When I held my daughter in my arms six years ago, looking down at her, I imagined little fingers playing the piano, little feet dancing excitedly, a little voice singing to the rooftops with me at her side, singing and dancing and playing my heart out, too. It turns out that children are their own people – who knew? – and my daughter had no intention of being a clone of her mother. She seems instead to have inherited her father’s knack for being completely tone deaf, and attempts at teaching her to play the piano failed miserably. I’ll be honest. I haven’t even managed to help her master clapping along to a beat.
Surely I love my daughter for all that she is and all that she isn’t, but I can now understand why so many former high school star athletes stand on the little league sidelines and sigh loudly. The feeling is part wanting to relive your glory days, part wanting your kids to experience the same adrenaline rush and pure joy, and part just wanting to be able to relate to this being that you created from your own self, that will be forever connected to you in a way that no one else in the world ever will or can be. And when you see your child moving in the direction of your spouse, or some different direction altogether, it can take the wind right out of your parenting sails.
As Emma began to grow into the smart little lady she is, I began to see glimmers of familiarity in her eyes. That sparkle when she craftily drops a pun on everyone at the dinner table without cracking a smile, the fire when she feels that something is not fair, the heat when she is angry – often with me, hands on her hips, head cocked to one side. She also loves a good story and began writing “books” nearly as soon as she could form letters. She even came to me when she heard that I had signed with a literary agency to tell me that she, too, has written books and not to worry – it really isn’t that hard.
But last week I experienced a moment of pure, parenting bliss. While driving Emma home from ballet, she noticed the placard at the local theater announcing the upcoming production of Annie. Something about the huge sign caught her eye, and she asked me what it was. Suddenly I was explaining musical theater, the time that I directed my middle school students in Annie, Jr., and the magic of dressing up, leaving the house when it is already dark, and losing yourself in a dusty old velvet seat with hundreds of strangers around you in the dark, your eyes fixed on the stage as a different world unfolds before you with costumes, make-up, singing, dancing….magic.
Not only did she join me in my enthusiasm, but she had something to add to the conversation. It turns out that her first grade reading teacher had the class read The Song of the Jellicles by T.S. Eliot and then showed them Andrew Lloyd Webber’s adaptation of the poem in his musical Cats. When I was able to recite the words of the poem to her, she nearly jumped out of her seat with excitement. I promised to find my old cassette tapes of the entire musical and pull out my sheet music. And then she asked to hear more about Annie, and wondered if we could go see it together. Here I was, having the moment I had dreamed about six years earlier, looking down at those big brown eyes and wondering what type of person my child would become.
Thanksgiving weekend my little girl and I will put on our fanciest clothes and leave the house at 7:30 on a Saturday night, right around bed time, and drive to the theater. We’ll sit in the last two seats in row C, center, in the orchestra section. The lights will dim, the curtains will open, and an early 20th century city orphanage will appear before our sparkling brown eyes. And I’ll be in parenting bliss…