I make a lot of jokes about Chickadee being my Mini-Me. We have a lot of the same likes and dislikes. She has many of my mannerisms. We look alike (although this one is sort of humorous, to me, because in reality I think Monkey has many more of my features than Chickadee, but—just as no one ever noticed that my mother and I looked very similar (probably because my hair is dark and hers is blonde)—folks always comment on how similar Chickadee and I look, never on how much Monkey looks like me.
The point is that in many ways, we are alike. I often assume that I know how she will react to or handle something, because I feel like I know her not just by virtue of being her mom, but because we share so many tendencies.
Of course, there are differences, too. I think I’ll be right on top of how to best deal with those in another ten years or so. Maybe twenty, tops.
(What’s that? She’ll be grown up and moved out and still in therapy by the time that happens…? Yeah. Um. Look over there! Something shiny!)
ANYWAY. It seems I am still coming to terms with some of the ways in which our paths have diverged.
I had a teacher when I was in the fourth grade named Mrs. Corbett. We used to called her Mrs. Orbit behind her back because she was… ummm… a little spacey. One of the ENTHUSIASTIC things that Mrs. Corbett would do was giving her favorite students grades like A++++++++.
Seriously. Not an A+. An A++++++++. So for a neurotic child such as myself, it became a matter of comparing the number of pluses across assignments and trying to determine whether I should feel badly about ONLY five pluses on this one, because the last one got TEN!
We did a lot of creative writing with Mrs. Corbett, and at the tender age of nine I wrote a multiple-page tale about a girl who lived in an incredibly dysfunctional family but managed to “get out” because she ran away and auditioned for Annie on Broadway and got the lead, and lived happily ever after on the stage.
Mrs. Corbett plastered the cover with a string of pluses following my A, and a note about how I had “quite an imagination” and “should definitely consider becoming a writer one day.”
I scoffed, because I wasn’t going to become a writer. I was going to be an ACTRESS. OBVIOUSLY. (Some day we’ll get into the more disturbing issue of that story having contained an elaborate description of the heroine first trying to kill herself, later waking up in a hospital, and then all of her problems being solved by Broadway—which, apparently, Mrs. Corbett didn’t find strange or alarming at all, because all 9-year-olds write about suicide all the time. Oh, wait, NO THEY DON’T. But that’s a whole ‘nother topic.)
I was in every school play. I was in every talent show. I was on the debate team. I started doing community theater at 14 and was a theater major in college. Umpteen gazillion hours of therapy later I no longer have the LOOK AT ME LOOK AT ME DAMMIT LOOK AT ME RIGHT NOW addiction and so I’m much more comfortable, it turns out, living a lower-profile existence. But as a kid, there was NOTHING I wouldn’t do to have people watching me. And I reveled in it.
Chickadee puts on elaborate plays for us here at home, and she rocks out with her karaoke machine, and she has been known to adopt a kooky persona and entertain us all with loud and wacky demonstrations for hours on end. Within the family, within her own house, she reminds me of myself at that age—she’s a total spotlight monger, and she’s good at it.
OUTSIDE the house, though, it’s a different story. Chickadee suffers from stage fright, and I have no idea how to help her with it. It would be fine with me if she just preferred not to get up in front of others, but the WEIRD thing is that she really WANTS to do it. And she keeps doing it. And she keeps freezing. And she keeps getting upset about it, afterwards, and then she does it again. And again. And again.
All of which is to say, Chickadee INSISTED we leave the house early for Vacation Bible School, today, so that she could be one of the “worship leaders” during opening songs. I asked her several times if she was SURE she wanted to do that, and she assured me that she did. She bopped around the house yesterday singing the songs and dancing the various accompanying movements, and we set out early today so that she could go up front and help lead.
And you already know what happened, right?
The music started and the little kids up there with her started bouncing around and singing, and Chickadee did about two different movements while staring at the floor, and never sang at all, and then settled for standing there and twirling her hair while everyone else sang and danced. When the music stopped she ran back to her seat and slouched down with a decidedly grim look on her face.
I—having stayed specifically to watch this—walked over and kissed the top of her head and told her I’d see her later, being careful to keep my tone light. She half-lifted her arm in a wave, and I left.
I understand wanting to do this stuff. I always wanted to do it. I even understand NOT wanting to do it, feeling like it’s too much. I do NOT understand insisting that she wants to and then freezing, every single time, and GOING BACK FOR MORE. It baffles me. I used to feel really badly for her, but if I’m being completely honest I have to say that at this point I’m starting to find it annoying. She’s not five, she’s ten. She begs to do these things, begs for us come and stay and watch, and then tanks. I just don’t get it.
On the other hand, if my spotlight-hungriness was born of family dysfunction (and I think it probably was), a small part of my brain is a-okay with her being utterly unlike me in this way. Still. Pick something, kid. Do it or don’t. Stop torturing yourself (and us)!