The talent show
There is a saying “the days are long and the years are short.” That is certainly true in parenting, especially in the early years when you aren’t getting any sleep or have any time for yourself; when it feels like bedtime may never come and the house will never be clean again. Then one day, their chubby cheeks are gone and they are growing like weeds, developing incredible personalities all their own.
A few weeks ago, my first grader came home from school and proudly declared that she wanted to sign up for the talent show. It took me a moment to register, because I couldn’t imagine ever choosing to put myself in that situation. Not wanting to be outdone by his little sister, my third grader joined in. They each chose a song to play on piano and barely gave it another thought until the morning arrived.
As the classes filed into the gymnasium, I could see the fear flicker across their faces. My own heart began to pound in a familiar cadence. They looked so far away from where I was sitting, but their fragile innocence was palpable. When it was each of their turns, they hurried across the gymnasium to the piano, took a deep breath and went for it. As their fingers started dancing across the keys, I could see the intensity and focus of their little faces. With each passing note, their confidence seemed to grow, and I finally remembered to exhale. I captured their performance on video, but the actual performance barely mattered. They had already done the hardest part just by getting up at all.
Blinking back tears, I thought back to my childhood and the dark cloud of stage fright that has followed me around since I was a little girl. Performing would have been the very last thing I would have volunteered to do. The thought of being imperfect under a spotlight made me run in the other direction for a very long time. I used to calculate the grade I would get if I were “sick” the day of the speech or presentation. Of course as a type A rule follower, I never could quite pull off that plan. In fourth grade, when we picked a band instrument, I remember choosing the French horn because I could sit near the back and blend in. When I was picked for music solos, I would get nervous about getting nervous---because if that happened, my mouth would go so dry I couldn’t play my instrument at all. I can recount several times that I literally wanted the stage to swallow me whole, when my nerves got the best of me and I couldn’t calm my mind enough to do what I had practiced so hard. It seemed like other people didn’t experience this struggle, or they hid it much better than I could. So, I often avoided opportunities altogether that might leave me exposed and vulnerable.
Declaring a college major was my moment of truth. I realized that I had to face the fear head on or spend the rest of my life wondering with regret. I decided to pursue music performance, not so much to follow my dream as it was about not letting my fear win. Deep down I knew it was not my long-term path, but it was a necessary step to getting closer to my essential self and to living out my purpose more authentically.
The underlying fear is much easier to spot now and most important decisions involve calling it forward and then pushing right through it. The spotlight is still not my preferred place, but when I am rooted in care and passion, my heart beats fast for the right reasons. It becomes about something much bigger than me, and I can let go of the need to seek approval or be perfect.
The morning of the talent show, as we were giving our final goodbyes before school, I gave my kids a last-minute pep talk: to take a deep breath and get grounded before they start playing. Or, find me in the crowd and just pretend we are at home in the living room. Then, we talked about what courage really means---it isn’t the absence of fear or nervousness, it is that we will get up and do it anyway. That is where character is made. When life gets uncomfortable, we can choose to step in and face it, or we can run away to hide in the comfort of the shadows.
I hope they never forget that they have power over that dark cloud. And, that the same courage that gets us on stage or behind a podium is what we need in our daily lives to make change, to stand up for what we believe in, and to speak out against injustice and inequality.
An elementary school talent show may seem trivial, but putting ourselves out there is never easy and requires a lot of practice. Watching them that morning healed something inside. I hope this is just one brave little step in a lifetime of choices to be bold, even when they don’t always feel that way.