I don't think I ever got a hit or caught a single fly ball in my short-lived third grade softball career. I was usually the child asked to silently mouth the words "watermelon, watermelon" while the rest of music class was cheerfully belting out "Muskrat Love", "Rhinestone Cowboy" or some other '70s easy listening classic at our grade school concerts. And I never tried out for any of the all-school talent shows or productions. I was a little self-conscious that my wedge haircut more closely resembled Harpo Marx than my intended Dorothy Hamel; I felt far more comfortable volunteering for the type of theater work that took place back stage as opposed to on it.
But every kid, even those with limited blow-drying skills, deserves her moment to shine, and mine came in the form of fourth grade literary acclaim. That was the year my original 14-page book of poetry, "Give Me Liberty," was selected by the media specialist (we were no longer allowed to call her a librarian) to represent our elementary school at the 1976 bicentennial Maryland Young Authors Conference. I can still remember standing on stage at the state capitol proudly reading my Lexington and Concord themed haiku (yes, a Japanese format for a poem commemorating the "shot heard round the world") aloud for the panel of distinguished judges (senior media specialists, I'm sure) from other area schools.
If there was a national competition for patriotic poets, I certainly didn't advance to it that day. But, I'll never forget feeling like an absolute winner, even if only for seventeen syllables.
My thirteen-year-old son got to feel a similar high this past week when he took to the stage for the Hamilton Follies, his middle school's annual vaudeville style review. And no, he didn't do anything quite as highbrow as read verse. Instead, he and six of his buddies took the "Follies" part of the event quite literally and donned lipstick, eyeliner and pink hair dye in order to dance a surprisingly well choreographed number to the 1997 Spice Girls classic, "Wannabe."
They did both Ziegfeld and Victoria Beckham (who more than a couple of the boys strongly resembled) proud.
Were the lyrics mildly, or perhaps even majorly, inappropriate for seventh grade? Sure. But for the 2:52 duration of the song, those boys were heroes (heroines?), impressing their audience, classmates and parents alike, not just with their enviable energy, but with their sheer bravery, as well. It's not every teenage boy who's willing to get the attention he seeks by sporting mascara and rouged cheeks in front of teachers and peers.
And it was while watching my son strut his stuff that I realized it doesn't really matter if the subject matter of the performance is motivated by a love of history or histrionics. Or if the adulation received lasts only as long as the time it takes to recite three lines or dance to the radio edit of a pop song.
All kids, I think, whether frizzy or pink haired, just "wannabe", and sometimes need to be, noticed.
And it's our job as adults to find them the suitable "stage" to be on, and not behind.