Goodness knows I could stand to write about planting potatoes right now, but we’re still shaking off post-production whiplash from Lulah’s fifth performance run with the local high school theater group. We are so proud of her. It was great. The songs are still rolling around in my head all day. The experience of live theater really sticks to my ribs.
The Spring 2016 show was Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. I had never heard of it before, but we quickly got up to speed by watching the (rather ancient) movie version starring a very young Julie Andrews as Cinderella. Lulah has had a long-standing aversion to the Disney cartoon Cinderella, even though she’s never seen the movie, so we were relieved to find that the musical version was quite a bit more spunky and fun than the sappy sweet Disney. I was even more pleasantly surprised to find that the Rodgers and Hammerstein version had been “updated” with a new sub-plot involving a political fire-brand who falls in love with one of Ella’s step-sisters and convinces Ella to tell the prince (the charmingly clueless Prince ‘Topher) that his people were being treated unfairly. In the end, Cinderella is not only escorted out of squalor and oppression and into Queen-dom, she also carries her people with her and convinces her true love to establish a democracy. (Wow, right?)
The kids are so gorgeous. They throw themselves into the show and transport us into a suspended reality. For those hours, we believe them in their characters, in their sincerity, and their hilarity. And then, after the curtain call, we see them return to themselves, but still in fancy costume. They have such wonderful vitality. They are beautiful in so many ways.
Watching the show, night after night, I began to wonder about my own personal sub-plot in the drama of this High School Theater group. Why am I so mesmerized by the activity of the show? Something happens to me when the lights go up on that stage. Seeing those fresh faces, teetering on the brink of adulthood, takes me back.
And the truth is, looking back is not a completely comfortable experience. I remember some of the thrill of BEing where they are now. I remember the small sea of faces in the audience – trying not to be TOO obvious about seeking out my loved ones – letting the months of rehearsal, memorization, repetition, flow through me. I remember the magic of performance as art. And I remember being a contradictory teenage bundle of energy, bravado, and insecurity.
Don’t get me wrong – it was a great time. But in the midst of all that fun stuff, I never believed that I was enough. I wasn’t pretty enough, or smart enough, or strong enough. I didn’t let on about my perceived insufficiencies much, but I held onto them inside. (The way so many of us do.)
Watching the stage, feeling my heartstrings plucked, it becomes obvious that I was plenty beautiful, smart, and strong, just like they are now. I don’t know if I would have listened to anyone telling me that I really was sufficient, for myself, and for the task ahead of growing up. But I can’t help wishing that I had felt a little more comfortable in my own skin (I had nice skin, but I didn’t know it then.). The past has passed.
There’s always room for greater peace, though, and that’s what washes over me in the aftermath of the show. By opening my heart to these kids – my own, as well as all the others I am fortunate enough to meet in our community – I have the opportunity to make peace with my old demons of insecurity and self-doubt. Watching these young people at play and at work on this show, has helped me remember myself as I was, and extend the affection I feel for the kids towards that (rather grumpy and critical) memory of myself at their age. When I am able to look into my past with greater compassion and affection, I become more capable of loving my life as it IS, right now. What a gift.
In return, I hope to add my voice to the multifaceted cultural message these young folks are absorbing as they move toward maturity, because the Disney storyline doesn’t work for a lot of us, and it’s good to have options. Here I am, long enough past adolescence and early adulthood to be irrelevant, strange, or maybe a little wise. I guess it’s up to them to decide.
These days, my voice travels to the next generation primarily in the context to being a mother – mostly, Lulah’s mother. My best bet is to embrace and enjoy my post for all it’s worth. And so I am… Lulah’s mother who doesn’t wear make up and refuses to color over the gray in her hair. Lulah’s mother who drives the muddy car. Lulah’s mother who brings a ball of wool and a crochet hook to rehearsal. Lulah’s mother, who insists that it’s good for you to stand on one foot and breathe. Lulah’s mother, who wants you to touch your toes, drink more water, bend your knees, AND relax. Lulah’s mother who wants you to be yourself, and believe in yourself as much (or more) than the rest of us believe in you. Lulah’s mother may be a little batty, and maybe that’s alright.
But my aim is true. I want them to experience for themselves that they ARE sufficiently beautiful, strong and smart, that they are just as wonderful as they dream themselves to be, and also that they have so much farther to go. I want them to have confidence to walk into the world around them, not as masters, but as students of LIFE, because the best masters also stay students.
Life is full of foibles. I may not succeed in my heart-felt effort to inspire greater confidence in personal goodness in the next generation, but having seen the possibility for myself, in myself – I have to try.
So, thanks kids, for the great show, for doing some yoga with me, and for being your beautiful selves. Please – carry on. Keep singing. You are on a roll – don’t stop growing!
May your shoes always fit!