Making the cut

From the moment their screaming red monkey faces emerge into the light of the delivery room, we think that they’re the most beautiful creatures in the universe. Whether we’re crazy in love, sleep-deprived, or infused with a cocktail of weird post-baby hormones, the result is the same: we think our kids are sweet, beautiful, talented, and just generally amazing.

And please, is there any question but that most of the time they are the epitome of awesomeness? Anyone who says otherwise has surely got to be crazy!

Until life happens, and we all realize that maybe the only crazy one in this whole game is mom.

Recently we were told that the Maiden hadn’t been offered a part she’d auditioned for in a local children’s theater production. I had the job of breaking the news to her. How to keep it from destroying her world?

I try not to helicopter. Really, I do. And I try to let the Maiden interact with the world on her own terms, rather than projecting my own adult reactions and expectations onto her experience.

Which made it very difficult to stand back and not offer excuses as to why the play directors hadn’t selected her. She’s the most awesome actress in the world and her audition rocked, screamed my irrational Raging Inner Mama. Maybe they just don’t know how awesome she is. Maybe they don’t recognize talent when they see it. Maybe they’re idiots.

Or maybe, just maybe, she fell short.

The Maiden couldn’t understand: “But I had a really good audition, Mommy!” That’s when the hardest lesson of all came: sometimes you can do your best, and your best might not be good enough.

I’m not trying to go all Debbie Downer, and I certainly don’t want to destroy my child’s self-confidence. On the other hand, I don’t want to shield her–and keep on shielding her–from the fact that no one can be number one in absolutely everything. Sometimes she will come out tops. And sometimes, even when she does a great job, someone else will do it better.

We can’t always be number one. It’s the way things work in the grown-up world, and it sucks. Perhaps that’s why we adults often try to keep kids from ever learning it–and why we assume they’ll react in the same way we might.

We want to preserve their happiness, but in the end we’re insulating their happiness in a bubble of fantasy. The older the child becomes, the harder it is for her to find joy outside that bubble. No wonder many young people are disillusioned today.

I want the Maiden to be happy. But she needs to learn happiness based on contentment with reality, with the way things are, rather than with the way she wishes things could be. If out of love I try to shield her from the bad as well as the good of reality, aren’t I doing her a disservice in the long run?

Kids need to be allowed to fail. To do a crappy job and realize that they kind of closed the door on themselves. Or, as in this situation, that they did a good job but just didn’t measure up to the requirements–or against the competition. That they need to try a little harder next time. Or that some people are better at what they’re doing, but that they can keep improving too.

After all, a crucial element of living is learning how to pick up the pieces after a personal disappointment. They need the ability to shake it off and move on to the next activity, audition, whatever, and to be content, secure in their own personal accomplishments, even if they go unrecognized.

And they need the chance to figure this all out on the small stage, so to speak, before getting hit by a really big setback when they’re older.

It was really, really, really hard to keep myself from trying to over-comfort the Maiden, but instead I bit my tongue and asked her how she felt. She said she was really disappointed and a little sad, but she guessed it was okay. Could she at least go see the play when it was staged?

She may not have gotten a part in Snow White, but in life skills she’s definitely holding onto an A in sportsmanship.


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