“It’s Really OK to Get the Heck Off Stage.”
When my daughter retreated from the chorus concert after one and a half songs, I was not disappointed. Or embarrassed. Or angry. I was so, so proud that she had learned to recognize her “big feelings” and honor them — without hurling any objects into the audience.
The date, marked on our calendar, gave me cold chills: Chorus Concert.
Despite Gwen’s mounting excitement — she was secretly practicing in her room so the songs would remain a surprise to me — I could not stop the flashbacks of last year’s Christmas program, when she ripped off her jingle-bell necklace and threw it at the crowed. Then proceeded to run off stage. At least the kids weren’t accessorizing with metal objects for the spring show, right?
When the day arrived, my sister came with me to watch. Gwen noticed us in the crowd, smiled, and winked. “OK, this is going well,” I thought, cautiously optimistic.
Following the customary announcements, the music began and I watched as Gwen’s entire demeanor and body language changed. As she realized all eyes were on her, you could see the fear flash in her eyes from a distance. Her hands were balled up by her face and I swear I could see her skin crawling with the effort of trying to stand still.
I knew this body language and what it meant: She was starting to escalate. And I was starting to panic.
She had slipped into fight or flight mode, and unable to escape, she was looking for someone to shove as she turned her back to the crowd. Seeing the anxiety levels rising fast, I slyly moved to the side of the risers and motioned for her to come over.
She slipped away toward me, avoiding any confrontations.
As I sat down in the pea gravel, she just collapsed into my lap and curled up as huge tears rolled down her face. Wiping them away, she looked up at me with panic in her eyes and said, “Mom, I am so scared. I do not like this at all.”
Tears welled in my own eyes as I realized how terrified and anxious she felt in that moment. I rocked back and forth to calm her and said, “You did so great standing bravely and calmly with your friends. We are so proud of you!”
We applauded her for recognizing her feelings and going to a safe place, with Mom, when she felt she was losing control. We have been working hard all year on recognizing “big feelings” and figuring out where to go to calm down when they hit.
Now that the crisis has passed and I struggle to accept that my daughter may never be able to handle a music, dance, or school performance, I’m humbled in reminding myself that it is far more important to focus on her strengths.
Gwen excels in art, building, and memory games. She has deep-rooted feelings, and wears her heart on her sleeve. She cares deeply about her family and friends, and prays for them at night before bed. She is resilient. She is a trailblazer. She is Gwen.
Though the next Beyoncé she is not, I am going to mark down today as a Win.
Gwen has made tremendous progress over this school year. She was able to stand up there for one and a half songs, she recognized her feelings, and found a safe place to calm down, then sit for the rest of the performance in my lap clapping for her friends. This is a big deal. And it is worthy of praise and celebration.
So celebrate we will, and maybe actually look forward to Gwen’s next performance — and to seeing how much she has grown and learned to be her own best self.