There are 34 equally lovely contestants backstage. The Emcee is about to call the names of the lucky 20 girls who made the NBA dance team my daughter is trying out for.
She made it all the way to the final leg of this journey. We could not be prouder, even though my heart is visibly thumping out of my chest and my hands are shaking my program so badly it looks like I’m fanning myself, but I’m not.
A few have told us, “It’s in the bag!” and “She’s got this!” But as parents we can’t help but let our thoughts drift to a potentially long car ride home and the ensuing months of “parent therapy” (the only kind we can afford) if things don’t go our way. If she doesn’t make it, it will take “all the Kings horses and all the Kings men,” to put our little egg back together again.
One of the most difficult decisions you’ll ever face as a parent is just how much to “put your kid out there.” ie: what, if anything, should you encourage them to try out for.
These decisions seem fairly benign when your children are young, but the effects on our children’s long term psyche and overall sense of well-being magnify as our kids mature and develop. Simply put, the stakes get higher. As a protective parent, there are times you can’t help but think – if they don’t try, they can’t fail…
When my kids were small, they’d jump in the car with hand-outs about Brownie Troops, Boy Scouts, basketball and soccer teams; perhaps even band. It was standard to allow/encourage their participation, as participation simply meant signing up.
The process didn’t get tricky until down the road a bit, when our kids started wanting to join teams that involved try-outs, judges, coaches and the dreaded C-word “cuts!”
This is a whole different ballgame. Now you’re competing against other wannabes and their impressive entourage of parental backing. Everyone is saying the right thing, touting the party line, “We don’t care about the outcome either way, we’re just excited that ‘Junior’ likes this activity and does his best and has fun trying!”
Okay, true, but when you’re not looking, they are hiring private shooting coaches, private batting coaches and buying protein bars that cost $5 a bite. They are hiring personal trainers, purchasing world class equipment, while renting private studio space for their daughter to pirouette in.
Don’t believe them when they say their daughter is a “Tom-Boy Natural Beauty!” Just like your girl, she’s been in your city’s finest salon all morning getting coiffed, spray tannned, her lashes extended, every stray hair plucked.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of this, per se. You just have to be realistic, eyes wide open about what you’re getting yourselves and your kids into. The other parents and you (yes, You) probably care more than you think.
If your child makes the team or squad, it’s a high like no other. I’ve never done drugs, but I imagine that’s what they must feel like. Conversely, if your child doesn’t make the cut, it will be the worst few days or weeks of your tenure as a parent and part-time Therapist. (The length of the recovery is a complicated formula involving the age of your child, multiplied by how long they prepared for this try-out, divided by your clever ability to distract them by dangling a new dream in front of them…)
If your kid is cut, you may very well ask yourself why y’all even bothered taking the risk. You may even find yourself wishing you did do drugs, but don’t, because you’re about to need all of your wits about you, to get your child through this.
As the young ladies names were called, we held our collective breath and listened to name after name, doing the quick math calculation to see how many spots were still left for our girl to fill. Her number was 3; twice the announcer called 33 and 13 and my heart leapt hopefully.
When they called the final squad member it wasn’t our beautiful girl. Our hearts sank into our stomachs. Several caring strangers seated around us reached over to clamp our shoulders in disbelief and astonishment. “She was amazing! “We thought she had it!”
Like all good mothers, I immediately blamed myself. Maybe when you believe in your kid too much and encourage them to “go for their dreams,” you also subconsciously set them up to endure this type of enormous let down. Secretly, I’m wishing we had just skipped all this “reaching for the stars” and enjoyed the rest of the summer just lying back and gazing at them instead.
It was going to be a long drive home for sure. Good thing I packed necessary provisions:
-tissues (for me, my girl isn’t much for crying)
-a few verses (Jeremiah 29-11, “For I know the plans I have for you declared The Lord)
-my therapist schtick
-the tiny cheerleader that lives inside me, always
-an ice cream sundae (I didn’t pack it because I knew it would melt, but there’s plenty of places we can stop along the way and get one)
We are going to take the long way home…