“Check your email again, Mom,” Claire begged. “I have to know if we made the talent show!”
I did. And there was the email – her act had made it into the elementary school talent show. She jumped up and down with joy.
“We’re doing ‘Happier’ by Marshmello and Bastille,” she said. “We’re going to sing and dance and wear glittery hats.”
That sounded awesome, and I told her so. I smiled at her, and she ran off to practice. I took a deep breath. This was a good thing. Last year’s talent show had been a disaster – she had missed tryouts because I wasn’t reading anything the school sent home. After I emailed the school, they said she could be in it anyway, but then she backed out at the last minute. She wasn’t quite sure why, but it was clear the idea of performing in the talent show was overwhelming.
But I knew why. The year before, she’d performed in the talent show with her dad.
Claire was in second grade that year. She wanted to do an act, but couldn’t find a group to perform with. So, one evening during an intense discussion about what to do about this problem, Shawn volunteered to perform with her.
Parents do not perform in the elementary school talent show. But Shawn didn’t care – he wanted to do whatever would make her feel better. They searched through songs together and discussed a few specific dance moves. Then they practiced “Don’t Stop Believing'” for weeks and when the day came, they went right out in front of hundreds of people and jammed.
It was amazing. If you want a sense of what Shawn was like as a father, watch this video of their performance. (Yes, they are lip syncing. Keep in mind if you are watching it that Shawn’s entire community is out there, watching them – and really, he wasn’t one for being the center of attention. But he’s loving it. I just watched it while writing at a coffee shop on a beautiful Sunday afternoon and started sobbing. There he was, right in front of me. My Shawn.)
So the next year, when Claire didn’t want to perform, I understood. I didn’t push it. But this year was different – she wanted to be on that stage.
My friends Rachel and Amal organized the entire thing this year, and for that they should be given some sort of medal. Other parents chipped in where they could. I didn’t volunteer for anything. I couldn’t handle it. Honestly, as the day drew nearer, I was worried that I wouldn’t even be able to sit through it at all. I had terrible anxiety.
This is probably why I started crying 10 seconds into the very first song. The entire group of kids sang together to “The Greatest Show” with no real plan, so they all just jumped up and down. Claire’s face was shining and it wasn’t just me that saw it. Probably a dozen parents commented on how overjoyed she looked every time she was on the stage. Their performance of “Happier” was also adorable, complete with dance moves and matching gold glitter hats.
My friends kept checking in with me, and that made me feel loved. Claire looked happy, and my boys were entertained. My dad thought it was the greatest thing he’d ever seen, especially when he got to watch a 4th grade cover band of INXS.
So when we left the talent show that night, I thought it had been a success. Another first completed and everyone came through it in one piece.
But Claire was really quiet in the car. “You okay, baby?” I asked her.
“I’m FINE,” she said with her head down.
I’m new to the parenting of pre-teens, but clearly she was not fine.
I had my dad put the boys to bed, and Claire got in the shower. When she was out, I came in to the bathroom and brushed her hair. She still wouldn’t look at me.
“Are you okay?” I asked for the tenth time.
“I said I’m FINE,” she said. “I’m just hungry.”
“Okay, baby,” I said, “wanna go eat some cereal together?”
We did. She ate slowly, and didn’t talk. I let her be.
“You did great tonight,” I said eventually.
She blew me off, and instead pointed out all of the things that she was mildly unhappy about – how her shirt wasn’t perfect and how she didn’t get candy during the show like her brothers did.
But it was clear that there was more going on.
She took a deep breath. “I just feel….” She paused, and sighed again. “I don’t know how I feel, actually.”
“You seem a little overwhelmed,” I said. “Did you miss Dad tonight?”
“Yes,” she said. Then she paused. “Sometimes I don’t miss him, but then sometimes I do. And it’s hard because everyone else has a dad.”
“I know what you mean,” I said. We talked for a while longer about how hard it is to have a family that is different. As we did, I reflected on the fact that many of the things that bother Claire are the same things that bother me. Grief is strange like that, I guess.
We sat there for a long time finishing our last bits of cereal. Then she broke the silence. “Maybe we can watch Fuller House together tonight,” she said. “I know it’s late but I think it’s a special night.” She looked at me hopefully.
“Let’s do it,” I said, and we went downstairs and put on this B-rate show which is coincidentally about a widow who’s surviving the world with three kids. I pulled her in my arms and she laid her head on my shoulder.
My mind drifted. My girl was just trying to make sense of her emotions – emotions that she likely didn’t fully understand herself. I was glad she reached toward me in that moment, especially because I know it might not always be that way.
I held her close that night, and I even laughed right along with this ridiculous show.
“I feel better,” she said when we finally went to her room that night. “I think it was just an overwhelming night. But I’m glad I did it. It was fun!”
And there she was – back to my normal, happy Claire. That same girl who performed with her dad two years ago. He’d be proud of her – not just for getting up on that stage but also for forging her way through this unfair world.
Image Credit: Becky Hale Photography.