Tuesday, April 1, 2014

I don't remember what the tears were about. There was an art project, a misspelled word or wrong color choice that had "RUINED THE ENTIRE THING!!!" Or maybe it was her trying to play the melody she had just learned on the piano by ear and it wasn't flowing instantly, perfect. There was mom's assurances that it was just FINE. She just needed to try. And try some more. She was given praise for trying, not, heaven forbid, because she was good or gifted, because if you read the internet these days, we are failing as a nation by telling our children that they are special and have god-given talent. Experts point to studies and depressed adult children who can't get out of their own way, waiting for their dreams to come true from all this magical, sparkly inherent talent while their Chinese counterparts are taking over the economic world through the simple act trying. So I praised her effort and ran upstairs, unnerved by the frustrated screams and tears and she tracked me down minutes later, bearing an index card with a drawing of an angry face, sad slash of a mouth, and these words:

I failed.

It is so hard not to project a 38 year old's lifetime of insecurity and perfectionism and doubt onto this sweet, sad now seven (seven!) year old soul, but my heart sank at these words. Because I wear that little index card like a badge pinned to my chest everyday. Most of my twenties spent on a therapist's couch, reeling with first world guilt over being so fortunate and yet always so paralyzed with indecision and fear. And now this same anxiety expressing itself so fully in someone so tiny and new. So I immediately launched into a laundry list of all the things I had failed at, because I thought it might be helpful for comparison's sake for her to see her mother as the deeply flawed person she is, but as I was reeling off the list: my stained manila enveloped packed with rejection letters from publishing houses, smelly laundry, my inability to finish anything, we both knew it was bullshit. I drive the car and keep the schedule and the passwords to the internet. Mom might be a bit fragile in her soul, but she can hear a tune on the radio and transfer it onto the keyboard in under 60 seconds because I've just got that many more years on my would-be piano prodigy seven year old. I've just lived, and while I tell her this, it does nothing to curb her self-disgust at not mastering a melody in seconds.

But then just a few weeks ago, she was asked to audition for a cabaret in a local production that would be featuring children and adults alike. She didn't have time or the foreshadowing to be afraid. She just did it. And she was cast! Now that she has taken that stage in the empty auditorium in front of the strange, friendly judges, she has been marveled over by all the adults in her life, told how brave she was, how it took such courage to do what she did, when I'm not even sure it occurred to her that she was supposed to be afraid. I can't help but assume that if and when she dares to step onto another stage and take such a risk, she will now be doing so with the very real knowledge that she can fail. That failure is eminent. But my hope is that even though she will likely be dogged by that specter her entire life, she won't be the angry face on the index card, but will continue to try, plinking out one note at a time.


  1. wow. she looks so tiny on that big stay. way to go, kid!

  2. ooof. being a kid is hard. raising a kid (or two) is super hard. keep up the good work, lady.