she might be mothering me


“I want to perform in the Variety Show this year,” she says.

Oh crap.

That’s the first thing I think. I admit it. Me, a person who has been on stage for most of my life. I think, “Oh crap.” I’m not even sure why.

Apparently, some part of me knows that she is setting her mind to something that will be huge for her—and that I am about to get taught several lessons in the process.

Surrender, with patience.

Something made me take The Surrender Experiment off my shelf recently. Thank god. I’m re-reading it at just the right time:

After months of trying to figure out what she was going to do in this Variety Show (yes, months), our daughter comes home with the flyer announcing sign-ups and the date of the show. The date looks uncomfortably familiar on the page. It clicks. It’s a date I’ve had on my calendar for quite a while now—for something else. Something important to me, both personally and professionally. A Very Important Event. Oh boy.

I decide to be honest with the hosts for my Very Important Event, and I ask the universe to do the rest.

My phone does not ring with a magical solution in the next five minutes. I try for patience.

Two days later, I have a meeting about the Very Important Event. The hosts for the V.I.E. are excellent human beings—both of whom I love and who love me—and we were eating figs in their beautiful and welcoming home. Still, I’m a little nervous. I say that I regret that I have a conflict. These hosts respond, “That’s okay, because we’re not going to do it anyway. We’d like to do something else.”

And that’s that. Their something-else ideas are just right, and suddenly, I have no conflict.

I don’t know. Maybe surrendering to the flow of the universe has nothing to do with that. Maybe it’s just a lucky coincidence. I’m just telling you what happened, and it’s enough for me to keep working with surrender.

Do the work, and then be brave.

So now that the Variety Show announcement has gone home in the folders, our daughter’s preparations begin in earnest. She had thought she’d get something together with a friend, but that doesn’t seem to be working out. I wonder if she’ll decide never mind. Nope. She decides to do something herself. Solo. Her dad has just directed A Chorus Line with his high school students, and he’s been teaching her a little of the choreography from “One.” She settles on that, and he’s on deck to help.

Most nights before bed, they can be seen in the front room or the den—pajamas on and hats in hand (because you have to have a hat for “One”)—learning steps. There are tears. There are high-fives. There is at least one instance of quitting forever—by both of them. But she is persistent. (And so, godlovehim, is he.) This is serious business for her.

The day of the show, it’s just me and our kiddo at home after school. We’re eating an early supper before she gets into the performance clothes she’s picked out, and she’s nervous as shit. She has yelled at me at least three times since we’ve been home, and she can’t eat more than a few bites. She asks, “Mama, do you think I’m going to do it?”

Yes. Yes, I do.

Our child is sometimes intensely introverted. She also has an iron will. She is doing this.

She does.

She gets up on the little stage in the Big Room at her school. She is a tiny seven-year-old in her white Christmas dress and pink unicorn tights on a makeshift stage in front of more than 200 kids and grown-ups. She takes her place, looks out just above our heads, and the music starts. She does every step. It lasts exactly one minute.

She could have gotten up there, forgotten every step, and puked on the stage, and I would have been insanely proud of her for trying it. And still I was so happy that she did all the steps the way she wanted because that was important to her. She had worked so persistently to be prepared for the moment she was going to do something big and scary.

That’s the lesson, the reminder, for me. Do your work, and then be brave. It’s the reason I had tears in my eyes not just for my child, but for every kid who performed. They had done the work, and they were so brave.

I am remembering this lesson right now, as I’m asking a grantor for more money for a huge arts-in-education project. It’s a risk to ask for more. It opens you up to potential criticism. To the chance for failure. I feel a little bit like that tiny person up there in front of everyone in my unicorn tights. Still, we’ve done our work and then some, so it’s time to be brave.

Questions are important.

I’m a question-asker. That’s no secret. You can imagine that after the Variety Show, back at home after a quiet ride in the car, I am asking questions.

I ask her a lot of questions. I do not ask a single question about what anyone else said to her or thought about her performance. And that is hard for me.

See, the day the before, we went to the hair place to make good on a promised birthday present: a pink and purple streak stain for her hair. She was thrilled beyond words with that streak. Just in time for the Variety Show.

The next day, when I took her to school, her friend in the hall yelped when she saw it. She said, “It’s so BEAUTIFUL! I love it!” Kind kid. And then I left.

After school, I asked how she had liked having pink and purple hair at school. And then, I asked what other people said about it. What this person thought. And this other person. And then I asked what she thought Grandma would say. Or Mimah. Or about ten other people I named. And I will tell you she gave spot-on imitations of each of them—what they’ll say and what tone of voice they’ll say it in.

Oh, crap.

I abruptly stop asking that line of questions.

What kind of message does it send to ask so many questions about what other people will say about her hair—or about anything she does? Argh.

My love for questions, my sociology background, my interest in how she views the world, my curiosity about how people related to other people—all of that shows up in my questions to her. I am intensely curious about what other people think and experience.

But I have to be careful. That can—and sometimes does—veer over into people-pleasing for me. And I don’t want to set that up for my kid.

So after the Variety Show, I resist. I don’t ask what other people said to her about it. Because questions are important.

And the next day, when two of my staff members leave suddenly (both with good reason, no animosity) and I need to make quick triage decisions, I don’t ask myself whether this person or that person or the other person will think these are the right decisions.

Because questions are important. Including the ones you ask yourself.

We’re all still learning. An elementary grades variety show was my teacher this week, so if you are getting schooled in unexpected ways, you are not alone in that.