This past Saturday, my 10-year old daughter Amanda, along with a dozen of her classmates, performed an original play called The Legend of Lucy Keyes (Lucy Keyes was a little girl who was lost in the woods about town 300 years ago, never to be found, and for whom the ghost of her mother still wanders the woods calling for her. A movie has been made based on this legend and is going to be released soon). The play we're discussing here was written and directed by Amanda and her friend Amber. It was short (with break it probably still lasted only 20 minutes). There was a cool program booklet for it listing cast and crew, the various acts and thank-you's, etc. One girl actually brought an entire house-set with bed, fireplace screen, etc.
They performed the play on the stage at the First Congregational Church. They've been practicing on the school's stage at recess for weeks and weeks, choosing to stay in while various pockets of students hung out to watch (which was how they managed to snag their stage crew). There were occasional disagreements, personality issues, all of which were resolved, most of them by the kids themselves. We parents had to step in only minimally, to settle high-emotion disputes, arrange the stage, make sure they worked out a common date for the performance, etc. The girls, though, did most of it.
Last night, we all paid 50 cents a person to attend (they raised $47.00 for the Red Cross for Katrina relief) and had a wonderful time of it. While we enjoyed the 10 minute intermission with coffee and desserts, one of the parents made an interesting comment. If this had been a school-run event, with an adult director and organized by an adult, it wouldn't have been nearly as meaningful to them as this night was. To be sure, this would be a great thing for the school to have, and we're trying to make strides to get something like this going someday. But this night has something special about that they'll probably remember when they've grown and are parents themselves. The culmination of the old, long-lost-but-not-quite-dead line of 'Let's Put on a Show' and actually doing it.
For us parents, it's an inconvenience, putting up with the phone calls and high tension, not to mention finding the stage. As Opening Night began, parents found their seats or turned on cameras, then watched as our children began to perform something they themselves wrote, designed, rehearsed, and carried all the way to this Big Night. We shared in a communal sense of pride for our kids. Most children, we think to ourselves, would have lost interest a long while back, but something pushed them on...
...you know what it was? To be sure, their own drive and initiative. But what's the biggest momentum-killer for a child? Us. Mom and Dad. Come on, guy, you sound like someone in a bad John Hughes film.... No, wait, hear me out. It would have been so easy for us to roll our eyes, shake our collective fingers at them and say, 'Now, child, simply stop this craziness and get back to the real world!' It would have been enough, I'm sure, to stop most of the girls in their tracks. 'Ok,' they may think, quietly in bed, curled up next to their koosh pillow or stuffed bear. 'I guess he's right. It's probably stupid, it won't work, anyway, who did we think we...' yadda yadda. For some odd, wonderful reason, none of us parents said anything like this. I'm sure we were tempted, and may have skirted around it from time to time, but overall we let them move forward with it...
We gave them a chance to fail -- on their own terms, in their own way. Learn their own lessons the hard way. That's why we usually discourage them from taking chances, isn't it? To prevent pain? Keep them from failing, from landing on their little butts and crying? In this case, we let them have the opportunity to fail. It would be safe, in their own town, nothing fatal.
Funny thing is, they didn't fail. As the play ended and every cast and crew member wandered the small stage calling, 'Luuuucy,' pretending to search for Lucy Keyes before cleverly breaking into a cast bow as the play ended, and the audience clapped and their friends cheered them on, you could see such happiness in every girls' eyes. Pride, relief, and not a little concern over minute details which had gone wrong but which they soon realized no one in the audience ever noticed. In other words, they were able to stand on the stage and relish in the calm glow of success. It worked, they'd pulled it off, and learned whatever lesson they were supposed to pick up from all this. Maybe there wasn't any. Maybe they simply decided to Put On A Show, then did it. We stop our children from doing things, taking chances, because we don't want them to be hurt if they fail. But failing teaches lessons, and so does succeeding.
Let's remember this small tale from a small town in the middle of the Massachusetts woods. Sometimes, they fail. More often than not, if we let them, they win. With either ending, they learn and grow up just a little bit better for it.
Nice job, ladies and gentlemen of the fifth grade. Thanks for putting on the show, and adding a little bit of community, a little bit of art, and fun, to our little town.