While volunteering at a choir rehearsal, I hear my daughter calling my name. I scan the crowd, but she finds me before I spy her. I take in the rivulets running down her cheeks as she asks for a Kleenex. After I give her one, we hug as I take in the scene.
There are 50 or so tween girls sitting in church pews, laughing and talking and waiting to take the stage. They all appear to be at ease, happy and glad and in the moment. The room is loud.
I know my Annie isn’t at ease in a crowd. Spring allergies are making her eyes itch and her quiet nature doesn’t lend itself to stress-free interactions with the acquaintances around her.
I volunteered because I know my familiar face helps her in situations like this one. Yet my achy feelings for her make my assistance more difficult today.
When I pull back from the hug and begin talking to her, a girl approaches us. She plants herself in front of us and starts talking.
“I’m anxious before we sing, too. I feel lonely sometimes too. But you can do it.”
She talks fast. Annie starts to breathe more deeply. I do, too, knowing sympathy from someone her age ranks higher than my overused cheerleading phrases. After the chorister finishes talking, I thank her as Annie nods her head in agreement. Both girls walk back to their pre-assigned places in the pew.
Soon enough, the director calls them to stage. I turn to the other mom who is volunteering with me and say hello. As we watch the double line of singers walk past us, she says to me, “Sometimes it’s harder to be the mom.”
It’s harder to be this mom because I bring almost 50 years of living to some moments. In the space of a minute, I can recall rough moments in my childhood, Annie’s childhood and her older sister’s childhood.
At age 11, I was ditched by the neighborhood girls while playing hide and seek. Back in fifth grade, my older teen made new friends after a spectacular friendship blow-up. In kindergarten, Annie was invited to only one birthday party. Later, she asked me why the girls were mean to her that year. I told her, “I don’t know, honey. Sometimes people see differences and they are mean.”
“How was I different?” she asked.
“You cried a lot. You were having trouble at school,” I replied.
I’ve decided to make today easier for myself as a mom.
But that was then, and this is now. Before the next day’s concert, I focus on getting out of my own way.
I may yearn for Annie to be a kid version of the adult me: able to navigate social scenes with grace, talking to strangers like I already know them. I could crank open my memory and relive hurts again. But what I call upon is advice from psychologist Lawrence Cohen. Years ago, he told me, “Stitch this on a sampler and put it where you can see it: Your experiences are not your child’s experiences.”
I promise myself that I’ll be a supportive consultant to Annie as she navigates a roomful of girls back stage. I won’t wish for her to be an adult. I’ll watch and wait for her to ask me for what she needs. I’ll get out of my own way, leaving the past and fanciful wishes out of the now.
I watch Annie read her book while noticing that other girls are reading books and knitting. Yes, there are girls playing games and laughing loudly. I note that on my watch Annie doesn’t talk to one other girl while we sit in this room that fairly roars with the noise of roughly 50 middle-school choristers.
I marvel at how she seems at ease, coming up to me occasionally to say hi. My heart’s not racing and my brains not pinging with too many thoughts. I’ve decided to make today easier for myself as a mom. If there’s a fire that Annie needs help extinguishing, she knows how to reach me.