I swear sometimes I feel like the universe is laughing hysterically at me. Parenthood is the ultimate paradox — we are hardwired to risk our lives protecting our children from harm, and yet at the same time we can’t suffocate them from experiencing life. Whether we like it or not, we have to allow our children to feel disappointment. While I know that’s what we should do, it’s not always something that I want to do.
We have to let them struggle.
We just returned from a cruise to the Bahamas for Mardi Gras break. It was our kids’ first cruise and a much-needed getaway for our family. There is nothing quite like lounging poolside, basking in the warm sun, eating endless soft-serve ice cream. (By the way, I never want to eat again.)
Once on board, we saw that there was going to be a talent show towards the end of the cruise. Immediately, my son declared that he wanted to sign up for the show to play piano. We headed down on day two for him to sign up. We were greeted by the happiest Activities Director named Mauricio who sadly informed us that the show was for adults only. We were about to leave when he stopped us, “Look, let me get an idea of who will be performing and I’ll let you know.”
I put it out of my head. He had scribbled my stateroom number down on a scrap of paper – unlikely he’ll remember us and even more unlikely that he’ll ever find us.
Four days later while we were headed out of our stateroom for breakfast, the phone rang. (What? Who calls stateroom phones anymore anyway?)
“Heelllooo! I hope you recognize my voice! I have some fabulous news!”
It was happy Mauricio calling to tell us that William was going to be in the show! (holy crap) “Meet us in the theater for 10:00am today for rehearsal!”
Then he quietly whispered, “Ok momma, he can really play right?” (holy crap)
We show up in the theater, and as expected, William was the only child there. Mauricio went over a few logistics for the show that would be held for about 350 people later that day. (holy crap)
Brian and I asked William what he was going to play and encouraged him to practice on the piano on the huge stage. He sort of shrugged his shoulders and said, “I’m okay.”
Oh my god small child, you are NOT okay. You are going to play the piano in front of 300+ strangers, you better start rehearsing.
Thankfully Mauricio asked William to come up and get comfortable with the piano.
BRRRING – BRRRONG – BLLLONG
He cranked out about three chords and came back down to our seats.
That’s it? What the hell is happening.
We encouraged him to practice an actual song but he just gave us a shrug and said, “I’m okay, mom!”
I was feeling a bit nauseated and Brian was on the verge of having a stroke. We calmly tried to encourage him to practice a bit more – in less than five hours he’d be performing in front of 300 strangers. Not to mention several friends we had made along the way and who William had joyfully invited to come to the show.
I could feel the mood within the family begin to tense up. We are the adults, and in may cases, we do know what is best. We know what it’s like to fail, to get hurt, to feel embarrassed, and feel regret. We have been through it all and want nothing more than to protect our children from experiencing these things. We know that sometimes we need to practice and prepare! We also know that it’s usually a horribly crazy idea to plan your performance in a big talent show by just winging it.
I turned to Brian and tried to get us to focus on letting go. Clearly William is comfortable with his choice and maybe we needed to follow his lead on this one. It makes zero sense in my adult brain, but the last thing I wanted to do was to make the experience a negative one for him. My gut, although I was questioning it, said to let go and let him take the lead. We’ll be there to help him over the bumps. No matter what.
Two o’clock rolled around and all I wanted was a really large margarita.
Mauricio open the show and introduced the first performer — William. (holy crap)
“Ladies and gentlemen, please help me welcome, all the way from Louisiana, with nerves of steel, William!”
Brian and I could not have been more proud. (or relieved)
After the trip, I sent the video to William’s piano teacher to show him the performance. I was a little perplexed when he responded with this:
“WOW! That was awesome, love how he started with an altered version of the chord progression and slowly built it up until it sounded like Heart and Soul. Everyone knows it and the crowd loved it. He’s got a good sense for how to move a crowd!”
What the hell? Altered chord progression? Seriously, that’s a thing? And my kid knows how to do it?
I showed the response to Brian, then we asked William about it.
“You were playing an altered version of the chord progression??” As I read it from my phone.
“You knew that all along?”
“Without even really practicing?”
“Yes. Mom, I told you I was okay.”
And he did. And he was. He told us all along he was okay. Although it was not easy, I’m so glad we listened to him and let him take the lead.
I often hear people describe parenthood as a journey and I’d say very much that it is. A journey in which the line leader may change. The key to making the best of it, from what I can gather, is to know when to let go and follow along. xoxo