The kids have been working in school for over a month on their holiday program. We pick them up and they sing holiday songs in the car. They sing holiday songs all over the house. They sing holiday songs until we think they must be tired of singing these same four holiday songs and then they sing them some more. They do “sincere choreography” (as in pointing down and then to their heart to signify “from the bottom of my heart”) to every song they sing. They love to perform for us.
J has been through two dance recitals in her life thus far. The first one I was sure wasn’t going to happen. She went backstage with all those older girls and saw the size of the stage and completely freaked out. I followed my instinct and stayed with her for a few minutes as they all warmed up behind the curtains and then left her with her teacher thinking my presence would likely make it worse. She hit the stage and felt the spotlights and turned on the stage presence. She loved it.
N’s never had a chance to perform in this way. He’s played three seasons of t-ball and a season of basketball (with kids on his team almost twice his age), but never has he been on stage in a play or recital. So when Wednesday rolled around and H texted me “Houston we have a problem” I should have seen it coming that it might mean that N was experiencing some anxiety.
At one point, during the first few weeks of school, his teacher had heard him making up his own lyrics to one of the songs they sang in class and she asked him to stand up in front of the class and teach it to them and he froze. This is also the kid who tries to hide when people come to the house, even people he knows well. But this is also the same kid who can be the littlest guy on a baseball team and yet have no problem taking his place at the plate or fielding grounders in front of a whole group of strangers.
So, Wednesday, he broke down with his teacher and told her he was scared about being up on stage. Being the great teacher she is, she talked with him about it, and told us about it as well. As soon as she told H about it at pick-up, N immediately broke down. I told her to tell him it was like going up to bat, and to ask his sister about her experiences. (Incidentally, all J managed to get across to him was how scared she was – not exactly the helpful thing we were going for). So when I got home we talked a little about it, and I told him that it was ok to be scared and that other kids were scared too. And that I had a very special thing for him to help him that I would give him Friday morning before the performance.
Yesterday we tried to talk it up in terms of “aren’t you excited,” “won’t it be fun,” etc… I told him it was ok to be scared and he wasn’t the only one nervous in his class.
So, this morning, we all woke up and started getting ready. The kids were encouraged to wear their “holiday best” so N was going to wear his Christmas eve outfit for church and J was going to wear last year’s Christmas dress (yes it still fits, no she’s not wearing it on Christmas this year). When everyone was dressed and ready, I ran up to my jewelry box and took N to the kitchen table.
“Buddy, this is a very special rock, called a worry stone. You put it in your pocket when you have to do something that’s kind of scary and when you feel nervous or scared you can put your hand in your pocket and when you feel it you’ll know that your Mommy and your Momo and your Aunties and everyone who loves you is with you and everything will be ok.” We passed the stone around to H and T and J and all of us gave his rock a kiss and then he put it in his pocket. He started to tear up and said, “But I’m still scared,” and I told him that was ok, but that the rock would help him. Then I pulled J aside and she said, “But I don’t have pockets in my dress mommy.” I told her that I had something else special for her, and gave her a necklace with a tiara charm on it (I wish I’d thought to go to the store in Old town that has crystals – next time). I told her any time she was nervous she could put her hand up to it and know that we were all with her (of course we all kissed it for her too). Off we went to school.
Nervously sitting in the school cafeteria, camera and iPhone in hand, the curtains opened and all the kindergarten children were distributed among the risers with a row of children sitting on the floor in the front, including N and J, separated by only one other child. Instantly, I could see N scanning the audience for us, and even though I’d made sure we sat smack in the middle near the front and all four of us were waving frantically at him he still wasn’t catching any of us in his line of sight. You could see him start to panic. The teacher was sitting on the cafeteria floor, just in front of the stage, so all the kids could see her. She started to motion to him to look at her and he was trying, but he couldn’t stop the panic. He put his hand in the pocket with the stone. I moved out of my seat and knelt behind her so he could see me and pointed to where the rest of our group was. I made funny faces at him, smiled at him, and sang the first song with him. He cried pretty much through the whole first number.
As the second song started, he started to relax, and lo and behold he even had a smile on his face. He was enjoying himself! I started to take more pictures and was able to catch J’s eye a few times and my heart swelled as she would give me a big cheesy grin. One of the songs had a piece of choreography that had them putting their fingers to their noses, and she would cross her eyes just to make me laugh.
N continued to smile and sing and do all the choreography. His hand came away from the stone and he clearly was starting to have fun.
20 minutes after it started, it was over. The teacher turned around to me and mouthed, “He made it!”
The curtains closed and I motioned that we would see them in class. He so badly wanted to get up and tell the class he had been scared but it was fun, except as soon as he got up in front of the class the stage fright hit him again. By then, all of us there to see N and J perform were in tears. The teacher hugged him and let all the kids go out to recess. I talked with her briefly about how we’d worked with him and she told me that he’d been crying about it in class. Apparently, at one point he’d raised his hand to talk about being scared and J piped in, “That’s my brother, he’s nervous, he has two moms.” Way to lay it all out there, girl.
All in all, I count today as a success. Had he completely lost it and walked off stage, it still would have been a success because he tried. But I’m so proud of his perseverance and his willingness to keep trying. When we got them home, he hopped out of the car and said, “Today was a really fun day.”
It sure was kiddo. I know I’ll never forget it.