As parents, there are always opportunities to parent our kids from our own fears, our own past experiences, and from our heres-my-2nd-chance-to-live-through-my-kid-ness. Many of those moments slip us by without notice. Every now and then we have the blinding awareness that we have an opportunity to let our kids figure out who they are, without our interference. And often, we learn who they are as well.
This happened to us recently on a camping trip. We had a couple of weeks off from work and drove to a campground to spend time as a family. This particular camp hosted a talent show a couple of days before we were to leave.
“What’s a talent show?” Hannah asked.
“It’s where you get to show a crowd of people a special skill or talent you have. It can be anything that you think is unique and want to share in front of others.”
Hannah was determined to sign up.
Well, this is where my own mama-fears flared up. I don’t love being alone in the spotlight. I don’t love making mistakes (publicly) and I don’t love being humiliated, all of which would be possible (if not probable) if Hannah were to participate in the talent show.
I was confronted with the fact that we had an opportunity to crush the humiliation before it could happen (based on our own fears) or give her a chance and see what happened.
Well, while we decided on the latter, a few days passed and before we knew it… it was Talent Show day. And she was still not signed up. And she was disappointed.
“The list is full and now I can’t be in the talent show,” she lamented. #mamafail. While I had hoped to overcome my own “stuff” for her… I realized it had still one out in a small, passive way. We didn’t say no… we just never walked her over to sign up. *sigh*
“Alright Hannah, let’s go ask and see if it’s too late.”
It wasn’t. She signed up with a few hours to go before the show. She told the man she would be doing a back-bend crawl across the stage. THIS was her talent.
While we made dinner, Hannah practiced her act…
And couldn’t do it. Not once. Liz helped her into the back-bend… and then she proceeded to trip over hands and hair and feet, collapsing onto the ground.
“What have we done?” Jeremy worried.
“It will be okay…” I reassured him. And myself. And her. Hannah was positive that she could not do the act. In fact, she pointed out that she’d never even tried it before. We brainstormed other possibilities… but she wouldn’t have it. She was GOING to do the back-bend crawl across the stage… even though she couldn’t.
The show started.
I prayed with her… and then they called her and all of the other performers back stage. Meanwhile, the host came out and said, “Whether you win or whether you lose, this is all just for fun…”
WIN OR LOSE??? WHAT?!!!
“Let me introduce you to our four judges. Again, this is just to have fun. But here are the four people who will be judging our first, second, and third place winners.”
Oh my, this was way more than I’d bargained for. Or prepared Hannah for.
The first girl came out and performed an entire gymnastic floor routine… close to what you’ve been watching on the Olympics. Clearly she’d been planning this talent show for YEARS.
Then this girl came out… and she’d brought her prop to camp:
This is just a small glimpse into the many ways she contorted her 10-year-old body while standing on her hands. Jeremy began sweating pretty heavily beside me. “Shoot! What have we done? Oh no!” He was freaking me out.
I mean, okay, these kids came prepared. With acts they’d practiced. And our daughter, well, had never successfully accomplished her act… but it would be okay, right? She could just run off stage and hide and cry. Or try for the 30 seconds regardless. Or… Oh Lord.
Then they called Hannah. She was number 9. (Fortunately there were a few kids more in her “league” before she was called… at least one boy who I’m nearly positive made up his dance moves on the spot for the entire song. And it was fine).
Hannah walks out. As she’s coming, the host tells the crowd of a hundred or so people that the next act is a short demonstration and that the performer is a little bit shy. One of the older performers walked out with her and reassured her before going back stage.
“Are you ready, Hannah?” the host asked.
She took a deep breath and nodded. This was the moment… Ohhhhhhhh!!!
The music began.
And this is what she did:
HOLY MOLY!!!!!! SHE DID IT!!!!
Not only did she get in her back-bend, but she walked!!!! And then she KEPT walking!!!! I later asked her why she didn’t stick to her plan of walk-once-across-the-stage and she said, “I thought I was supposed to go as long as the music lasted.” HA!
I still get teary-eyed and emotional as I think about it. Not just because she succeeded… it’s so much more than that. It’s how close we were to keeping her from taking this risk… this risk that was scary to US but that she was determined to try. And when we loosened the chain (our fear) and gave her the space to experience being herself… she amazed us all. She amazed herself.
“Hannah, how did you do it? You weren’t ever able to get it in practice!”
“I just kept praying to Jesus to help me and He did!” she exclaimed. My little beauty experienced God acting on her behalf: hearing her, answering her, strengthening her, in such a personal way. She knew she wasn’t alone and this gave her a confidence that still astounds me.
I looked at my daughter… my baby… with new eyes. It was like looking at a stranger in some ways… and I loved what I saw. I’m so grateful for the ways she’s not like me. For this self-determination and risk-taking. Well, that would have been enough.
But then they recognized all of the performers.
Yep, each kid received a metal medal and a stuffed mascot of the camp. The first three places went to the bendy-girl, the floor-routine girl, and a singer-girl… but each child was honored. I know that the achievement was enough for Hannah and for us… what more could we ask for but to watch our baby NOT humiliate herself? But then to honor that bravery? Be still my heart.
She was so proud of herself, she slept with the medal and wore it the entire next day. And she hasn’t stopped with the back-bend walking since.
This moment has come to me over and over. I can’t get over the blessing of stepping back from my own fears and letting my child flourish. Or not. I believe if she had spent the entire minute NOT mastering her act, I would be just as proud. And she would as well. Because the sheer act of getting before a crowd of that size and trying is enough to make my heart race. And God would have walked her through that version of her story had it been hers. I still would have looked at her and wondered if she hadn’t grown an inch.
But in this version, she did it. And I’m sure she’s an inch taller. I have a new respect for her and for our need to step back from those fears in us that would hold them back. Or from that fear in me that would hold me back. Oh, how often we left fear steal from our joy! How we miss out on the celebrations of today, too afraid of what might be, so we never go out and give it a try. OR, we’ve tried and failed and swore to never embarrass ourselves again. But these are not the success stories of our modern-day heroes. Each of them tried and failed and tried and failed and tried… never letting that fear or shame keep them back.
My baby girl showed me a beautiful reality. Bravery truly does inspire bravery in others. Watch out world.
When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise—
in God I trust and am not afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?
Cast your cares on the Lord
and he will sustain you;
he will never let
the righteous be shaken.