It’s only the first month of summer and my son has already learned to swim. It took three lessons. He’s currently moved on to front flips off the diving board and touching the bottom of the deep end with his toes.
And he’s already experienced his first play. Markus and I are directing Alice in Wonderland at Ennis Public Theatre. Our daughter loves being in plays so we knew she’d enjoy spending all of June rehearsing, but our son was a wild card. Some of you might remember my tale of directing an improv show and my son grabbing my leg and refusing to leave the stage.
He volunteered to go first during auditions for Alice. He’d practiced his song very willingly. His little five-year-old self hopped up onstage and faced the other actors. He proudly belted out the first line and then he suddenly caught fear. You could see him retreat into himself as the tears fell and he looked at me for guidance. I picked him up, carried him off the stage. Markus spent the rest of the audition consoling our son.
This was not the first time this had happened. Once, at an open mic at our studio, our son watched his sister sing and then insisted on doing a dance. But as soon as he hit the stage, he caught that fear, and the confidence he rode in on abandoned him in the spot light.
It reminds me a lot of waiting in line for the roller coaster at Six Flags. Do you remember this feeling? Wanting so much to do what other people could do. Wanting to conquer the roller coaster - to say, “Yeah, I’ve been on the Shock Wave.” And then right when you get up to the front of the line, letting fear take over and stepping through the seat of the roller coaster just to get to the other side. Then watching your friends or family take off without you. Then that inevitable feeling of disappointment in yourself.
Why couldn’t I just go on the ride? Why couldn’t I just do the thing I wanted to do? And then that sense of failure follows you around the rest of the day no matter how many times you go on the Conquistador.
So that day of the open mic, my five-year-old gets in the car, still crying - still disappointed in himself. My seven-year-old says to him, “Don’t cry. You should be proud. You were so brave to even get on the stage.”
Right?! How many times in our lives have we focused on the ending we couldn’t reach instead of the first step that we conquered?
We couldn’t afford daycare this summer so our son didn’t really have a choice. He was going to have to come to rehearsals every day. It would be a big experiment. Would he perform or would he play on his iPad for the month of June?
At first he committed only to being a Card in the song Painting the Roses Red. He would pay attention for the first hour of rehearsal, disappear for awhile, drift in a out for the rest of the morning. He slowly became aware that two of his friends were playing lobsters at the beginning of the show. One day, one of the wonderful mothers helping with costumes sat me down in front of my iPad and said, “You need to order your son a lobster costume.”
I started to protest, “He won’t...”
She said, “Just trust me. Order one just in case.”
The next time I said, “Ok, I need all my sea creatures onstage,” my son appeared. As we ran through the song, he sang and he danced. And when his lobster costume came in, he tried it on proudly.
When it came time to block the opening number, my son was eager to run across the stage with his friends. When it came time to block the last number, I purposefully kept my son offstage just to keep from giving him too much. But when he said, “Am I supposed to be in this?”
I said, “Yes, run onstage and stand here.” And he did.
Then I realized that at one point in the show, I needed a lobster to return to the stage. Two of my lobsters would be changing into flowers. So that only left a single lobster option.
He was up for the challenge. I gave him his blocking. I even gave him a line.
My lobster son says, “yay” while everyone else onstage says, “no”. It’s supposed to be funny.
Do you know what happened opening night when he said “yay”? The audience laughed. And I saw the look on my son’s face. The joy. He did it. And the audience got him.
On Sunday, I was backstage for the show. My son came offstage in his lobster costume. As the other kids headed into the dressing rooms, I asked my son what I could help him change into. Non-plussed he said, “Nothing. I stay in this.”
And then he went and sat in a chair backstage, he sat on his lobster tail, used his lobster claw hands to wipe his curls out from underneath his lobster headpiece. I marveled at the young man waiting patiently for his turn to take center stage and say “yay” while everyone else is saying “no”.
I hope he always does that.