I need to tell a story about Tegan.
Two years ago this summer – when she was 7 – she decided she wanted to try acting, so I signed her up for a two-week-long camp at a local theater. The play was Annie, and everyone who auditioned had to sing the song “Tomorrow.” She knew the song, and she sings very well. But she’d never done anything like it before. She was (understandably) nervous, and she (understandably) had some trouble with the audition. But she did it, and I was so proud of her. I told her that no matter what, she could feel good about herself. She’d successfully completed her first audition, and they’d only get easier from there on out.
She was cast as Grumpy Man, and she had one line: “Keep it quiet down there!” She delivered it with aplomb. Because they wanted to give everyone as much stage experience as possible, she also played in all the orphan scenes, singing and dancing and generally enjoying the heck out of the whole experience.
But that’s not really the story. At some point in the process, one of the directors told me about Tegan, “I don’t know if she’s cut out for this.” I’m still not sure why exactly, unless it was just because of her nerves and/or shyness in the beginning. Whether or not that was an appropriate thing for a director to say about a 7 year old during a rather expensive summer camp that was just supposed to be about learning and having fun is probably a subject for another blog post. This is my obligatory acknowledgment about the huge run-on sentence. Not fixing it; sorry. But she said it, and for better or worse it was a comment that stuck with me.
The following winter, she decided she wanted to try another play, so we joined a local homeschool theater group. I’d heard good things about it, we had some friends & acquaintances there, and neither of us were too keen to go back to the first theater. That spring she played a witch’s assistant in Wizard of Oz. She had a good handful of lines, and loved playing the goofy, not-too-bright little minion. She fell in love with the group, with the process, and with performing. She’d found her “thing.”
The following fall she played Alice in Alice in Wonderland.
And last month, she played Edmund (one of the four siblings) in The Lion, The Witch and Wardrobe. She said it was her favorite play to date.
And please understand, this isn’t about getting the lead role. I mean, maybe it is a tiny bit, for vindication for that unattractive part of me that is happy she proved that initial director wrong. But the story would have been the same no matter what parts she’s played. Because she stuck with it. She found something she loved, and she just DID IT. It didn’t matter that she wasn’t particularly favored in her first play, for whatever reason. It didn’t matter that she messed up the words to Tomorrow in her first audition. It didn’t matter that someone else had decided that she was or was not cut out for acting. The thing about Tegan – my favorite thing about Tegan – is that she doesn’t question whether or not she can do something. She is one of the most self-confident people I know. At nine! She believes she can do the thing, no matter what the thing might be. And she just…. does it. Nerves and naysayers be damned.
It’s like Everett (13 at the time of this writing) who was utterly undeterred when he’d gone most of the season of pee-wee basketball without having made a basket. “If I keep throwing it up there,” he’d say, “eventually it’ll go in the net.” And by the end of the season, it had.
Or Paxton (16), who learned the harsh lesson of the betrayal of false friends last year, and is still (literally and figuratively) playing his own music.
Or Spencer (20), who has spent his whole life dealing with people continually misjudging him because of issues like his speech, but keeps on telling his story with a smile on his face, and his confidence intact.
These kids. They get up every day, and they’re just so proudly and unabashedly and perfectly themselves. And my God do I admire that.
When I was growing up, I remember these popular posters that said things like, “Everything I need to know I learned from my cat” (or my kindergartner, or my dentist, or whatever). I imagine that they all probably exist in meme form these days.
As for me?
Everything I need to know I learned from my kids.