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WAITING IN THE WINGS

Her eyes, wide and wet with tears, stare at me accusingly.

“So, you won’t call the school and tell on them?” she whimpers. “You won’t ask the principal to stop them?”

When I shake my head, she throws her hands up in despair. “I told my friends my mother would for sure call!”

I can’t decide whether to laugh or cry at the theatrics of it all: her quivering lower lip, her crestfallen expression, the crocodile tears. Is this child of mine an award-winning actress, or is she really that devastated?

Relying on my binah yisreira (loosely translated as women’s intuition), I’m going with Choice A. And with that same instinct, I make my decision.

Sorry, bubbaleh, but as long as no one is bullying you, or threatening your well-being, I’m not sounding the alarm about annoying singing.

Yes, that’s the crisis we’re dealing with here.

“Tehilla, darling, I’m sorry that the eighth-grade bus monitors are bossy and like to sing so loudly, but I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to go into the school and complain on your behalf,”  I say.

Cue the waterworks.

“But Ma! They’re so mean! They sing their camp songs at the top of their lungs,” she retorts. “And they take the front seats for themselves and make us sit at the back of the bus!”

“Sorry, honey. You’ll just have to put up with it. When you’re a monitor one day, you can be nice and let the third-graders sit in the front seats. Until then, I’d be happy to buy you a pair of earplugs.”

“You just don’t understand,” she moans as she walks away.

Fast forward to the next day.

She comes off the bus noticeably calmer. No quivering lower lip, no crocodile tears.

“How was the bus ride?” I ask hesitantly.

“It’s not a problem anymore,” she says with a shrug.

Yes!

My daughter learned to cope with adversity. She learned to stand on her own two feet. She learned that she doesn’t need her mother to come running to her rescue – she can manage all on her own

“Did you speak up for yourself?” I ask. “Or, did you ignore it and realize it wasn’t such a big deal after all?”

Dina’s mother called the school,” my daughter says coolly, “and the principal spoke to the eighth graders. They were a lot quieter today, and they let me sit in one of the middle seats.”

Dina’s mother called – and now everything is perfect again.

The guilt sets in.  Was I too quick to dismiss my daughter’s concerns? But even as I feel guilty, I chafe at my self-recriminations. Is it really my role as her mother to run interference every time she encounters something she doesn’t like?

I have this dilemma all the time.

My kids are always asking me to intervene on their behalf – i.e. call the teacher about a bad grade or call a neighbor’s mother because of poor sportsmanship during a ball game – and I am usually loath to get involved. Don’t they need the coping skills to deal with situations that don’t always go their way?

When should we speak up and smooth the path for our children – and when should we demand that our children smooth their paths themselves? I’ve been asking this question a lot lately – and my friends have been giving me mixed answers.

A lot of us have older kids now, and yet many of my friends still act like they did when their kids were getting pushed around on the playground. Just recently, I had a group of friends who called their daughters’ high school to make sure their daughters got into dance in their high school productions.

One friend explained, “Why should my daughter lose out on an opportunity just because a twelfth grader might not know her name? If I can help her out, why wouldn’t I?”

It didn’t sit right with me.

Back in the day, I tried out for drama every year of high school, and never got even one speaking line. Instead, I got lumped together with everyone else in choir, even though I can barely carry a tune. And I had a blast, nonetheless.

Choir might not have given me a chance to show off my talents, but it taught me that I had to roll with  life’s punches.

I like to see my role as a mother as one that requires me to be waiting in the wings, watching carefully from the sidelines but never making my way toward center stage.

It’s my child who is in the spotlight. It’s my child who might take pratfalls, who might struggle to find the right line, who might feel the sting of disappointment when the applause doesn’t come easily.

I can coach her, provide cues, offer my advice, cheer for her in my loudest and proudest voice, and let her know I am her biggest fan – always.

But by waiting in the wings, I can make sure she knows she can grow her own wings.

And that is the role I treasure most.

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