Once every few months at my kids’ school, they put on a “talent” show during lunch time. I use quotation marks because the show is open to anyone who wants to participate, so sometimes there’s talent, and then sometimes there are a bunch of second grade girls dancing around to a Katy Perry song.
But it doesn’t matter, because talent isn’t the point. The point is that the kids feel confident enough to get up and do something in front of the whole school – even if they’re not very good at it – and that’s a beautiful thing.
The talent shows are emceed each time by a couple of sixth-graders whose names get chosen out of a hat on the morning of the show. As the oldest kids in the school, the sixth graders consider emceeing to be an honor, or at least, a chance to look cool in front of the younger kids.
Rarely are the emcees actually entertaining. More typically, the emceeing goes something like this:
Sixth grade emcee [loving the microphone]: Our first act today is Sally Smith doing a vocal performance of Roar.
[Sally sings. Everyone claps along to the beat so loud that you kind of can’t even hear Sally singing anymore. Sally’s parents video her. Lots of cheering when she’s finished, followed by two thousand hugs from all of her friends]
Sixth grade emcee [in completely flat monotone, twirling her hair with one finger]: Wow, Sally, that was awesome. Up next, we have John Doe playing the piano. So. You see how this goes.
Anyway, I’ve spent more lunch hours than I care to count over the last seven years watching my daughter perform at these talent shows, and simultaneously wishing that the sixth graders would put just a little bit of enthusiasm into their commentaries.
Don’t get me wrong, I love it. Nothing makes me happier than being one of those video-toting parents, and the evolution of my daughter over the years, from singing Hannah Montana in first grade to singing Sarah Bareilles in sixth – well, let’s just say that I have big plans for the video montage at her Bat Mitzvah.
But my daughter decided to sit this month’s talent show out. I thought that maybe she was feeling overexposed (finally), but it turns out that she was hoping to get a chance to be one of those cool, sixth-grade emcees. Sure enough, yesterday morning, I received a call at nine am, and the school’s number showed up on caller id. That awful, oh-God-what-happened feeling jolted through me, but when I answered the phone, it was just my daughter was on the other end of the line, all casual and sixth grader-y.
“Hi, mom,” she said. “I got picked to emcee today, can you come at 11:45 to watch me?”
My first instinct was to say yes. After all, my daughter is eleven going on seventeen, so it’s a little shocking that she still wants me to come to school and watch her do stuff. And, let’s not discount my desire to be supermom and to do whatever she asks of me. Of course I’ll come!
But then logic kicked in, and it was all, uhhh, hang on there just a minute. It’s the week before Thanksgiving and I have nine million things to do and you want me to come up to school at 11:45 on a Tuesday and waste some of my prime, get-stuff-done time watching you talk like a robot into a microphone? And not even a fun robot, like R2-D2, or a neurotic robot, like C3PO, or even a manipulative robot, like the one in Robot and Frank. I’m talking a dull, boring, yes-sir-here-you-go-sir-up-next-we-have-Joe-Schmo-performing-a-tae-kwon-do-routine-wow-Joe-that-was-amazing kind of robot. Hmmm, let me think about that. Uh, no.
There was stunned silence on the other end of the line. And then she was like, what do you mean, no? And I was like, I mean, no. I mean, I love you, and I think you’re awesome, but you will totally survive me not being there to see you do this. I mean, contrary to what you might believe, I actually have a life and a job and responsibilities outside of you, and I can’t just drop everything at a moment’s notice simply because you’d like to have video of yourself acting cool on stage in front of the younger kids. And besides, I can promise you that you won’t actually be as cool as you think you are, and nothing from that video would ever make it into the Bat Mitzvah montage anyway. Okay, she said, sounding dejected. I guess I’ll see you later then.
Did I feel guilty? A little. (Ok, a ton, and I almost drove up there at 11:45 to surprise her, but I really, really needed to go to Bed Bath & Beyond and there was no other time to go, so I didn’t).
But I kept reminding myself that it’s good for her to know that my life doesn’t revolve completely around hers. That it’s important for her to have some perspective about which things are worthy of my time and which things aren’t.
And guess what? When she got off the bus yesterday afternoon, the first thing she said was that she was glad I didn’t come. It wasn’t really what I thought it would be, she said. You would have been really bored. I didn’t tell her that I already knew that. I’m just glad she came to that conclusion all by herself.