Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about my children, probably for a couple of reasons. I work as a prosecutor at the National Children’s Advocacy Center. My job is to prosecute crimes against children both physical abuse and sexual abuse. So, everyday I am thinking, learning and talking about children. I think about their ages, their experiences, their caregivers, their home life, their counseling, and their futures. At times it’s depressing, but fortunately, it can be exciting. Many times, through the good work of talented investigators, counselors and caregivers, I get to see children thrive after trauma.
I have also been thinking about my children. This year is an important year, my son will graduate from high school and my daughter from college. They are getting older, my daughter recently turned 21, and my son will soon be 18. I’ve been thinking about their futures, but mostly reminiscing about their past. In reality, it’s about me. I am trying to come to terms with the fact, that my babies are no longer babies. They are becoming people. Real people, people who I am quite proud to know and very happy to love. My last blog, I wrote about my daughter. I reflected on her can-do spirit. A quality that she has had since a little girl. This time, it’s about my son. Again, this blog is about one of his qualities he has had since he was pre-school age. What I am learning, and what I hope parents of younger children learn now – is that our children are who they will be at a very young age. They are resilient, intelligent little beings. My children, and including the children I work with, display positive traits or qualities at an early age. If cultivated, those positive attributes will continue with them, at least throughout their childhood and hopefully, into adulthood (I don’t know that yet.) I am also learning from them. Their little minds are full of big thoughts and dreams. And, if they can accomplish what they set out to do at 3 and 4 years old…surely, I can too at 45.
Eyes as big as saucers, that’s what I remember. He was sitting on the edge of his seat. I was so happy to see him admiring his sister. His big sister was dancing in a recital at the local convention center. It was the end of the performance and the audience had erupted in applause. He was clapping right along with them, his little hands – fast and loud. I was proud of Mason for supporting his sister and happy he was happy for her.
As the cheers died down and the performers were exiting the stage, he turned to me and yelled, “How do I get up there?”
“Shhh…Get up where?” I asked.
“Up there!” he shouted, frantically pointing to the stage.
Grabbing his hands in an attempt to calm him down, I lowered my voice, “I don’t understand, please…shhh…wait, we’ll talk when this is over.”
When the next dance concluded, the parents of the previous performers were to go back stage and collect our children, get them changed and take them back to our seats for the rest of the recital. I took Mason with me. As we made our way to see AT, he kept tugging at me, wanting to talk. Ignoring him, I found AT and while waiting for her to change, I turned to him in frustration, “WHAT?!” Mason, all of 4 years old, wanted to know exactly how he could get on stage. I was still unsure what he meant. Did he want to go on the stage, like – walk on it? Did he want to dance? Did he want to be with AT on stage?
Mason told me under no uncertain terms…that he wanted to be on stage, so people could clap for him. I’m sorry what? You want people to clap for you? Yes. That was exactly what he wanted.
I wasn’t sure what I was to do with this information, so to delay the ridiculous, I told him we would discuss it later. On the drive home, he asked again. My husband, Bruce looked over at me and his face said it all: Are you aware that our son wants people to clap for him? – I smiled and simply nodded.
That night, Bruce and I agreed, AT performed really well. She wasn’t in love with dancing, it wasn’t a passion for her but she enjoyed it and seemed to excel at it. We wondered if she would stay with it. She was certainly talented but of course, we thought she was the best! We hoped AT would be energized after the recital and stick with dancing; however, she was pretty indifferent about the experience. In reality, the only person energized was Mason.
Mason brought up the recital the next day, and the next and the next… Unable to continue to snub his requests, we tried to find the “get on stage” activity. Because of his age, it was a tough hunt. The only thing we could find was dance. Ballet to be specific. He could enroll in a ballet class at his age, at the same studio as his sister, and if he finished the class, he could be in the recital.
I discussed this with Mason. Remember, he’s 4 with no real concept of time. I told him that if he danced he could be in the recital. I also told him, he had to finish the class to be on stage…8 months of classes. (I even showed him on a calendar!) He knew I always kept my word and even at his age, he knew I meant he had to finish classes to walk on that stage. He agreed. His decision was made in May, classes start in the fall. Surely this was pass, surely. Fall came, and it was time to sign up. He was ready to register, I even pulled out the calendar again.
In little black ballet shoes, and black spandex shirt and pants, he danced. He danced all year. He never balked at going, but I knew and he knew I knew he didn’t like it. Oh, he liked all of his classmates, who were all girls, he liked socializing, and he liked his teacher. But dancing? Not so much.
In May of the following year, Mason had arrived. He was on stage. He stole the show. He danced like there was no tomorrow. He danced because that night, he knew he would get applause.
I admit, I cried the entire time. I had never been more proud of him and even to this day, I am still proud of that moment. He set out to get on stage… and he had earned every clap of every hand in that audience. What an accomplishment for the only boy in sea of pink.
When it was time for parents to meet their children backstage…he ran to me and shouted, “I did it!” As my tears began to fall again, I kneeled down and said, “Yes you did, yes you did. Would you like to do it again?” He put his little hands on my cheeks – as if to make sure I was really listening and sternly said, “I want to go back on stage, but I don’t want to dance.”
Mason went on to learn to act at a local acting studio, he has since taken part in community productions, an independent film, high school theater, and most recently was a guest performer with an improv group this summer in Birmingham.
Who knows what Mason will do in his adult life…but whatever he chooses, he will be fantastic. He is determined, passionate and fearless. Mason is no longer driven by applause, but even he will admit – he still loves it. And whatever he loves, I love too.
*Mason isn’t currently acting but he never misses a chance to get a reaction…usually in the form of laugher. He is naturally witty and outgoing. He loves to get a laugh and is quite good at it. Mason is a certified counselor for grade-school children at a traditional overnight camp during the summers, and he’s been a volunteer tutor at the same elementary school 3 days a week for the last two years. I know that in his work with children, he gets the applause he craves…in the form of the smiles and laughter of those lucky kids!