Time passes, like it does, and Velvet recently celebrated her 15th birthday.
It’s never hard for me to come up with awesome things to say about my crotchfruit. But Velvet’s progression into her mid teens has been tough.
My younger daughter is beautiful, intelligent and kind. And she was blessed with a talent some people only dream about. She can sing like nobody’s business and when she walks out on a stage she transforms.
She’s a freshman this year and despite the fact that her school is organizing a huge musical production for the spring, she decided not to try out.
“What in the hell do you mean, “I’m not trying out”?” I implored when she first delivered the news.
“I’ll do tech or something. I don’t want to audition,” she said, softly.
“That’s insane!” I blustered. “You HAVE to do the musical!”
Velvet shifted uncomfortably. “No. Mom, I’m just a freshman. And I won’t even get a part.”
“HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOU WON’T TRY OUT?!?”
“I’m just not going to,” she said simply, with a sigh, and as she looked away I glimpsed a deep and ruthless sadness hiding in her eyes.
I let it go for a couple of days. I listened to Rah-rah practice her vocals and watched her block her song. She was the very definition of “preparing for the fucking audition”.
“Hey Rah. Why won’t Velvet try out for the play?” I asked one afternoon after a particularly rousing rendition of “I Can Do Better Than That.”
She shrugged. “She says she doesn’t want to.”
“Well–MAKE HER,” I snapped because Rah-rah’s influence is much greater than mine these days.
“What do you want me to do,” she replied. “She doesn’t want to. So how did I sound?”
“Amazing,” I admitted.
My heart was torn a little bit. While Rah-rah is quite the musical genius, Velvet has something to offer as well. She’s played actual lead roles in other productions so her unwillingness to bend baffled me.
I tried again. “Why don’t you want to audition for the musical?” I asked a few days and glasses of wine later.
“Because I’m not that good. There are so many people who are better than me that I would just embarrass myself.”
“SO YOU WON’T EVEN TRY?” I snapped, my resolve to remain ‘calm’ and ‘cool’ dissipating along with my mild buzz.
“No, Mom. I’m. Not. Doing. It.”
I think that’s when I realized we were dealing with a syndrome I’m quite familiar with–Perfectionism.
“If it isn’t going to be perfect, it’s not worth doing at all.”
I battle the fucking bastard demon who whispers “what if you fail?” in my ear every time I write. Or do anything I’m passionate about.
I took her hands in mine. “Look at me.”
“Please.” I was pleading.
She looked up, met my gaze flatly and my eyes filled with tears.
“The only possible way you can fail is if you don’t try,” I whispered.
“You smell like wine,” she sniffed.
“That isn’t wine,” I grinned. “That’s WISDOM.”
She smiled back, sadly. “People will laugh at me.”
“Fuck em,” I growled.
“I can’t,” she said and pulled her hands away.
There is no epidural for motherhood and that “can’t” hurt me in places I can’t define. So I sat on the couch and wept copious tears and felt like a complete failure as her mother.
The audition dates loomed.
I begged, I pleaded, I even threatened to sell Velvet’s horse.
“Go ahead,” she challenged me.
“Give it up, Mother,” Rah-rah suggested. “If she’s willing to get rid of that stupid horse she REALLY doesn’t want to.”
“My horse isn’t stupid,” Velvet snapped. “THE MUSICAL IS STUPID.”
The night before auditions I walked into Velvet’s room and sat on the edge of her bed. The Princess greeted me briefly and her asshole cat gave me a bored stare.
“Oh my GOD, Mom, are you going to bug me about the freaking auditions again?”
“Actually…no. I’m going to talk about me.”
She looked relieved.
“I am a writer,” I began. “That’s possibly the most embarrassing sentence I’ve ever said out loud.”
“What? Why? I tell everyone you’re a writer.”
I blanched. “That’s a secret!”
“Not a well-kept one,” she said, crossing her arms. “Why in the world are you ashamed of writing? You’re so good at it.”
“I don’t FEEL like I’m good at it. I think I might give it up,” I admitted. “Shut down my page, all of it.”
“You can’t do that! What about your followers? It isn’t always about how you FEEL. It’s about what you are. You are so good at it, Mom. You HELP people.”
“I dunno,” I replied. “I make people laugh, sometimes.”
She rolled her eyes. “You do more than that. People love you.”
“And you know what? I don’t deserve it. I’m one of millions of women who get married, crap out a bunch of babies and have no idea how to raise them.”
“But you’re REALLY good at swearing and drinking wine,” she offered. “You let people know they aren’t alone in their struggle.”
“I’ve done a shitty job of convincing you YOU’RE not alone,” I sighed.
“I’m NOT alone,” she giggled indicating her tiny dog and the bastard cat who was lazily slapping her hair.
“I guess not. I just want you to think about something. If I quit writing, people might notice at first. Some may ask where I went or why I stopped. Eventually they’ll move on, and, I assume, I will too. But what if I could have reached ONE person at a time when they needed to hear something I needed to write? That’s what keeps me going. When you walk out on stage, you transform. Your energy is incredible. I’m so sad you’re walking away from that. And I love you no matter what.”
“I knew you were going to talk about the damn play,” she groused.
“Auditions will be over tomorrow. I’ll prolly shut up then,” I smiled.
The next day she sent me a text that she was going to stay and support her older sister while she auditioned. I picked them up afterwards.
“How did it go?” I asked Rah-rah as she slid in the front seat.
“I want the feather duster,” she simpered, pulling on her seat belt. “I guess we’ll see.”
“She sounded great from what I could hear,” her sister offered.
“Well, congratulations on your audition,” I smiled, simultaneously thrilled for Rah-rah’s success and gutted by Velvet’s refusal to try.
I saw the director at a choir function. “Are you thrilled auditions are over?” I asked.
“Heck yeah,” he nodded. “Now we just have to cast everything!”
“I know that’s tough,” I smiled. “You are blessed with lots of talented kids.”
“I was really impressed with your daughter’s vocals,” he offered, surprising me.
“What are you talking about, Rah is a superstar! Don’t believe me? Just ask her!”
He laughed. “True story. But I’m not talking about THAT daughter…I’m talking about her sister. Seriously. She’s very talented.”
“Who, Velvet?” I implored.
“Oh, don’t look so surprised. You know she can sing.”
“Yeah…but she didn’t try out,” I explained to the dude who had just sat through eleventy billion hopefuls.
“Wrong. She tried out. And she slayed it.”
It’s not often I’m surprised. Rarer still that I’m speechless. “What did she sing?” I wondered, a little dazed.
“Ask her,” he suggested and excused himself.
When I finally had her alone, I realized I had a new wound…my girls were hiding important shit from me.
“So, anything you want to tell me?” I asked.
“Ummm, I think we need tampons.”
I rolled my eyes. “Anything else?”
“Not that I can think of.”
Silence. “Could you please sing the song you sang for your audition? I got to hear Rah-rah practice, but I don’t even know what song you chose.”
More silence. And then, the most beautiful thing happened.
“Don’t look at me,” she said softly. I turned my head and my girl began to sing (if you aren’t familiar with the song or lyrics lucky you because I can’t type through the tears) “She Used To Be Mine.” Go ahead and watch it. I’ll wait.
“She’s imperfect…but she tries…”
When she was finished I put my hand on her leg and sobbed, “That was really incredible,” and she said “I still don’t think I’ll get the part!” And I said “But that doesn’t matter…I’m so, so proud of you…”
And then she turned 15.
And I finally realized I’m not raising kids, I’m raising adults and I’m not perfect. I look back on that girl that I was…who found herself having her second baby in as many years. She didn’t have a clue. But she had hope.
“Who’ll be reckless just enough, who’ll get hurt, but who learns how to toughen up…[she’ll] be scared of the life that’s inside her, growing stronger each day till it finally reminds her, to fight just a little, to bring back the fire in her eyes.”
Velvet. You won’t understand any of this right now. While you possess a wisdom far beyond your years, your life experience dictates that you cannot fathom the ferocity of the love I have for you. You might catch a glimpse when someone lays your brand new baby on your chest and you whisper “it’s so nice to finally meet you.” I hope I’m there when that happens.
My sweet girl, you’re one of four people in this whole world who knows what my heartbeat sounds like from the inside. I am so incredibly proud of you and the woman you’re becoming. I adore you, even when you’re messy. I’ll do my best to help you fly, even when you feel like your wings are broken.
Happy birthday, Velvet.
(And congrats on landing that part you wanted. I never had a doubt 🙂