Recently a Facebook friend posted about the long hours and crazy schedule his family was enduring courtesy of his talented daughter who was involved in multiple dance and theater productions over the busy holiday season.
I commented with empathy, as I had lived a similar life with my own performing daughter when she was a teen. His response was to re-emphasize her schedule as if perhaps I had misunderstood how crammed it was. And I got it, I really did. I had lived Decembers of “ChristmasCarolNutcrackerHolidayDanceChoirConcert” paloozas that wreaked havoc with my holidays and left me frazzled and exhausted trying to be everywhere for my performing child, while also making holiday magic happen on the home front.
But my time for being that mom had come and gone and I’m sure it seemed improbable to him, in the thick of it, that I could possibly relate. Just as it had seemed impossible to me years ago, that there would ever come a day when this scheduling madness wasn’t my daily reality.
This exchange brought home to me one of the things no one prepares you for when your child goes off to college. That the years you spent in the hallways of dance studios or the bleachers of ball fields, the time you clocked trying to stay warm at hockey rinks or staffing the concession stand a theater intermissions all in service of your child’s passion, comes to a shockingly sudden end when they leave.
For many of us, a decade or more was spent anxiously looking at class placements, team rosters, cast lists, always with an eye toward what was coming ‘next.’
Would our son or daughter move to a more advanced level? Would he or she finally get that chance at starting pitcher or forward or principal soloist or lead part? Who was graduating and making way for younger kids to rise in the ranks and also who were the new kids who appeared on the scene and changed the dynamic?
We listened to audition monologues and songs and threw practice pitches in the back yard, we learned how to sew point shoes and packed dry clothes for the crew team, we cleaned out dance bags and gym bags with stenches that made our eyes water, and ate more meals in the car than we care to admit. All in service of those fleeting moments when our kids took a bow, crossed the finish line, made the shot or stopped the show. We watched our kids with their teammates or cast mates or bandmates and thought “there they go with their tribe,” and smiled at the bonds and friendships they were forming.
And along the way we formed our own tribes – of moms and dads who were in the same boat as we were. And in spite of the reality TV shows that would love us to believe that all dance or theater or sports parents are competitive backstabbers, what we really found were nice, normal, everyday people. People we turned to for everything from carpooling to hosting our kids at sleepovers, from providing last-minute costume help, to offering everything from water bottles to pep talks to kids who weren’t theirs but whom they had watched grow up on the fields, courts, rinks, studios and stages with their own children.
Together we cheered the college acceptances as they came in, and went through all the rituals of senior year – final games, final performances – shedding tears of pride over the young men and women we’d watched grow from awkward youngsters to accomplished artists and athletes.
And then it ended.
As if a stopper was pulled from a sink draining it of water, the cycle of graduation, packing, move-in, and college drained our lives of something that had become so central to us we didn’t even realize how much of our world was built around it.
Suddenly, our kids were performing on stages and fields that didn’t need us to wait in the wings or sit on the bleachers. Some of our kids left it all behind completely, absorbed in new academic pursuits. Some moved full steam into professional studies of their craft, no longer living in the world of ‘youth’ arts or sport but taking their place as adult artists and athletes in their own right.
And before we knew it, a year or more had passed and we noticed that the Facebook pages for the theaters and studios and teams that had been our child’s whole world were now populated by kids who seemed impossibly young, while their own proud parents, like my friend above, did their time in the “dancesporttheatrecheerband” trenches.
Like soldiers re-telling battle stories to young recruits we want to tell these parents “we were there too.”
But the reality is that this is their time now. And as much as I want to warn them that this too shall end, I refrain. Instead I congratulate their talented children on their latest achievements, and slowly become accustomed to a life that is more my own – one that isn’t built around rehearsals, practices, games and performances.
Huh. Turns out that’s not such a bad thing after all.
Katie Collins is a native Mainer who has called New Hampshire home for the past 29 years. A nonprofit development professional by trade, Katie also has over 30 years of experience community and professional theater and in 2013 was awarded NH Theater Award for Lead Actress in a Drama or Comedy. She resides in quiet domesticity with her adorable wife, with occasional visits from her talented daughter, a college sophomore. Katie is a lover of musical theater, the original Star Trek, cheeseburgers, old Carol Burnett show reruns, and weekly lap swimming at the local YMCA. She tries very hard not to take herself too seriously