In the process of anticipating my daughter’s departure for college, I have been taking a hard look at my life. To outsiders I may seem busy, fulfilled, and always having places to go, people to see. I’m in a band, I write, I dance in a Cancan troupe, and I exercise. But that is only the Facebook reality. In the real world, my life has revolved mostly around work and my daughter for the past 18 years. I do many things that interest me, but I do so in fits and starts, nothing that feels consistent. So in my honest appraisal of my life and seeing how empty it will be without the mothering thing happening on a daily basis, I recently have been filled with thoughts of things I’d love to do, as well fear of aloneness if I can’t make more connections with people and my passions on a regular basis.
At the same time as my daughter leaving, our band, The Honeybelles is taking a break. My daughter has been our lead singer for the past two years, and aside from the daunting task of trying to replace her, my sister is trying to get her cookbook published and is tired of being our band leader. So I decided to take some action on finding new musical pursuits. Tap dancing is something I’ve always wanted to do and have done a little at summer music camps. Having been an Irish step dancer for 12 years I feel comfortable with foot percussion, and decided to look around. I emailed a woman who is a body percussionist and singer, and former tap dancer and asked her about some adult classes in the Bay Area. What I got back from her was a dream come true. I received her email while my daughter and I were in New York, on the very same day my daughter chose the school she will attend. The email, from Evie Ladin (http://www.evieladin.com/), invited me to join her group which she calls “Hands Feet Voice” and combines body percussion, foot percussion and singing. Perfect for me. Although she is on tour a lot, I was thrilled to be invited to be part of this group when she is in town. It seemed serendipitous that I would get this invitation on the very day my daughter’s future so far from home was decided.
The painful choice came shortly after we got home from New York, My daughter was nominated for best actress at the 2014 California High School Musical Theater awards, http://cmtsj.org/content/california-honors, for her role as Dolly in Hello Dolly. She was one of six girls nominated in the entire state, and the winner would go on to New York for the National Jimmy Awards at the end of June. The awards ceremony would take place in San Jose, on the same night I was supposed to work with Evie Ladin and her group. I knew that if I missed that night, I would miss out on learning some extremely difficult choreography, and as the newbie of the group, I knew I wouldn’t be able to catch up if I missed that night. I felt it in my bones. From what I had already seen, Evie does not slow down if you don’t get the steps or the rhythms. So I decided not to go see my daughter perform on the largest stage on the biggest night of her young career. For the first time in 18 years, I chose myself over her.
My daughter and I discussed it, I in tears, feeling like either way I would not be able to live with my decision. She assured me that she was not in need of my presence there, with plenty of other moms, her director, and all her friends who would be going. (The Musical Hello Dolly was also nominated for best musical, so they would perform an ensemble scene from the show that night as well). The pain for me was that I would miss out on seeing her perform in what had been described to me by her director and other parents as “A Very Big Deal”. I told them all it was because I had to work, which was partially true, since I could not afford to cancel two of my regular evening clients. But I probably could have rescheduled them and gone if it had not been for Evie.
I agonized about it, slightly awed at this change in me that I would actually consider missing my daughter’s shining moment. I who have been to every one of her dance vocal and theater performances over the years, volunteering, cheering, recording, and kvelling. I went back and forth in my head a million times over those few days. I talked with my mom, getting her perspective and her support. She decided to go see the show and promised to fill me in on every detail.
On the big night I looked at the clock constantly as I drove to Oakland for the Hands Feet Voice group, knowing at 7:30 p.m. my daughter’s performance would begin, imagining what was happening inside her as she sang her solo “So Long Dearie”, and the big ensemble piece when she and all the waiters would sing and dance to “Hello Dolly”. I felt such an ache and a longing to be there, and had to keep reminding myself that I was making the right decision.
The work with Evie was exactly as I had anticipated, harder in fact. I would have been completely lost had I not been there that night. My daughter performed brilliantly, as I later got to watch on the video one of the parents took. She didn’t win, but having been nominated and doing the performance was what she really cared about.
This experience was a profound lesson for me. My painful choice has given me hope that I will survive this separation and in fact thrive in my new passions. I will, in a sense, reclaim my life. Knowing that soon there will be many events, performances, and shining moments in my daughter’s life that I wont be there to witness, she will have a sense that she can go bravely forward in the world without always being connected to me. And in my own act of bravery, my life will continue, somehow, without her.