My children are fortunate enough to go to an elementary school which believes firmly that when given a chance, even little kids in primary grades, (1st-3rd) can do BIG things. In the spirit of this notion, our local elementary school hosts a primary grade play production each year. This year’s production was one of my favorite stories, Charlotte’s Web.
I must confess, I barely remember reading Charlotte’s Web as assigned reading in grade school, though I fondly remember the cartoon. For those of you who missed this childhood classic, Charlotte’s Web is the tale of a runt pig (Wilbur) that befriends a wise spider (Charlotte). The wise spider weaves words in her web about Wilbur which fascinates the farmers and helps to save Wilbur from the fate of slaughter. Wilbur later returns the favor by showing Charlotte’s young spiderlings the same kindness and compassion after her passing. Of the many themes of Charlotte’s Web kindess, optimism (or keeping your ‘chin up’) and the idea of the circle of life are introduced. I wondered as I awaited the show’s beginning if kids could possibly relate such meaningful messages at such a young age.
It turns out that I was thoroughly entertained the entire night. I held my breathe as the spotlight hit each soloist. I listened to the brave, unwavering voices as songs flowed from their lips. I felt amazed that they could hold a tune while remembering each of the complicated lyrics. In an hour long play, the only moment I perceived any of the children break character was to beam a quick, unabashed smile at the end of a solo reflecting both the pride and relief of making it through their opening night of music.These kids delivered each line with a conviction which really told the story well. The show was a hit! When the show was over, the audience leaped to their feet, and the director could be heard yelling over the roar of cheers and clapping, trying to explain to the children that they had earned a standing ovation. A standing “O”, she explained, was the grandest gesture of applause that you can earn for a play. I watched as the cast members smiled and peered into the audience to find families among the enthusiastic crowed.
I sat next to my oldest son, Jake during this performance, and Ben sat firmly on his father’s lap so he could be a little taller and see the stage better. When the chaos of applause finally quieted and the audience returned to a seated position, the director instructed the members of the crew to stand. Jake was proud to stand and acknowledge his own applause when they were honored for the work they had put into the production. The director went on to acknowledge the parents, teachers and other community members that had made the production possible. With that, the show concluded and my family headed towards the exit.
This had been Jake’s second year of being in the crew. His first opportunity to participate in the primary grade production was in first grade, but he was intimidated and just chose to watch the school showing. In second grade, he decided to test the water, and joined the crew of Peter Pan. He didn’t mind helping make the sets, but he fondly remembered the pizza party at the wrap up party as the best part of the experience. This year, he was eager to join the crew again in hopes of another pizza party.
As we were discussing what we liked about the play on the way to our car, Jake pointed out that Ben could participate in the play next year! (And then he got bummed out because he remembered that next year, he’d be in the intermediate production, and couldn’t be there to teach Ben the ropes.) Ben promptly decided that he’d like to be “the pig”. Jake explained that next year they would do a different play. Then Jake turned to me in disbelief that Ben would want to be the lead. How could this be? He’s only in kindergarten. How could someone so young desire to take on such a big role? How could he want to be the lead?
After all, Jake had been reluctant to participate at all in his initial year. When he finally did commit, he decided to stay to the side and help on the crew. Next year, he decided, he might try out for the chorus/choir parts. If that went okay for the next couple years, he MIGHT decide to try for an actual speaking role, as long as it was a small easy one to remember. This seemed like such typical Jake to me, taking a measured, calculated approach to spotlight of any social situation.
Jake quickly asked Ben if he knew what it was like to sing on stage in front of hundreds of people. Ben shrugged indicating he really didn’t, but wasn’t all that concerned about the lack of experience. I had to remind Jake this wasn’t as absurd as it seemed. Ben, in fact, has experience singing to more people than I can count. There’s not a lot of people in Northeast Wisconsin who haven’t been subjected to the all 5 verses of the “Cat Came Back” a time or two while standing in lines at super markets. In fact, Ben has parody lyrics memorized to both the Indiana Jones and Star Wars theme songs, which he will burst out anytime there’s more than a moment of silence. Ben is not stranger to putting himself out there. There is always a song in Ben’s heart, and he is not afraid to share his songs with anyone kind soul who will listen. Though Ben is the runt of our litter, like the kids in the play, he can do big things.
I worry that one day, Ben will have to learn that when you wear your heart on your sleeve for everyone to see, someone might eventually break it. And I pray that Jake will chance a stray from his calculated path and remember to enjoy some of the spontaneous wonders life can throw his way. But ultimately, I love that they are becoming really neat little individuals, and I trust that they will continue to find their own unique ways of approaching new experiences. Their vastly different approaches to participating in this production served as yet another reminder that my children as truly as different as the sun and the moon.