A few nights ago, I watched my little girl teeter on the razor sharp edge of her own comfort zone.
It was the night of her school's annual winter performance of Robin Hood. For weeks, the whole school had rehearsed, made costumes, painted props, memorized lines and sequences. Each day my Kindergartener had been so excited to go to school and participate in rehearsals, especially watching Robin Hood and Maid Marian iron out the kinks in their parts. At home she quoted the Sheriff of Nottingham (or, in this case, the Sheriff of Aptos). Each day we counted down the days till The Big Night.
And then the day was here.
We parked the car on the dusk-darkened school field and climbed the steps up to the gym, glowing invitingly in the icy stillness. Inside, the kids were a frenzy of costumes & face paints & props.
In the happy chaos all around us, Nia clung to me, suddenly unsure.
I want you to be with me, mama.
"OK, baby. Let's find your costume."
Once her simple costume was on, she re-affixed herself like a starfish to my leg.
I want you to be with me, mama.
I stalled. I was supposed to leave her with her classmates and wait outside. She was so nervous, but I knew she'd be ok. I knew she wanted to do this. (Right?!)
Finally: "Parents are supposed to be outside, sweetie. Look, do you want to get your face painted?"
She did, and so she un-suctioned herself and we parted with big hugs and kisses. I went out to stand in line with the other excited parents while the teachers helped the kids with their last minute preparations. The minutes ticked by. We rubbed our hands together and stomped our feet, smiled and chatted, eager to see our kids shine. Finally the doors were opened and we moved into the warm auditorium.
"April!" I heard my name shouted over the din.
When I turned, there was my sweet girl, tears streaking her freshly painted face, sitting in her teacher's lap. I rushed to her. Nia made no move to leave Rosy's lap, but she grasped my hand with urgency. "What happened?" I asked.
"She's going to try," Rosy said by way of explanation. Nia nodded stoically.
And then I understood. Anticipation. The icy fingers of stage fright were gripping my child's throat, stirring up the butterflies in her too-sensitive stomach.The ugly, bat-like ones.
I nodded and hugged her and tentatively found a seat close by.
Looking around, I realized my child was the only one crying. The only one looking terrified. The mama bear in me immediately bristled and I thought 9-foot tall Grizzly thoughts: What if she doesn't want to do this? Maybe she doesn't want to be an actress! I wanted to scoop up my cub and flee with her, deliver her away from the feelings in the pit of her stomach.
But I didn't.
I did not in that moment gallop with my child over the Aptos hills into the sunset (or moon glade, as it were). I sat there, teetering on the edge of my own comfort zone, uncomfortably waiting to see what would happen.
What happened was simple and predictable: the show started and my child became distracted, transfixed. Seeing her relax, my heart beat slowed and the adrenaline in my system was replaced with the oxytocin of an enjoyble time.
And when it was finally her turn to be part of the 9-person dragon (you didn't know there was a dragon in Robin Hood??), she rocked it. As the dragon left the stage, she lifted the costume, beamed and waved to the cheering crowed.
And no one was more proud of her for sticking with it than she was of herself.
And I realized that had I rescued her from her stage fright, I would have been robbing her from something even larger. Something truly valuable.
Maybe she won't grow up to be an actress, and maybe she won't seek out the stage, but what she learned that night was huge:
- The satisfaction of seeing something through
- Of being part of a group
- Of working together to create something only possible by the accumulation of many smaller pieces
And yes, of pushing herself outside her comfort zone into new, sparkling territory.
After the fact, I researched & found great Washington Post piece that summarizes the importance of performing arts for children: Top 10 Skills Children Learn From The Arts