We have spent two Friday nights in a row in our local middle school auditorium for two different talent shows. The first was Jake’s middle school talent show, and the second was Norah’s and Lillian’s elementary talent show.
I’m not sure what to call it, but I have experienced a shocking new emotion that combines an involuntary ear-to-ear grin with unstoppable ugly crying. At the same time.
What do we call this?
Norah and Lillian both participated in an act with other girls in their respective grades. Norah’s fourth grade friends dressed head to toe in black, and did a well-choreographed rendition of Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation.” It was all serious faces and sharp motions. Dancing and marching, being fierce and uniform.
Lillian’s second grade friends dressed in cute plaid skirts, knee socks and fake glasses and did a school-girl themed dance to Meghan Trainor’s “I’m Better When I’m Dancing.”
Two weeks ago was when I really lost it.
Two weeks ago Jake participated in the final number of the middle school talent show. He and some of his fellow bandmates did a medley of “September” and “Take On Me.” We found out that Jake was participating only several days prior, and due to some miscommunication on the timing of the evening, we almost missed the entire thing.
We snuck into the auditorium just as his group was taking the stage. They were dressed in jeans, band t-shirts, and sunglasses. Cool, but, you know, holding brass instruments and standing in front of music stands. Geeky cool with a side of confidence.
“Here we go,” I thought. I geared up for something that would probably not be great, but come on these kids worked hard and we’re gonna clap for them when it’s over. Maybe you would have the same tempered expectations as I did if you saw six eighth graders get on stage with instruments?
Then the group started playing, and my good-natured, completely biased support turned into genuine awe. They were so good! SO SO SO good. Not “I’m-your-mom-so-of-course-I-think-you’re-good” good, but genuinely tight and in tune and so freaking…good!
As if it couldn’t get any better, at the very end of their medley, this happened…
That kid at the end? That’s my son. That’s Jake. I have never been more star struck than when I watched my quiet, introverted, mild-mannered son rock the socks off of his trombone solo. I was literally bubbling over with laughter while simultaneously sobbing.
What do we call this?
I get where my joy comes from. This is amazing! This is fun to watch! He’s so good!
Where do my tears come from? Why am I sobbing uncontrollably? I have given this question a lot of thought.
We know our children. We’ve seen them grow and develop. We can acutely describe their nuanced personalities and temperaments with ridiculous detail and accompanying supporting evidence and examples.
Along the way we make guesses about what we think they will be or where they will be gifted. “She’s so athletic. Maybe she will play college basketball.” “He’s so good at making connections with people. Maybe he will be mayor.” “She’s so patient and good with children. Maybe she will teach.”
Up to this point, it’s all a guess. It’s all hypothetical. We hope they play sports or run for mayor or teach, but who knows? Then sometimes, something really special happens, and a situation surfaces that allows our children a stage on which to showcase what has been inside of them for a long time, and the hypothetical becomes actual.
When we get to see their gifts surface in real life, when the hypothetical becomes actual, it is as if they are being born all over again. Something new emerges, a beautiful new layer of their existence unfolds. They are living the life they were created to live, doing their thing in front of other people, and we see it happen. Our hearts jump up and down and shout, “He’s doing his thing! Look at him go! And all of you are cheering and screaming and getting to see it too!”
I have seen Jake’s talent develop over the course of his young life. To watch a room full of people discover that he has a gift, which up to this point has been quietly germinating and slowly developing, to see this gift unfold in real time and to see it shine is nothing short of stunning.
How often do we get to see this kind of thing happen? How often do we get to see our children come to life, to see their God-given talent discovered, nurtured, cultivated, and then given a stage on which to show it off? And how often does this kind of thing happen in freaking middle school?
Rarely. To witness it overwhelms my heart. And all that mess of emotion has to come out somewhere. So on a Friday night I simultaneously sobbed and smiled in the back of the middle school auditorium.
I could not be more proud, more elated, more happy, more in love with the way I see all of my children coming to life and discovering the things that they were clearly created to do. This part seems obvious and predictable and maybe even part of what I hoped would happen as part of this whole parenting gig.
The part that has been surprising to me is the stunning vulnerability and raw expression of pride and love that wells up in a guttural, instinctual way. But I don’t care. I’m in. I will weep at every school event if that’s what it takes to stay in tune with where my heart finds itself when I watch my children in action and honestly reflect on the magnitude of what I get to see unfold.
Do I care if any of them become professional performers? Not even a little bit.
What I do care about is that they each know not only how proud I am of them for being brave enough to get on a stage and perform, whether that stage is literal or metaphorical, but also how there is a unique design and purpose in all of them that they get to express. Tapping in and discovering what that something is is the secret to living a fulfilling life.