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Why We Make Our Kids Do Hard Things

theater campLast Sunday night before bed, as we were trying to “get back into the routine” and I was returning to school, my 8 year old son held my hand with one of his (the other clutched his favorite stuffed puppy), “Mom, how can you make me go to theater camp for an entire week?” Dramatic pause.  “All day?” Dramatic pause.  See, he was born for theater camp.

His sister calls from her bedroom because she is an expert eavesdropper at 7, “Carver, give it a chance.  It won’t be bad.  I’m excited about it.”

I knew the eye roll was there, so I waited a moment.  He also waited.  So that when I turned to look at him, the eye roll was perfectly executed.  “Mom, this will be torture.  You are going to keep me inside all day?  All week long?  My last week of summer vacation?  How could you do this to me?”

He’s right.  How could I do this to my little boy, the one who is happiest out fishing or riding bikes or catching frogs or gluing crap to other crap? Why was I making him go to theater camp all week?  Well, the first reason was obvious.  I was back to school.  But second, third, fourth and clearly more important reasons were as follows:

  1. He likes an audience.  Theater seems like a healthy, natural, creative outlet for him to “play around” with reaction, drama, humor, etc.
  2. He’s been mumbling a LOT lately, and as someone with a speech issue (a lovely lisp I’ve had since the onset of life) theater camp forced him to learn some lines and enunciate them loudly and clearly enough for an audience beyond his parents to understand.
  3.  Standing and speaking in front of audiences is the hardest task I ask of my ninth graders.  Hell, it’s hard for my own peer group when forced to speak to an unfamiliar audience.
  4. The idea of empowering our children with the confidence to speak in front of any crowd will only help them in subsequent teachers’ classrooms, future employment, friendships, and relationships– both professional and personal.

Speaking is important.  I want them to feel good about it– even when it feels uncomfortable. How do we learn to power through?  We learn by powering through.  One day, another task will be challenging, and my hope is that their muscle memory recalls that, “Oh, yeah, hey, I did that theater camp thing that I thought would be awful, and it really wasn’t.  In fact, the teachers made it fun, and they are real actors, and I maybe even felt a little like a real actor up on the stage.  I liked it.”

There were some tears Tuesday morning when Carver didn’t want to go back because seven hours is an eternity when he imagines the minutes spent fishing, biking, playing in the river, etc.  I could have buckled and figured out an alternative for him, but my gut told me to make him stick it out.  Watching him belt out “You’re Welcome” from Moana along with cutting several serious rugs, flossing, jiving, bee-bopping around on that stage filled this momma with a lot of reassurance.  Reassurance comes in many forms, and while I do not believe our kids are the next Tom Hanks, Taylor Swift, or Justin Bieber, I find resolve and promise that by signing them up for Jean’s Playhouse Theater Camp, we’ve given our son and daughter an advantage in a hard world, the gift of speaking confidence and  stage playfulness that will last long after our time as their parents.  Better yet, they admittedly want to go back next year.

Greta loves being on stage for dance recitals, but it is important to me that she feel good about using her voice.  She took the command, “Be as loud as possible” very seriously in delivering the Annie famous “Oh my goodness, Oh my goodness” lines.  Annie was her first “real” musical last year which caused her to ask questions and connect with stories live and in person, and I’m exceedingly grateful just to Jean’s Playhouse for her interest in watching plays and musicals;  now, if her curiosity is piqued for also performing in them– all the better for her confidence development.

Tonight at bedtime, I told them both how proud I was of them for making it through the week and trying their best and having fun on stage, etc.

“But, Mom, I was uncomfortable,” Carver started.

“Really? You looked like you were having the best time,” I countered.

“Well, it wasn’t that bad.  My teachers were really funny, and I liked being able to wear my high tops and do my best dance moves,” and I’m trying to not smile because his earnestness and sincerity grips my heart strings.

“I could tell how hard you were working up there on that stage with your friends.  Would you go back next year?”

“Maybe, Mom, maybe, but I’m not making any promises right now.  A year is a long time.  I might not want to when I’m 9.”

And then from the other room, the eavesdropper calls, “Mom, I want to.  I want to.  Sign me up.”

Another eye roll comes from the Star Wars sheeted 8 year old boy.  Regardless of what happens next year, thank you to Jean’s Playhouse and your phenomenal summer staff of actors and actresses who worked with our children.  You’ve made an imprint on what they will become one day.

 

 

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