“What’s the greater risk? Letting go of what people think or letting go of how I feel, what I believe, and who I am?” — Brene Brown
A few days ago, I took my son to a local dance school’s performance of the Nutcracker, our second live theater outing. The last one was a pantomime. He talked a lot. To me. To the performers on stage. Mostly a lot of questions. “Why is the bear tap-dancing? Why is the woman in the purple dress mean? Why are they throwing candy at us?” He was utterly delighted and delightful. And not a problem. I figured it would be the same today…
My son was enthralled for most of the first act. With earnest questions like, “Why are the dancers running away? Where is the rat king? Why won’t the rat king come back?” The dirty looks and irritated glares began… ‘Come on,’ I’m thinking. ‘He’s three. He’s delightful. These are honest, important questions to him. The dancers can’t hear him. And it’s a children’s dance studio performance! You know, if we were in Egypt, it would be offensive to the performers if the audience was quiet. Most, if not all of you, are parents. You’ve been through this before, right?’
These thoughts then turned to, ‘Should I be asking him to be quiet? Should I try to stop the questions? Should we leave?’ Layered with, ‘What do these people think of me?’
Act two, a son with no nap, the talking becomes more regular. Voices of the young audience members also gaining strength. He hears another likely three-year-old ask quite loudly “When is it over?” My son excitedly calls out – “Hey, over rhymes with red rover!” A few chuckles, a few glares. A dancer brings out a 5-layer cake. During a pause in the music, my son calls out, “Hey! I want a piece from the top of the cake. Lemon cake.” More chuckles. Then a super-duper-stare-me-down-into-a-small-puddle glare. Eek. I thought it was adorable.
Just then, Brene Brown’s discussion of hustling for approval (and worthiness) popped in my head (from her lovely book, ‘The Gifts of Imperfection.‘). When castigated by glaring looks from a few folks, for a brief moment, I felt the pull to quiet my son and appease those in the minority -to gain their approval. He was not being disruptive or inappropriate (that would be different). A few people disapproved. Most didn’t even notice. I am happy to say I chose not to react for the approval from a couple of strangers (the dance-for-approval not at all alien to me) – a reaction that would have been at the expense of my son’s experience. Had it been so important to them I figured, they could have approached me and made a respectful request rather than the whiplash inducing stares and harrumphs.
Then, my son says, “It’s a long show.” I ask if he wants to leave, but he says no. His commentary continues, at which point, the man in front of us gets up and moves to an empty seat a few rows forward. No dirty looks, no comments, just a warm and understanding smile at the end of the show. He took care of his needs, without an ounce of judgment sent my way. I got the sense that he has been in my shoes before.
Sara, I’m just curious; did you tell your son the story of the Nutcracker, or give him any idea of what to expect during the show, before you arrived at the performance venue? That might have helped stem the flow of questions throughout the play. I remember that the first few plays my parents took me to were based on fairy tales or stories that I already knew (like Robert Munsch), and other times, it was things like Raffi, and Sharon, Lois, and Bram, where it was more of a “variety show,” so there wasn’t a storyline to follow. That started when I was maybe three. The first few times they took me to shows with complex or unfamiliar storylines (maybe around kindergarten-ish age), they prepared me in advance.
Great question and ideas. I totally agree with the importance of preparing young children for new experiences. I may have exaggerated my son’s behaviour a bit. He was impressively engaged for a 3-year-old for a large part of the show – he was quiet for more of it than he was talking. I told him about the show before hand, showed some youtube videos of segments of the Nucracker – a picture book would have been a nice idea.
I am taking him to “Where the Wild Things Are” in March and have been reading the story to him almost every night. He’s very excited to see the puppets! we can’t wait.
thanks for your comment. 🙂