Whitney at age four, performing for us
My daughter is ten and she is auditioning for ANNIE tonight. This will be her second musical. She was in the ensemble for THE LITTLE MERMAID this Fall and absolutely loved it. She has always loved to act (what child doesn’t?), but in her case she does it at any possible opportunity. My husband recently caught her in the act at dinner. She sits on the side of the table which faces the picture window out to our back yard. He kept noticing her studying the reflection of her own facial expressions and mouthing things to herself as she ate. He explained why he had changed her seat to the other side in a whispery tone, and I couldn’t help but smile.
The last few days she has been sneaking away to her room to work on her lines and her song, quietly closing her door and falling off the family radar for twenty or thirty minutes at a time. When I call up to see where she is, her tone begs to be left alone, “In my rooooooom”. When she eventually comes down and I ask what she has been doing, she casually shrugs and says “Oh, nothing.” When I sit with her and watch her sing (she has invited me in a few times to listen and offer feedback), I am undeniably amazed. As she gently sways with the rhythm, she looks so at home with the lyrics, so poised, and graceful. Her voice is young, as she is still new to singing. I mentally take note that her vocal chords did not come from me. A few times I’ve sung the song for her, hitting notes that are so completely off-key that we both end up laughing hysterically as we flop onto her bed. Two days ago, we had finished a fit of giggles and I said, “Seriously, I am amazed you are doing this. It takes real courage. I don’t know if I could do it.” She smiled at the compliment, then looked me right in the eyes and asked me how many people would be trying out for the orphan roles. The protector side of me desperately wanted to shield her from disappointment, so I set expectations low and I gave her a high number. “Oh no,” she said in a little voice that showed signs of defeat before things have even happened, “I might not get a speaking part.” I tried to back-peddle, by reminding her in an upbeat voice that anyone can be in the ensemble. I knew then that she is nervous, that this matters to her. Part of me is terrified for her, and part of me is thrilled that my child feels emotionally invested in something. Her realization of what she is up against is visible on her face, and the way her eyes look to me for reassurance remind me that ten is still so very young.
The try-out tonight consists of a memorized monologue and singing “Maybe” for the director. When we arrive, the kids sign in and indicate which part they would like to be considered for. Parents will speak in hushed tones and jittery voices as our eyes scan the room to see who else is there to audition. A few will settle in to the sparse row of metal vinyl chairs lining one wall, but most of us will pace, fidget, and wait for our child to be called. I’ll be in full cheerleader mode, showering Whitney with words of encouragement and praise. The moment she gets invited in, I will be sitting there in a twisted ball of butterflies and nerves wondering how my girl is doing 100 yards away behind the heavy wood-paneled door. I’ll be feigning a calm smile, flipping restlessly through my phone. Secretly, I’ll fantasize that I could burst into the room with pom-poms and a banner, screaming like a mad-woman, “She is great! Take her, please. She will be amazing.” Of course after that, I would have to sheepishly slink out to the parking lot to fly my helicopter home, having totally shamed and embarrassed my child.
I know Whitney will be thrilled to be part of the show, no matter what. In the end, the weak link is me. As a mother, I question whether I am ready for the possible disappointment and rejection that may come after tonight. Then I remember how much more of this lies ahead: not making a certain team, scoring poorly on a test, not being invited to a dance, being made fun by classmates, or a first-love that fades. Multiply that by three children, and I feel emotionally overwhelmed. It’s too much for one person, to let your own heart hurt every time something doesn’t go right for your kids. As a mother, their mother, I can be sure my hand is never too far away, but I have to step back and let them go.