Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Strange girl post two- Teaching the things we CAN'T do.

I woke up with the lines of a song in my head:

"When I was young and unafraid, when dreams were made and used and wasted."
I Dreamed a Dream, Les Miserables. 

I figured my morose mood last night brought the song to my mind, but its themes came in handy this morning.

Ainsley and I listened to a few different versions of the song before she headed off to school. Les Miserables has been my favorite musical since I first heard it in 1993.  I sang selections from it in twelfth grade Chorale and saw it live at the Kravis Center of West Palm Beach in 2004.  Ron sweetly surprised me with tickets for Mother's Day that year, scraping up the cash for very nice seats.  I sang Castle on a Cloud and Little People to the girls when they were younger.  Ron gave me grief about that second song and he was probably right.  

Since it was a musical kind of morning, I printed off lyrics and listened to Ainsley practice a song she and a friend want to audition for the school Talent show. This is where it gets sticky. 

Ains has many incredible talents and abilities but she didn't end up with Onnie's voice.  Or mine for that matter.  That might be too cruel to put in print.  Is it?  I have listened, mentored, practiced with her...done all the things I know to do to help her improve.  She gets picked on by other kids when she sings.  Ron and I have endless conversations on the subject- he is afraid she is going to grow up to be one of those poor people auditioning for American Idol, who have been told all their lives they can sing when they really can't.  He says it is my job as her mother to tell her the truth so it doesn't come harshly from a stranger. 

But how does one crush a child's dreams like that?  Girls grow up in Disney culture these days- they want to be Selena Gomez and are told by advertising that with the right clothes, hair, make-up and go get 'em attitude, they can be the next star.

As parents, we are our kids' biggest fans- we teach them that they can do ANYTHING.  But singing, like any artistic vocation, requires some natural talent for success. 

I have pondered and prayed and stalled.

I thought about my writing and how I would feel in the same situation.  I would want the truth even if it hurt.  If I couldn't put two sentences together coherently in an entertaining fashion, I wouldn't want Stephen King to be the one to tell me.  I would want my mamma or someone else who loved me very much to break that news, and give me hope in another dream that could be possible for me.  Wouldn't you?

I knew I had to talk to her. But how to begin?  I thought back to the song in my head when I woke up this morning, the song I can still sing note for note, A Capella, without missing a beat. I started there. 

"Ains, did you know that when Mommy was your age I wanted to sing on Broadway like the woman we listened to this morning?"

Blank look.

"Do you know why I never did?"

The blankness turned skeptical, her right eyebrow slightly raising.  She's a smart one, she knew this was headed somewhere maybe she didn't want to go. 

"Well, you remember how Mommy can't dance very well?"

"You can't dance at all Mommy."

Well, okay.  Ouch.  But true.

"Do you remember me telling you how I tried to dance when I was in middle school?  How I took dance lessons?"

Ains nodded.  Oh yes, she remembered my story of almost knocking out another dancer due to my clumsiness.  God didn't grant me much physical "grace" as a kid. 

"What does that have to do with Broadway, Mommy?"  She was probably remembering that the woman we watched this morning stood very still as she sang.

"Well, honey, for most Broadway shows you have to be able to sing and dance at the same time."

"OH."  One little word from her.

Tie it together, Val.  You can do this.

"Sweetie, I decided to give up my dream to be on Broadway because I knew my dancing would never be good enough to make it.  Plus, I was very afraid to perform in front of people back then.  But...BUT.. that was okay.  Because I had another dream, a bigger and more exciting dream than that.  Do you know what that dream is?"

"No." She was getting grumpy now, sensing this was all gonna tie into her but she still wasn't quite sure how.

"Think about it sweetie- what does Mommy do?  What do I love to do?"


"That's right sweetie.  I write.  And you know what?  Getting my words into print is way more important and fun to me than dancing ever would have been."

The wrap up...Lord help me.  Honest prayer.

"I had a dream to be on Broadway.  But that wasn't the best dream for me.  Writing is the best dream for me.  I believe God gave me talent and desire to write."

Deep breath.  Maybe if I rushed the next three sentences, she would never notice the first part.

"Honey, singing might not be the best dream for you either but that's okay because God has given you amazing talents that are going to be so exciting and fulfilling for you to use and we are so so proud of you and all your accomplishments and"

I didn't even try to breathe in there.  I knew it was going to be painful and awkward. I am sure other moms pull off conversations like these with buckets of grace, leaving their children's self-esteem intact. Those kids probably even feel BETTER about themselves after the conversation.

But me? Oh I was sure I had screwed this one up in a big way.

Ainsley heard the first part all right.  Her face crumbled, tears sprang up behind her glasses and the accusation flew out of her mouth, pointed straight at my heart:

"YOU DON'T THINK I CAN SING?????"  She jumped up ready to fling herself toward the stairs, feet stomping and hair flying. 

I was quicker.  I grabbed her in a hug.  Comforted her.  Held her tight.  We talked.  She cried.  I did too.

But I didn't back down on my sentence.  I couldn't.  It would only cause her more hurt later- by a stranger, by someone who doesn't care about her feelings one bit.  

The truth- Ainsley doesn't appear to have the natural talent needed to make singing into a career.  I could continue to raise a child, letting her believe she has the talent to become the next blond haired blue-eyed little singing doll in the Disney empire.  Or I can choose to raise a child who will one day be an adult, telling her the truth and letting her release this dream to find the dream that is uniquely and only HERS.   

Who really cares if she doesn't make it as a signed music artist? 

She will grow up to be a violinist, painter, Olympic swimmer, writer like her Mamma, school teacher, doctor, zoologist, lawyer, actor, fashion designer, mother, wife, or a hundred different things.  Ainsley has things to accomplish on this Earth that only she can do with her unique talents and abilities.

Honest- it wasn't the best morning.  I probably forever forfeited my Mom of The Year award for getting into that discussion BEFORE school.  Ugh. I would love to say she walked out the door feeling great about herself.  I don't think that happened. 

I am still glad I told her the truth.  I believe it will open the door of her little heart wider to embrace all the POSSIBLE exciting amazing dreams God has for her. My bet is on fashion designer.  But this is my caring Ainsley Kat we are talking about- she will make sure her creativity brings good for those less fortunate around her.  TOMS better watch out! 

So here's to dream crushing.  To saying "you can't" so when your best comes along, you can say I CAN. 


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