what was on video.

"Some of (the families) took a while getting used to it," Kohn said. "But I think across the board everyone felt it was really cool to let their children talk about what they wanted to talk about and share their feelings about their lives."

Monday's opening installment looks at Marc Yu, a 7-year-old piano prodigy from Monterey Park who has appeared on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno," and Cole Massie, a 9-year-old Atwater Village boy with a delightfully sunny disposition despite the serious challenges cerebral palsy has thrown at him.

The third child in the episode, 7-year-old Joshua Bynum of Baltimore, tells a story many L.A. kids can identify with: He is frustrated because he cannot play outside in his own high-crime neighborhood and sad that he must go to his grandmother's safer area during the week to attend a better school.

Each of the subjects touched Kohn and the production team.


"I love Joshua," Kohn gushed as she talked about the deep familial love that bonds the boy and his baby sister to their strong, determined mother and grandmother.

Cole, the wheelchair-dependent karate student profiled by Daily News columnist Dennis McCarthy last September, captivated Kohn with his audition video. "He told us his three wishes, and I think his third wish was to be a good person," she said.

Cole's footage captures his passion for his sport, the love he feels for his caregiver and his companion Labrador retriever - and his "never say never" outlook.

"I just wanted people to know that, even though I had a disability, I can still have a good life," he said in a phone interview.

He's still into karate, he said, and if you ask him about making more movies, he'll tell you about his big plans for a stunt-heavy action film called "The Police Gun."

"We have a vivid imagination," his mom, Michelle, interjected.

Michelle Massie said the family had some reservations about taking part in "My Life as a Child," including her husband's shyness and the burden of camera gear on top of everything they already must carry to tend to Cole's needs. But she felt compelled to do it.

"I thought it would not only be a neat experience for Cole, I wanted being a kid in a wheelchair to be a really positive message, not just for other children who are not disabled, but for those who are," she said. "If there's something you want to do, figure out a way to do it."


The story of Marc Yu, the pianist who performs in white tie and tails with professional orchestras, is both extraordinary and ordinary.

"I think to me the thing (that's) most poignant about Marc Yu is the moment when he hurts his hand playing in the park," Kohn said, recalling his tumble from a scooter as the camera rolled. "And the contrast. He's just being a little kid, and every kid falls down, but here's a little boy who falls down and hurts his hand, and that could completely affect and change his future and what his goal is."

She said she was struck by that dichotomy in a boy who comes out in formal wear, performs a challenging sonata, takes a bow and then runs off to eat a gooey dessert and then play.

"It's kind of what the series is about. No matter what, kids are kids, and they do need to play and have a release of energy and that sort of thing. As wise as these children are, all of them are still children and they love to play and be with other kids and be silly."

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