I was a Senior in high school and had just auditioned for the big musical of the year. It was The Wizard of Oz and I wanted to be the Witch more than anything else in the whole world. I had been practicing my cackle like nobody’s business. I really wanted that part and was as dramatic as any other teenager at that stage in life is. This was my life. Oh how I laugh at what was so important back then.
The next morning I went to read the cast list. My name was nowhere near the space reserved for the person who got the role as the Wicked Witch. My best friend got the part instead. Granted, she did have a much better cackle than I did. I was cast as Auntie Em and I was heartbroken. Embarrassed about anyone seeing me in this fragile state I called my mom and before I could even shed a tear she was at the school to pick me up and let me be sad. She let me play hooky that day and drown in my sorrow, but only for a little while.
She too had a story of her own to tell to me. It was also her senior year in high school when she had tried out to be a cheerleader. She was awesome and could do the splits and all the tumbling required. She had practiced and practiced and was feeling very confidant that she had what it took to make the team. It ended up being a popularity contest, her fellow students voted and she did not make the cut. Not even her closest friend had voted for her. She was as devastated as I was and I could feel that in the way she told me her story.
My Mom telling me these real stories is how she related to me. She always had an experience to tell me that went right a long with something I had just gone through. She reserved them for times in my life when I would need them. Like an old school google with the corresponding story to be brought up whenever the right moment came along. It had always amazed me how she waited to tell me a particular experience until I needed it most.
These were not stories I had heard over and over again, where I could recite the punchline, like maybe my Dad’s stories were. (Just kidding Dad you know I love your stories!) My Mom’s stories were usually brand new to me. They softened the blow of my heartache and helped me know that others experienced what I did and are just fine and even better for having experienced it.
I really believe this was my Mom’s gift to me. Each story was a present, her way of telling me it was ok to feel vulnerable and sad, that she had been there and lived on.
Of course I went on to put on a Tony award winning performance of Auntie Em with gray hairspray and drawn on wrinkles that rocked the house.
Now I have four young daughters. They will need me to soften the blow. They will need to know that I care and that I can relate, as small as the drama may seem they will need my love and support to let them know that whatever they are going through is not trivial, that they matter.
So when my oldest daughter feels embarrassed about some thing I will tell her about the time I walked into a wall trying to follow a boy I liked, or when I threw up pasta in the parking lot after eating at a restaurant with a big group of friends. How one of those friends even nicknamed me Barfie and occasionally sent me the barf bags from airplanes in the mail.
When another one of my daughters likes a boy that does not like her back I will relate story after story ( I have a million on this subject) about how I often felt like a female version of Ducky in Pretty in Pink. We will then watch Pretty in Pink and all the other brat pack movies of course and cry and laugh together like only a mother and daughter can.
Nothing will be off the table. (well maybe some things will be!) My daughters will see that through my stories these kind of things happen to everyone. They mold us and make us the kind of people who can dust themselves off after a big fat life fail.
It’s nice to know that these things happened to me for a reason. That these hilarious, awkward, mortifying experiences all happened so that I can pass on my mothers amazing gift of stories that will soften the blow.
Good thing I have so many stories, because with four daughters I think I am going to need them all.
*This was my reading for Utah’s first Listen To Your Mother production that took place on May 9th 2013.