Two of the highlights of my busy December were the girls’ school Christmas programs (I think I’m still recovering from both production numbers since I’ve only found the courage to write about it now!). I’ve figured out why I’d never felt this frazzled in the past, even when Sam was going to preschool in Chapel Hill. First the obvious — it was one child that had to perform and not two. Second, the school programs were simple and they didn’t run smack into the height of the Christmas holidays, as we are known to do here in Manila. Sam’s first preschool was Jewish, and Hanukkah normally falls at the beginning of December. Her second preschool was non-secular, so the biggest celebration they had was Thanksgiving, and the children sang all of two songs. Here in the two schools my girls attend the year-end Christmas program is a major production for teachers, children and parents alike!
Jamie the Christmas Elf
At Jamie’s school, the teachers were trying to keep the performance a surprise. Jamie would some songs every now and then though so I knew a few, and at pick-up I’d catch the older kids at practice. Each time we’d pass the kids, Jamie would move in tune to the music too. One morning in December in the middle of a diaper change, I said, “It’s December, Mom will start teaching you some Christmas songs okay?” And then I started singing Jingle Bells. I stopped at the phrase “Jingle all the way!” thinking that would be a lot for her to repeat, but instead Jamie replied, “Oh what fun it is to ride in a one horse open sleigh – Hey!” Aha. Another song in their repertoire.
Jamie’s teachers would always tell me that she loves to sing and dance, and was really the only one in her class who would consistently perform. She’d even walk to the front and stand on top of the x-marked spot. Nonetheless I was nervous about the big day, because — if I know my child — she gets completely conscious when she knows she’s being watched; and I don’t think a room full of parents and cameras would inspire her to perform. But I hoped, and asked her teachers to video a practice session, just in case.
At home, I did the usual prep work and talked about her big day for weeks. I downloaded the songs (it was a mad search on the net I tell you!) so that she could practice her moves at home, even if I didn’t know if they were correct. I tried to get her to do them in front of a small audience, but she’d shy away.
I lost sleep the night before her performance and prayed it would all go well. Of course I also told myself – she’s not even two, there’s no pressure but that didn’t make the nerves go away. I was trying to analyze why — and I think I just wanted to get a glimpse of how she is at school.
On the morning of the program, we got off to a bad start. Jamie woke up earlier than usual, which already gave me the sinking feeling she’d be tired and cranky early. She didn’t want to eat breakfast either, and put up a fight when I dropped her off at school. Her teacher had to pry her away from me crying, so I was bracing myself for the worst. I picked a chair by the front, and crouched below some parents to stay out of sight. My husband chose to stand at the corner so he could video the performance, but I worried she’d see him and want him to get her.
Then the kids walked out and took their places. Jamie seemed to know the drill and didn’t show an ounce of fear or shyness. She even saw her dad and waved hi, and when the music started, she just went and performed! She sang, danced and did everything that they taught her, and she was as the teachers said, the best elf in their group.
I was so proud (and so relieved) I started to cry. At one point she finally saw me (since I would stand in the middle of all the seated parents to get a picture) and cried out, “Mommy!” I froze because I thought that was the end of it, but instead she looked steadily at me and continued to perform. I’d meet her gaze and mouth the words so she’d know it was just like how we did it at home.
At the end of the program, Jamie happily climbed into my arms and looked pretty content with herself. Incidentally, she was also the only child who walked up to Santa by herself to claim her gift. During the snack reception a lot of the other kids’ parents came up to me and congratulated me on Jamie’s performance. They asked me how I got Jamie to be so confident, and I really thought about it after that. For her singing and dancing, I really honestly believe it’s because of Kindermusik. I think her love for music just took over any kind of self-consciousness. As for walking up to Santa, well… she just wanted that gift!
Sam the Brightly Colored Bird
In Sam’s case, when we first got the memo about a Christmas play last November, I thought it was just going to be her class performance. Apparently, the school mounts a big production for all 200 students of the morning session, from prep to the 1st grade. The play was Alice the Magic Dragon, and Sam’s class were the colorful birds. Sam got sent home with a script, with a note that said we had to help her practice her line. There was one highlighted line, which after some research, I learned was her one solo line!
Sam was very vocal about the play, the dances and the songs, so we’d practice them at home and rehearse her line every night. She memorized it fairly easily (and I’d say her Kumon lessons helped in that aspect!) and tried to add in the right intonations to show emotion.
What was more stressful for me was the costume. It was the parents’ responsibility and it called for colorful FEATHERS. I had no idea where or how to put that together myself without the costume falling to pieces. I had nightmares of my daughter shedding on stage. I looked to outsource, but three dressmakers told me they were full for the holidays. Even Sam’s ballet school (that normally makes costumes) couldn’t accommodate us. Finally, our assistant at the office volunteered to go on a trip to one of our local markets. She took one of Sam’s dresses so that they could approximate the measurements and she negotiated it be completed in a few days. That was a huge relief.
Sam’s bird costume turned out better than expected, and when we walked into school the morning of her play, the other moms complimented her on her feathers as she was literally covered in them from head to toe (some of the other birds had cloth feathers and didn’t look as fluffy as she did. Actually, she looked more like a baby chick then a bird, but she loved it). During the play, Sam said her one line fairly well (she elicited some chuckles from the audience) and danced front and center too (my kids are smaller than their classmates, I think that’s why the teachers situate them there). I think Sam gets her body movement fluidity from her dad. He always said I had two left feet.
I was proud of my little bird. Growing up in the same school, I never liked performing in front of a large audience. I was always very self-conscious (I think I still am!), and would rather help out in the safety of the shadows. Sam performing couldn’t have been easy because I know she also gets self-conscious every now and then, but she enjoyed herself, and loved her chick-look.
I still have tons of photos to sort through (since I snapped the camera every second for every play) and several video clips to upload. I watch the clips over and over again and they always bring a smile to my face, and admittedly, a sense of relief. I’m so glad the girls are enjoying, learning and adjusting well.
I was chatting with some mom friends about the stress these kinds of productions bring upon us parents particularly during an already hectic time in the year. One of my mom friends said that she avoids it and has her child skip the days they need to come in costume or dress up for plays. She said it’s not worth the effort knowing her daughter might be too shy to perform anyway. While her feelings and thoughts are valid (I have similar fears all the time), I can’t imagine not giving my girls a chance to work through and experience it. Whatever the outcome there’s a lesson or two they (and we) can pick up from the entire process and to me that is priceless. I’d take the sleepless nights, the nightmares and the stage-mom fears twice over if it meant giving them an experience I could never do for them.
Somehow in the end it pays off. They know that I support them (as evidenced by all the practicing and downloading of songs) and encourage them; and no matter what the outcome would be they know it would be okay. But they always know I’m excited for them and I hope that they’ll at least try. I’d like to believe that’s also what pushes them to stand front and center and perform.