It is somewhat less painful to document the metamorphosis of “the performing child,” when you are a generation or so removed by the title of grand “anything” to the little creature. When you’re the mother of this unique and gifted breed, it is much more difficult to present the truth, because your report becomes a reflection of you, your parenting skills and more or less a rap sheet, amplifying every flaw that your moral fiber has reproduced in your child. A “grand,” in my case, grand aunt, however, does not come into question with the same caustic suspicion as a parent, and is pretty much exempt from direct responsibility of the changeling when reporting the chameleon behavior of the performing child.
Take my two “grands” for instance. On an ordinary night, you can put these two warm, snuggly little strawberry muffins to bed, plumed with pillowed pink frosting, and wake up the next morning with pretty much the same. Hand in hand they’d gladly walk through fire to please you, in any way they could. Case in point, I dashed over for a minute to help their mother, Baby Kristen, who although now past forty, still graciously responds to that nickname given by me at her birth. My two grand nieces, Tatti and Siddah, flung open the front door with pure glee. They instantly recoiled in simultaneous shock shouting, “Graaaand Celia”!!! You don’t have on a STITCH OF MAKE UP!!!!! GET IN HERE WITH US!! And with that, they whisked me off to their mother’s boudoir and began to empty her bountiful drawers of top-of-the-line cosmetics, applying them liberally to my bare face. Pudding-pleased with themselves, they worked feverishly like Christmas elves meeting a deadline, and I must admit, I, along with them, swelled with pride at the result of their handiwork. In an attempt to make a little light, grateful conversation, I casually said, “Thank God for both of you, I know I can depend on you not to let me die ugly.” The little one quipped back without even looking up from my lip gloss tedium, and said, “Grand Celia, you step one foot toward Jesus, and we’ll crawl up in that box (meaning casket) and make you look like a movie star!” The other nodded, working feverishly on my hair, and said, “Umm hmm… sure will, so don’t you give that another thought!!!!!” Now, at this point, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry because they are both dead serious, so I just fall in tandem with them, all three of us nodding “yes” in agreement.
From that moment on, this heart-felt conversation has become my point of reference for the true definition of absolute devotion, and one doesn’t come by that kind of thing just every day.
Now, that’s the confectionary side of these little darlings, Hearts big as Moon Pies and intentions to match. But you just let a performance of any kind loom on the calendar, and who you THINK you tucked into the covers last night, wake up on a performance morning like a couple of wild hares caught in a snare, teeth set on edge and talons sharp and extended, just lookin’ for a place to sink in and take hold! Mean as keen switches, these two little pistols come out spoiling for a fight, and fight they do! Somebody’s looking at somebody sideways! One snatches the other’s waffle and sends it crumbling to the floor! Feral howls wail up from the victim, and another crisp Eggo, dripping with extra everything is slung from toaster, straight into the gape of the squaller to help ease the dreadful offense. And so the morning continues with an even exchange of kicks, pinches, and thorny quips, until each child is satisfied the score is tied, and then they scamper off to shampoo their long tangled ponytails.
Two sets of dripping curls burst from the shower through a cloud of steam, darting like bees on clover, jockeying for position to be the first one chosen for preening and polishing. Baby Kristen’s hands tremble slightly as she examines their make-up and costume cases, hoping, literally praying she has thought of everything. For the truth is, if one small hair pin is missing or the tiniest ribbon has been left on the closet floor, it could be just the spark to set off a tantrum heard round the globe, and not easily quieted. Her thoroughness is such a fundamental “must” that she leaves her husband at home, ready and poised by the phone until the last minute possible, so just on the outside chance she has forgotten something, he can grab it and race it to the venue, in the knick of time. Yia Yia, their grandmother, sits quietly governing over their beastly conversations, “Now, you simply cannot talk that way to your mother,” or, “I know you can be a little nicer.” There’s stage base foundation, heavy eye shadow and rich lip gloss to be applied. Then there’s curling, straightening, spraying and glossing. Nothing is spared either little diva, and in a few short hours, what looked like drowned kittens, emerge as storybook swans, ready for presentation.
When the lights finally dim and the curtains rise, there are a few magical seconds of one-on-one interaction with the performing child, where for one split second your hearts beat together as one. I watch in slow-motion as Tatti’s tiny chest swells, filling her lungs to capacity. And with the confidence of a Sunday night quarterback, she shouts out a four-count — their performance begins!!
They tap and stomp and shuffle and nod, beating out their numbers with precision fit for Radio City Music Hall. Their clear strong voices peal out like battle arrows across a frenzied crowd, who shout back at them in awe and expectation of their skill and flair. The house turns electric as they shower us down, literally drenching us in perfect harmony and step, every ounce of heart, every drop of soul, they leave all they have on the performance hall floor. My throat still catches to tell it.
But, alas the final overall winner of the talent contest is a wee Asian child, no more than 3½ feet tall. She is dressed to the floor in blush chiffon as pale as the tint of her porcelain cheeks. The grand piano bench and pedals raised close to a foot to accommodate her tiny limbs, and she approaches it with the intrepid lilt of a garden spider, head hung elegantly low, like a dim lit chandelier, hands and wrists poised ballerina like, high above the keys. She prepares to spin her art, and spin it she does, from beginning to end. The prodigy plays without a fray. I scarcely take a breath during her entire performance for fear of missing a note. And, when she finishes, her hands folded and her head bowed in reverence, I jump to my feet and cheer with abandon, as if she were my own.
And this is the rest of the story:
And then it hits me, like the sound of a death rattle. I can hear my little grands voices clattering up from my raw guilty conscience, crying out in horror, “Graaaand Celia, WHAT ARE YOU DOING??? You’re cheering for a total stranger!!! WEEEE ARE THE LIGHTS OF YOUR LIFE!! You’ve already told us so, and you CAN’T take it back!!!!” I shoot back down in my seat, clutching my pearls and heaving for undeserved air. My eyes glaze over with unbridled fear as I snatch my body backwards as if I were trying to hide behind a tree, peering out to catch a glimpse of anyone who might witness my treachery. Thanks be to Glory, there is no one!! I pretend to straighten my blouse in an attempt to regain my composure. “Oh well,” I rationalize now, “The Asian child did alright, but now that I’ve had a chance to reflect, I’m just not sure….hmmmmm…”Which is what any Grand worth her salt would be thinking.
It crashes down on me like a West Coast mudslide! What have I been thinking???! I snap out of it. My honorable, unbiased loyalty to the expertise of a complete stranger flies out of my head like a single shot comet, soaring to earth, plummeting into the ground with such a shattering crash that it literally blows me back sober. I begin circling and sussing out, rooting up the real issues at hand in this moment! Are the judges really paying attention? Are they even qualified to judge the talent of young children? My children? And if they ARE qualified, do they all have fresh batteries in their calculators? Do they tally the final scores together more than once? Who has the judging sheets? And don’t think I won’t be requesting them either. God is my witness, a judge made a notation not long ago that she preferred NOT to hear lyrics sung while tapping!!!! She really preferred to hear JUST THE TAPPING!!?!? For cryin’ out loud!!!! That’s what my Grands doooooo!!!! And, if that’s the way it’s going to be…there goes Broadway! Let’s all fly up there and shut THAT baby down!!! Blight her out!!!! After all, those unruly Broadway thugs sing while they dance, EVERY. CHANCE. THEY. GET!!
I catch myself again. What am I doing??? Have I gone nuts? Compose yourself!!! Someone may read your thoughts and call security! Well, I’ll show them! I’m gonna look right around here and SMILE at some people. That’ll throw ‘em off! Now then, they can’t say there’s a raging lunatic loose in the crowd fixin’ to hurt somebody. Crazy things!!! Who’d say such a thing about me anyway! “Fine, and you?” I know no one asked me how I was, but I just thought I’d let them know – just in case.
Is that a judge coming down from the balcony? Why, that is the dentist! I know who he is. I know some people that have gone to him, and him trying to act like he knows a blessed thing about talent! I’ll bet you he fixed those children’s teeth who won! I can guarantee you he did, and OUR children have both got STRAIGHT TEETH!!! Now, truth be told, ours were probably marked down for singing while they danced, AND HAVING STRAIGHT TEETH!!!! Ooooh the gall of it! Oh well, I can’t think about that now. We have to concentrate on getting ready for the show next week, because NEXT WEEK, NEXT WEEK… Which is also what any Grand worth her salt would be thinking!