It’s that time of year I’ve learned to dread. The time of year when my kids’ school announces the upcoming talent show and how all students are welcome to participate, no questions asked or proof of ability required. And both my kids—I don’t have the faintest idea where they get this—are begging for me to let them participate. And I’m hedging.
I don’t hesitate because I don’t think they have talent. I don’t think that’s it at all. I hesitate because kids are cruel and when my six-year son boogey’s down to Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock and Roll” for my entertainment (including some break-dancing moves and “how you doin’ ” head nods) I applaud like crazy and tell him he’s great… but will the rest of the school? Or will they laugh and make him feel silly? Crush his little spirit and make him doubt himself? And when my eight-year old daughter, who just signed up for gymnastics, does her cartwheel routine, will the other girls with years of training mock her? Make her feel like she wasn’t very good?
I had these same qualms last year when my daughter and her best friend jump-roped to Katy Perry’s Firework. She did great and the whole school ended up cheering them on even though I was a nervous wreck through the whole thing. When it was over, I was glad she’d done it, and she was proud of herself and her accomplishment.
And yet, after all that, I’m back to my anxiety of letting them go up in front of the school to perform their dance or cart-wheel routine. My husband tells me everything will be fine, just let them do their thing. And I know I will. I’m not even sure why I’m writing about this because I don’t have an answer, I just know I feel a little ashamed that I’m not encouraging them to do this and even hesitate.
Where does this come from? As a writer, it is scary to put your work out there for criticism, be it from contest feedback, critique partners and groups, agents and publishers, and ultimately, the readers. It’s an inevitable part of being a writer, but scary all the same. And in some ways, I guess this talent show thing is much the same way. Having our kids put themselves out there for other people to enjoy—or not.
As a finally-contracted-writer, I’ve been reading a lot of book reviews lately from readers. I totally understand not liking a book, not getting it, and leaving one or two-star reviews. When the reviewer breaks down why they didn’t like the book, such as finding some events implausible, or just not finding the plot very interesting… I can respect those opinions. But then you read the really mean and vicious reviews, the reviews where people just rip the characters and the writer’s ability because they can… that I don’t get or understand. You don’t have to like everything you read but you also don’t have to decimate someone’s work and abilities—especially not paragraph after paragraph.
So I’m trying to build up my own outer layer so when I receive these reviews, I won’t turn into a sobbing mess of self-doubt. And I suppose that signing those permission slips and letting my little kiddos perform to their own beat in the school talent show will be a way they build up their own outer layer—and confidence. It’s a necessary part of growing as a person.
But… please, kids. Be kind.