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…
One of the biggest challenges that every mother faces, is knowing how much free rein to give her children. How much independence is prudent at each age and stage of development? As conventional wisdom knows, every child is different. It seems as though, there are certain children who never let their mother out of their sight and no matter how much “Cling Free” you spray on yourself, these offspring stay overly-attached. But, there is, inevitably, one child in every family, that seems to seek any and every opportunity to shake -off the shackles of their mother, and strike out on their own prematurely. In our family, that child is Alex….
Like all my babies, Alex was in no special hurry to join our family . I didn’t think that much of it at the time. 10 days after her due date, they went in after her. She emerged dazed and confused. But to be fair, it was probably all the Demerol they gave me, crossing the placenta. As I, too, was dazed and confused, for a few years…
When Alex was 3, (By then, I thought I had my wits about me) we lost her at Chuck E Cheese. We took our eyes off of her for one second and she was gone in a flash. After we searched the premises high and low, we contacted the Manager and he put the place on “lock down”. That’s the Chuck E Cheese version of an Amber Alert. No one can enter or exit the establishment, until the missing child is located. By this point, we were frantic, to say the least. We had really scoured the place. At some point, while employees, managers and other parents were searching for the 2nd and 3rd time, in all the areas we had previously looked, Jimmy decided to expand the dragnet to include the private birthday party rooms. He carefully scanned the faces of all the happy little Party Guests sitting at the long rows of tables, enjoying their pizza and birthday cake, until he found Alex’s face. There she was, sitting by the birthday girl, wearing a cone-shaped party hat, tooting on her little party favor, joyfully celebrating the birthday of a TOTAL STRANGER. We didn’t know whether we wanted to hug or strangle the party child’s mother, who, handed her a goodie bag and assured us that they had “really enjoyed having her!”
(Parenting tip: If a random toddler shows up uninvited to your child’s party, someone, somewhere is probably searching for her!)
When Alex was 9 years old, a friend and I took our kids on a “Mother-Kids Road Trip/Adventure.” We thought it would be educational for the children, if we took a detour over to see the Hoover Dam. We had heard how extremely dangerous the Dam area was and had agreed to be hyper-vigilant with the kids, due to the unprotected, steep drop-offs. While I took the two older kids to gaze out over the miles of breath-taking, treacherous beauty, holding tightly to the hoods of their jackets, my friend took her daughter and Alex to the Port-a-Potties set up nearby. After everyone had “done their thing,” we drove at a snail’s pace in heavy traffic down the winding mountain road. About 15 minutes had passed by, when my oldest child noticed her sister was missing.
(Parenting tip: Always take a “Head-Count”or employ the fail-proof “Buddy System” if you:
A. Have more than one child
B. Have more than one thing on your mind
C. Have noticed your child is pre-disposed to WANDERLUST)
It took us an unbearable amount of time to get back up the mountain in heavy tourist traffic, to find Alex shivering, crying and mildly traumatized, still sitting in front of the Dam Port-a-Potties. I thought I would never recover from that incident and have, perhaps, overcompensated a bit in my parenting style, as I made a vow to myself, that I would never lose Alex again!!
Which explains why last Friday night was so exceptionally traumatic for me…
Jimmy and I were sound asleep when my cell phone rang at 1:30 am. As every parent knows, any phone call in the wee hours of the night is rarely good tidings. The caller was Alex’s boyfriend, who, “didn’t want to alarm me” (TOO LATE – I am awake and alarmed) He went on to explain that somehow Alex had gotten separated from their friend-group around midnight and he hadn’t seen her since. The “Buddy System” had failed us. I was immediately beside myself to think my little girl was wandering the streets of New York City, all alone and not answering her cell phone. (Jimmy and I were understandably never in favor of Alex going off to law school in New York City. But, because, at age 25, she is by legal definition, an adult, we found that we couldn’t forbid it.) A few minutes of sleuthing confirmed that Alex’s cell phone was left at her apartment, which explained why she wasn’t answering. I couldn’t decide if that made me feel better or worse. I immediately called the police. Perhaps I’ve watched too much “Law and Order SVU,” but I launched my own concurrent investigation “Law and Order SCU” (Silly Children’s Unit) In a moment of inspired maternal brilliance, I logged onto our bank’s website to see if it could help me track Alex’s whereabouts…
(Parenting tip: No matter what age your children are, always keep their debit cards linked to your bank account. You’ll be surprised at how easily you can track their every move, through timed and dated debit card transactions!!)
I was instantly relieved to see that she had purchased a subway ticket shortly after she went missing, and then, because she got lost in New York’s complicated subway system, a transaction 30 minutes later, showed a payment to a taxi cab company for a ride home. She was found within the hour!!
(Parenting tip: “It’s so damn easy, when your feelings are such, to overprotect her, to love her too much – hold on loosely, but don’t let go, if you cling too tightly, you’re gonna lose control…” Sound parenting advice from 38 Special in 1981, still applicable today!)