Let Her Go

In less than a month, my six-year-old Annie will sing “Let It Go” at the school variety show. While this fills me with terror, her biggest concern seems to be with the lighting for her entrance and if she should leap into the audience for her finale.

I’ve bitten my tongue about what I think maybe should be her bigger concern. I think she might be as tone deaf as her mother.

In a quest to try and figure out if this was indeed the case, I took her to a singing teacher a few weeks ago. The thing about Annie is that she is a bundle of manic energy. She talks fast. She moves fast. And that means she is either groping you inappropriately or knocking something over. She is like Mary Katherine Gallagher from the old Saturday Night Live skit. While she doesn’t smell her armpits, she might pick her nose. Apparently she recently even ate a booger in front of a friend’s mother last week while singing “Let It Go” in her face. But, in most scenarios, Annie—with her sheer love for living, her boundless enthusiasm for style and glamour—is able to pull it all off with her own kind of grace. Even if her butt crack is showing more times than not.

The singing teacher, however, was instantly not her biggest fan. While she tried to rein Annie in, my girl bopped along to the piano, belting out “Let It Go” as joyously as if she was in the studio when they recorded “We are the World”.  At one point she even bounded over to my perch in the corner (the teacher had wanted me to stay—I think for protection) and whisper-screamed in my ear, “This is the most fun EVER.”

The signing teacher wasn’t quite as enthusiastic and, after wrapping us up early, she suggested that maybe Annie should find a more appropriate song for her age. She said, “Just because it’s Disney doesn’t mean it’s easy.” And for good measure added, “I hate seeing young girls sing adult songs like Britney Spears.”

Now clearly our beloved Idina Menzel is no such hussy. And thankfully Annie somehow missed the content of all this and took it as a compliment. For me, the question remained: could she sing or not? The teacher had said “good” a few times. But did she say that to everyone? And, seriously, when you are as tone deaf as I am, would I even know?

School vacation came and we kind of forgot about practicing. And then a family friend told us yesterday about the huge national Frozen sing-a-long that Good Morning America was airing today. We saw the site was still taking submissions and quickly videotaped Annie in her Elsa nightgown singing her favorite segment of the song, arm thrusts and all.

So today it aired and Annie of course was not in it. She was devastated. I explained to her that even though the site was open they probably had already wrapped up the video. And then I realized not only was she shocked not to be in the video but she had thought they would have flown her out to be on stage for the live sing-along. I tried to deflect this growing outrage by turning her back to practicing for the variety show. I even intimated that maybe the variety show could end up on Good Morning America.

On the way to her Daisy Scout meeting, she sang along to the karaoke track, with me hovering in and trying to get her back on track when she would get behind tempo. I’d sing over her, trying to get her on key. Frankly, I was starting to get worried. How the hell was she ever going to get up on stage and pull this off? This was going to be an off-key, off-tempo disaster. Annie got sick of me singing, shushing me and then shutting down completely. I felt like the biggest jerk ever.

As we walked out of the car, I told her I was sorry and I said, remember what you need to do to have a great performance? Yes, she said, have fun.

As I drove home alone, I excitedly cranked up that karaoke number and started doing some belting of my own. (I may be tone deaf but I am the most enthusiastic karaoker you will ever meet.) And you know what? Without Annie’s voice there to anchor me, it was really hard. I was cracking all over the place, running out of breath. Annie had been somehow guiding me all along.

And I realized, she might be totally off-key, she might be tone deaf, but that girl has spunk and spirit. Who cares if her voice is as bad as mine. I would never have the guts to get up in front of an entire school and sing, not now let alone at six. My daughter may be a spazz, but she is a confident one. And despite all my training and worries, she held on to the only good piece of advice I had given her.

She is having fun. She’s sweet, spunky and innocent. She has nothing she needs to let go.

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The Winner Takes It All

My four year old really enjoys games.  And he plays to win. But sometimes the rules in his quest for success can get a bit troubling. Which is how I recently found myself turned into a dog while playing basketball in a bouncy house. As I crouched in the corner in the “stay” position that JayJay would command me into whenever I tried to move, he would shoot away, winning the game without ever landing a basket. Perhaps the most troubling part of all this: I barked and went along with it as other parents peered inside.

It’s easy to blame society. Sure, little kids get trophies and medals for every sport they do. Show up for whiffle ball, and there is a trophy bigger than your head waiting for you. Go to ice skating class and you get a patch to sew onto your coat (or, if you are my child, stick in a drawer waiting for the day your mother learns to sew). Attend a few Little Gym classes and your lopsided forward roll might just win you a gold medal bigger than any at Sochi. Everyone gets a medal, everyone is a winner. I even tried to smooth over a potential sibling rivalry hotspot after bowling this weekend by proclaiming Danny the gold medal winner, JayJay the silver and Annie the bronze. See, everyone wins, I said. You all get to stand on the podium. The kids were happy. Until JayJay realized I didn’t actually have a medal for him.

Sometimes I wonder if I should force JayJay to lose a few times. For my oldest, losing can still be a bit of a shock. He is even personally offended that the U.S. did not win the most medals at the Olympics. At nine, Danny is at the age when his sports teams don’t all get trophies, where play-offs are involved and even getting on a team isn’t a given. In general, he is a good sport when his team doesn’t win. He works hard for what he gets. He also knows that any grumblings of anything being unfair will result in him being benched by us for the next game. He really is a good sport and a team player. And I can’t take any credit for that.

I have let him win since the day he was born. Monopoly games, extra tries at bat, sneak peeks at Mad Libs. If there was a way to let that boy win, I would. He still tends to beat me at everything today, although sadly for me this is becoming less and less of an act on my part. He smokes me in swimming races to the point where they aren’t even fun for him. He legitimately beats me in board games. One of his biggest victories recently was beating me in Clue. So you can imagine Danny was feeling pretty confident when we started up a game of Clue at his aunt’s house today with his cousin Jenn, family friend Adam, myself and six-year-old sister Annie, who routinely gives away more clues than one would think humanly possible.

It was clear towards the end that Danny had the right answer and he was on his way back to the center to claim victory. And then, Adam swept in and stole it from him. It was like the air was sucked from the room. Danny didn’t cry or freak out, he just looked shocked. An adult (well, a twenty-something) had just beat him. He had almost won. But he hadn’t. As I watched his little face process it all, I couldn’t help feeling a bit sorry for him. He had been so close. I was glad that he handled losing well. It proved to me that he was capable of doing so. But my instinct was still to somehow give him a do-over and let him win. That is probably coddling. But if your mother doesn’t coddle you a bit, who will?

And since I know Danny can handle not winning, I have decided to not feel guilty if occasionally I still let my biggest baby trounce me. My daughter has no need for such victories. She has already declared herself better looking and more fashionable than me—as well as pledged to never let her hair get as frizzy as mine apparently is. She doesn’t need a medal, she wears a tiara every day. But these boys of mine seem to bask in showing Mommy up. They want to show me how smart they are, how strong they are. They want to be adored. And in a world that is bound to let them down many times in the years to come, a little extra Mommy worship can’t hurt.

 So I’ll give JayJay the easy win at Busytown Airport (a game which isn’t even supposed to have a winner), at Ninja Turtle battles and slide races. I’ll offer Danny an extra roll at the bowling alley while insisting it is really just his third ball. Occasionally I’ll miscount the Monopoly money.

But even Mommy has to keep things real sometimes. I have one rule that I have stuck to from day one with all three.

Mommy shows no mercy at air hockey.

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