I am walking with my daughter, faking comfort and confidence as I enter the high school (it seems this is the only way I know how to enter a high school, no matter what my age.) My oldest girl's steps still have the jazzy cadence of a young child and as we draw nearer to the clusters of high schoolers by the front door, she bounces closer to me, takes my hand, and loudly calls me Mommy.
After we enter the auditorium, she drops my hand and rushes into the open arms of a tall Sound of Music cast member whose name I don't know, who nonetheless looks after her like a sister.
And just like that, she is gone.
I find a seat in the darkened theater and watch. She is by the far the youngest on the stage, a little bobbed head two feet below a sea of Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift lookalikes. I look on her with unending love but judgements aggressively push their way into my consciousness. The light is bright on her up on that stage and I see where her bangs are not quite straight and I notice that she has a smudge of yogurt on her cheek and I can tell every time her mind wanders somewhere else.
Hours pass. Her eyes now have that exhausted glazed look I have come to know all too well these past seven years. A pit in my stomach starts its usual fearful gnawing. She yawns. It's nearing 9 pm, an hour past her bedtime. I tense and fight the urge to stride up to the stage, grab her around the waist and take her home.
On the way home in the car she says sleepily, "Mom? Isn't this so, SO fun?"
Thursday May 2
I crouch beside her backstage, reluctantly smearing makeup on her perfect poreless face. She just turned 7 and is about to perform for a lot of people and she's bouncing-off-the-walls excited. I tell her to sit still, to save her energy. I swipe a licked finger across her cheek. I ask her if she needs to go potty.
She brushes me away as, of course, she must.
Her makeup applied, her costume on, it quickly becomes clear that I am in the way. As I take my place in the audience, I feel as if I'm tumbling down a hill away from her. She is on her own on that stage for the next few hours. I can do nothing to help her except sit and watch.
She is 7 now and sometimes when I say that to her cursing cast members -"Language please! She's only 7!" - she sounds so young and sometimes when I say that to her - "You're 7 now! SEVEN." - she sounds so impossibly old.
She goes to the cast party with a bunch of posturing high schoolers who want only to talk about sex and impress each other. After the party, she curls up with her stuffed animals and asks for a bedtime story about a silly dragon named Snapdragon. She is so big and so little.
We worry about the post performance let down for her, the end of all that attention. She is a little snarky and tired these days but the big surprise is we have our own emotional aftermath to deal with, too. We let her go a little more during this process and it hurts, like the opposite of growing pains. Or, I guess, growing pains for parents.
I choose a card for her, one for her father and me to write a little something in to congratulate her on her hard work. I write about how proud I am of her, how impressed I am with her commitment and hard work. My mind rushes through all the bumps along the way, the late nights, the times I had to remind her to practice her lines, the missed cues and on-stage yawns during the performances. I push down those unhelpful thoughts.
And I celebrate her in her bigness, her smallness, her onstage and her backstage and her signing autographs for a crowd of girls and her curled up in her bed with her stuffed animals while I rub her back just like I did when she was a baby.
I'm proud of it all.