Perhaps it’s something I’ll regret later, but this year we added another extra-curricular activity for Lainey after she expressed some interest, explaining that “Pick Two” was our limit. I realize that once Dash is in the mix, we might reconsider and count sitting in the stands watching a brother play soccer as one of those “pick two.” Narrowed down to music lessons or children’s theater, Lainey chose theater this year, and I applauded her decision with one Jazz Hands and two High Kicks.
Class commenced earlier this week, prepped by my attempted balance of excitement and nonchalance so that Lainey was eager yet not nervous. “You’re so lucky, you get to be in a real play! You’re going to learn so many cool songs and make new friends. Oooo—I bet they’re going to sell tickets, and maybe Daddy and I can eat popcorn while we watch you on stage.” Followed predictably by her dimpled shy smile.
We walked into our local playhouse and were instantly welcomed by its artsy charm—plush carpet, velvety drapes, audition posters and a hidden staircase that led to rehearsal rooms with wood floors and old pianos. After finding our class in one of the rehearsal rooms, I gave Lainey a quick kiss before nudging her to join the circle of kids and promised her I’d stay a few minutes to watch. With one friend in the class and a year and a half of school under her belt, I wasn’t expecting any major hesitation.
That was before Zip, Zap, Zop. It’s an improv game with simple rules. One person starts by making eye contact with someone else in the circle, claps her hands toward them and yells, “Zip!” That person then has to immediately look at someone else, point toward them and yell “Zap!” Third person yells “Zop!” and the cycle continues. If you don’t make good eye contact, you’re out; if you say the wrong word, you’re out; and if you hesitate in calling out the next word, you’re out. As soon as the game started, I thought, “Shit.” I know my kid. She’s going to want the directions repeated six times so she can do it perfectly. And God forbid someone Zips her and she Zops instead of Zaps. While I braced myself for what was to follow, I also knew that this is the exact reason this theater class would be so good for her. Loosen up! Make mistakes! Don’t overthink things…just do it! Be yourself! Have fun! The same things I have to remind myself.
Well someone zipped her, and it went down like I feared. She froze and looked back at me to save her. “Say Zap! Say Zap!” I wanted to say but instead I smiled and mouthed, “It’s okay. It’s okay.” She stood there for another five seconds which felt like thirty. And then the tears—the kind you know just by looking are all hot from the effort she spent to keep them from spilling. We excused ourselves into the hallway where I hugged and kissed cheeks and did my best to smile and let her know this was no big deal. Totally fine. She wanted to go home, but I told her that we couldn’t quit this soon into the game. That it was okay to make mistakes or not know how to play, but that we’d never know what we were missing if we didn’t give it a full shot. “If after two classes, you don’t like it, you don’t have to stay,” I told her. We talked about doing hard things and facing discomfort, and although I wanted to scoop her up and say, “Forget it! This isn’t fun! Let’s go home!”, I knew this uncomfortable introduction was just the muddy path she had to trudge through to get to the meadow clearing behind it. True for a lot of things in life. “Baby, you can’t just quit. New things are hard sometimes because we don’t know anything about them. And that can feel a little bit scary. Just like kindergarten did. But we need to go back in there and finish the class. You’ll miss out on so many amazing things if you run every time things get hard. You have to keep going to find out if it gets better.”
Walking back in was hard for both of us. And walking out alone knowing she was feeling uncomfortable was even harder. But it’s supposed to be hard.
I waited for over an hour for the class to finish and sported my happiest, proudest face when she walked out the door. She smiled (smiled, I tell ya!) as she handed me a new script and a CD full of songs to learn, and I played it cool, deciding it was best to forgo my “How’d it go?” interrogation and calmly let her take the lead. We walked a few buildings down to a frozen yogurt store with friends, made plans for the following week’s class and called it a night.
“Want to listen to these songs on the way home?” I asked, fanning the new theater CD in front of her.
I blared the CD in the car while we both attempted to sing along, and when we got home we taught Brett how to play Zip, Zap, Zop!
“It’s okay if you mess up,” Lainey instructed Brett. “You just have to say something.”
The night felt like a small victory for both of us.
The hardest lessons to teach in parenting are often the ones we’re still learning ourselves.