Cheryl Pollock Stober is a wife, mother of two, VP and product manager at an investment firm, and blogger at BusySinceBirth.com. Cheryl has been trying to figure out how to have it all, at the exact same time, for as long as she can remember. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times Motherlode blog and she has been Boston.com’s Featured Parent Blogger. In April 2014, she co-produced and performed in Boston’s inaugural production of the internet phenomenon, “Listen To Your Mother.” She can be found on twitter at @cherylstober.
In this age of “everyone gets a participation trophy,” it’s somewhat rare that an individual kid has the opportunity to outshine the others. We rotate players on sports teams, play down any individual successes, and support all players as equals. That’s the theory at least, and for my kids, it’s generally been a good system. When my daughter was the last kid on her “Girls on the Run” team to complete their 5K, she had the rest of the team there cheering for her. A good thing, right?
Sort of. As much as she appreciated their support, and would have been devastated if they had bailed and left her there on her own, she also felt a bit embarrassed to be the last one. She knew that despite what had been a heroic effort on her part, it still wasn’t as good as the majority of her team. They all got their medals and posed for pictures as a team, and she was happy she did it. But at the age of 10, she could also see through the “everyone’s a winner” tripe. She knew she wasn’t a winner.
She does know what she’s good at though: she can sing, and she can act. This past summer, she helped her age group at overnight camp to win a competition by singing a solo that brought the crowd to their feet. Then she had a small “everyone gets a part” role in her camp’s performance of “Seussical” into which she poured her heart and soul. She knew there were older kids who would get the starring parts, but it didn’t stop her from learning every word of the show. She loved being part of the group.
So when it was announced that the fifth grade would be putting on “Seussical” at her public school this year, she simply beamed. This time, there are no bigger kids. This time, she could possibly get one of the starring roles. She had her experiences this summer on her side, with the confidence of a standing ovation-worthy solo and knowledge of the entire show in her back pocket. She could have been cocky or arrogant, with an “I’ve got this” attitude. But the morning of her audition, she told me that she’d be okay with whatever part she got, that her teacher must have a good reason for not giving her one if it didn’t work out that way.
I was so proud of her attitude, because it wasn’t an attitude I truly shared.
I so vividly remember being in fifth grade myself. My family moved in the middle of that school year, just before Thanksgiving. I started school wearing my off-label “Guess” sweatshirt, a denim skirt that wasn’t quite the right shade, and shoes I’d saved from the summer that were entirely inappropriate for a November day. My first day was one of the worst I’d ever had, as I encountered all these kids I didn’t know and a teaching system that was completely foreign to me. I was certain that I was going to hate my new school, until a few weeks later, when my music teacher saved me. She invited me to join the Ensemble, a group of the best singers in the school, even though I had missed the tryouts earlier in the year. I watched as other new kids moved into the school district over the course of the year, but I was the only one to get that special invitation. It meant the world to me to be noticed, to feel special.
I wanted my daughter to feel that way too. I wanted her to get the part in the show.
My daughter is so much like me, that sometimes I forget that her experiences may not be identical to mine. She isn’t in that new kid in the classroom, feeling embarrassed when her new teachers made all the kids fake a cheer in her honor on her first day in a new school. That happened to me, not her. I was the one who needed a bit of saving by a kind music teacher. But my daughter? She is a strong, beautiful, funny, smart and brave young woman. She’s everything I want her to be. And if she’s okay with not getting the starring role, I’d have to be okay too.
She auditioned and waited patiently for the news. She told me about the roles her friends wanted, and how they had done in their auditions. She hoped and she wished, but not too hard. She was ready for whatever might come.
And in the end, so was I.