Monday, April 23, 2012

Defining Talent

When the letter came home from school I had no idea the can of worms it would open.

A school talent show. We’ve done that before.

Last year, in fact. Sam had been a fourth grader who loved to dance. Because he is a great dancer, but is the most confident and comfortable when he feels like no one is watching, we were a bit concerned about what might happen once the curtain was pulled back and the bright lights hit his face.

He practiced with his group of friends, choreographing a simple but entertaining number that perfectly fit the fun pop song that played nonstop on the radio. On the big night his older siblings rounded up their friends and we filled the front two rows with his personal fan club. And he did great.

He was the most confident one in his group. Hiding behind his backward ball cap and dark sunglasses he lost all inhibitions and gave it his all. The crowd loved it and my son got a huge confidence boost that stayed with him for days afterward. Our big kids and their friends slapped him on the back and we all went out for ice cream to celebrate.

So of course this time around we felt like pros. We knew how this went. Sam would be ten times more confident this time, knowing he could actually pull this thing off. The only glitch was that we are now in a new state, with new friends at a new school. But Sam’s dancing abilities have only improved and I had no worries that it would all turn out well.

Then he came home and announced that he and his best friend were going to sing.


Um, I’m all for encouraging your kids in their dreams, but we are just not singers.

My husband’s family is very musical. His brothers play many instruments and one even has a recording studio in his basement. Sam is a born drummer and has had perfect rhythm since he was a toddler. But singing. None of the relatives sing.

It’s not really our strength.

Sam loves to sing. I’ll give him that. If he’s alone in his room, alone in the shower, alone anywhere, you’ll find him humming or singing. But to say he can actually carry a tune is another thing. And carrying a tune well enough to get up on a stage in front of an audience…it just was not an option.

I sent out an email to a few friends, asking them what I should do. Do I call his school and tell them to fail him at his audition, to save him from embarrassment? Do I tell Sam that he could do the talent show, only if he chose dancing or drumming instead? Do I let it all play out and let him face the consequences? Do I record him practicing, play it back for him, and try to help him see that he was headed into possible social suicide if he was determined to go forward with his plan?

I got a variety of answers from friends. Some said to get him singing lessons. No time for that. Some said to be honest with him and pull him out of the show. Some said let him do it, and accept the consequences as a life lesson. This last one scared me the most, especially considering he is still technically the new kid at school and he has a lot at stake as they all move into middle school in a few months, dragging elementary school reputations along with them.

I finally emailed his teacher. She has been a great support to Sam as he’s adjusted to this move and has always been up front and honest with me. I told her my concerns and she said she’d have a talk with the woman in charge of the show.

Time moved on, the paper was turned in, and Sam invited his friend over to practice. His two older brothers and I huddled at the bottom of the stairs, cringing as we listened to the two of them belt out the song, a current hit song with an impossible vocal range. They had enthusiasm, there was no question. But talent? Not so much.

His teacher emailed me back. She’d spoken to the director of the show but wasn’t sure what decision had been made. Try outs were the next week and Sam and buddy were still on the list.

As I drove Sam to school on that fateful day, he was nervous. Auditions were during lunch and after school. He was excited but still a bit scared. I told him to do his best. I told him it was all about having fun. I reminded him that I was proud of him for trying, something I was never brave enough to do when I was his age. I got ready to console him when he was inevitably going to show up at after school pick up with a sad face, devastated that he had not made the cut.

But it didn’t happen. He came bounding out to the car with a big grin. They’d made it! Even though his friend, half of their act, had bailed on auditions to go play in a team soccer game, their act had made it through. I swallowed the lump in my throat, congratulated him with a big hug, and knew this was going to play out, whether I wanted it to or not.

More practice sessions. More cringing as we imagined what the future might hold.

Two days before the show I got a phone call. Since we’re new here, I didn’t fully understand how the show worked. The director called me, at my request, to explain it to me. I was relieved to hear that there were actually two versions of the talent show. The formal, night version, that was held in the auditorium for parents and the public, was only a select group of kids. My son was not on that list.

My boy was on the list for the show that was to be performed for the school population only. On Friday afternoon all the acts that didn’t make the ‘big show’, did their numbers on the stage of the gym, for their fellow classmates. This was getting better.

But then Sam came home and announced that he and his buddy had decided to wear their morph suits. You know, the clingy full body suits, all in one color, that cover your body from head to toe. And they had also decided not sing along to the song, but sing on their own, with only musical accompaniment. Now we were headed back to the ‘worse’ category.

Friday was the big day. His dad got off work early. I took his high school brother out of school an hour early. The two big kids came along too. Once again we showed up in force, ready to support our boy, no matter how this thing turned out.

We sat through many acts. Simple violin versions of Twinkle Twinkle. Basic line dances by little girls who seemed to have spent more time planning their outfits than practicing their coordinated moves. A few really talented kids, playing the cello or doing gymnastic routines that made the whole student body take in a collective breath. We counted down in our minds, and his siblings cued up their cell phones, ready to take video.

The curtain pulled back and there they were - Sam and his buddy - one fully green figure, one fully blue one. I instantly realized why they’d chosen morph suits. Even more than sunglasses and hats, in a suit that covers your whole face, anonymity is much easier to achieve. Even though their friends technically knew it was them, under all that stretchy fabric, the boys felt invisible.

The music started. My boy was first up, singing the first verse. He wasn’t perfectly on pitch, but he wasn’t terrible either. The beauty of using a song everyone already knows is that even if you’re pretty close, people will accept it as good enough. The chorus began and his blue buddy joined in.

 They slowly warmed up and did a few dance moves in the middle of their very long song. The crowd ate it up. Even the terrible, long note runs, that couldn’t even be considered ‘close’. All those six through twelve year olds saw were two crazy kids, giving it their all, and they cheered appropriately.

When it was finally over the crowd clapped and hollered and let the morph boys know they’d appreciated their effort. Then it was time for the next act.

I finally exhaled.

For the rest of the show I continued to do what most parents do at a school talent show. I forced myself to listen intently, even to the little girl who decided to sing an impossible Adelle song, acapella. I willed her my encouragement through my attentive face and bobbed my head in time to her brave attempt.

I clapped loudly for the little boy who played the electric guitar beautifully (I think….there was no amplifier so we had to imagine what his strumming sounded like as he sang along to his suddenly quiet song).

I smiled knowingly at the huge muscular dad (with tears in his eyes), as he watched his tiny girl on the stage, with ribbons in her braids that matched her frilly ballerina tu tu.

We were all in this together.

Parents who found a seemingly innocent paper in the middle of the Friday folder, announcing an upcoming talent show.

Parents of brave little kids who haven’t experienced enough of the world yet to realize you can’t just throw yourself out there and expect the world to love you.

You can’t just love something enough to make it into something worthy of sharing with others.

You can’t just decide to do something, when you have no experience with it, and expect it all to go right.

Or, like the ballerina girl and my green suited son … maybe you can.

1 comment:

pamela said...

What a beautiful post and what a brave mom you are. Your son is so lucky to have you in his camp!!