For weeks leading up to the tryouts for the elementary school musical, The Little Mermaid, Claire kept telling me how much she was hoping to be cast as Flounder. (As a note, Flounder is the small fish who is Ariel’s best friend.) When I wondered whether she might rather want to be Ursula or Ariel, she remained firm that Flounder was the best role for her. We talked about how she might be cast in the ensemble, like last year, and she said that she would be happy with any role. But when she found out that yes, she had been cast as Flounder, she was over-the-moon.
And in case you don’t know my daughter personally, I’ll tell you this: it is the perfect role for her. Flounder is the character who feels everything – excitement, nervousness, joy – and expresses that onstage. And Claire relished the role to its fullest.
Over the two-plus months that the kids practiced, Claire learned almost everyone’s lines. She was filled with glee every day after practice, and I’d catch her studying her lines with a flashlight when she was supposed to be sleeping. She sang her solo, “She’s in Love,” constantly, belting it out in the shower and the kitchen and the living room. Even her brothers learned the lyrics.
So when opening night arrived, I was super nervous for her. I tried not to show it. As I put on her makeup in the hours before the show, she chattered on about the details of her costume and her big solo. “I can’t believe today is here!” she said about ten times.
I went to drop her off early, and on the way, we picked up her dear friend Liam (my friend Becky’s son) who was playing the role of Prince Eric. They requested music, and I let them shuffle through the songs as they laughed and squealed with joy. “Let’s play Lizzo!” Claire said, and put on “Good as Hell.” They both started singing at the top of their lungs, and I joined in, laughing too.
When we got to the school, I planned on walking them in, but they saw a friend and bounded out of the car to hug her and scramble in school together. “I love you!” I shouted from the car, as I watched them run up the steps.
And then I burst into tears. She’s so big, I thought. She’s really becoming a young woman, complete with her own dreams.
And Shawn is missing it.
I knew the musical would bring up all sorts of emotions, since it did last year. But I also knew this: I wasn’t about ready to let my nervousness or my tears interfere with Claire’s joy. So I held my breath, pulled the rest of my family together, and got us to the show.
Claire didn’t come on until the third scene, but when she did, both Austin and Tommy did a little jump. She looked great, but within a minute, I could tell something was wrong. Her microphone was falling off her face.
It must be the makeup, I thought. The tape that held the microphone in place had come loose. I saw a little panic in her eyes, as she tried to figure out how to keep the microphone on and still deliver her lines. She managed it, holding the microphone as she talked, but she wasn’t nearly as smooth as she’d been in practice. I figured they’d fix the microphone during the next scene, when she was backstage, before she had her solo.
The crew obviously tried, but when her big scene arrived, it was immediately apparent that they hadn’t fixed it. Now it really wasn’t working, and she was bounding on stage to sing. My heart sank.
She clearly realized it too, and a momentary look of confusion went across her face. Her microphone was totally out. 600 people were staring at her, waiting to see what would happen.
She took a breath, appeared to compose herself and then belted out the words. “SHE’S IN LOVE,” she sang, her voice carrying to the back. She started to dance and sing as loud as she could, skipping around the stage and smiling as though she couldn’t have been happier. At the end of the number, she did a hop and a pose, and her hat fell over her face as the crowd cheered. “Way to go, Claire!” I screamed. A bunch of parents turned to me, giving me excited looks. She’d done it, even with the equipment failure.
At intermission, I went backstage to check on her. She was upset. “My microphone didn’t work during my solo!” she said, looking like she was going to cry.
“Okay, let’s get someone to help fix it,” I said, and we found one of the high school kids who was helping with the show. As we worked on it, Claire kept talking about her solo. “It wasn’t the same without the microphone,” she said sadly.
I took her face in my hands and looked her in the eyes. “You were great, baby. Really. Everyone could hear you, even people in the back.”
“I’m so sad the microphone didn’t work,” she said.
“Listen to me,” I said. “There are times like this in life when things don’t go as planned. You know that’s true. But when bad things happen, you have a choice about how to react. And what you did tonight was the best thing you could have done – you sang your heart out, as though the microphone was fine. You kept going, even when things were not perfect. More than anything, that makes me proud.”
She smiled at me, a real smile. “Do you think the other people in the audience thought that I did okay?” she asked.
Almost every person there knew our family’s story. I wanted to tell her that most of the audience was cheering for her like they would cheer for their own children. I wanted to tell her that her story of resilience is one that many people find inspiring – not just on stage that night, but also through every single day of the past two years.
Instead I said, “I saw so many people who said, ‘Claire was great!’ and I know they meant it.”
She smiled, and I assured her that her microphone was now secure. She hugged me. “I go on right after intermission, so I have to go,” she said, turning away, and I went back out to the audience. As I was taking my seat, I ran into one of the parent directors. “Wow, Claire did so great,” she said.
“She’s sad about the microphone,” I said.
“I’m sure,” she replied, “but wow, she really was a true professional! Her mic failed and she just belted out her song anyway!”
I smiled. I couldn’t wait to tell Claire that line. As the second act started, I could see her elation that the musical was going well, that her microphone worked, and that everyone was (mostly) remembering their lines.
In the final scene, Ariel and her friends (including Flounder), fight the villain Ursula and win. They celebrate afterwards, and Ariel thanks her friends for the help. “Not such a guppy anymore, am I?” says Flounder.
And then they all sing a final number and take their bows. Claire and Liam were right at the center, dancing with each other and their classmates. The looks on their faces were ones of elation, and I knew they didn’t have to act at all in that moment. It was genuine. And so were the tears that were streaming down my face.
My girl. Out there in front of hundreds of people, taking the setbacks that came and still jumping with joy at the end.
Not such a guppy anymore, is she?
Image Credit: Becky Hale Photography.