Part two of a two-part post. Click here for part one.
There were three little girls at the Seder. Well, not so little, really. Lovely, tall, talented sisters, ages 12, 10, and 8. The boys adored them. The two younger girls, especially, reached out and played with my little men, cuddling them and tickling them and including them in all the games. Poor Benjamin was reduced to tears by a particularly intense tickling session from the eight-year-old. I came over to pick him up, but he screamed. “No! Again!”
I put him down and he ran over to his distant cousin, lay down in front of her, and assumed the position. The adults threw up their hands. There was only so much we could do, and he is a hearty twenty-one-month-old. It takes a lot to overstimulate him, and even when it happens, he comes back for more.
The twelve-year-old, Jane, is as tall as I am and much more beautiful than I have ever had a claim to be. She is in that horrible place, the place where she wants desperately to be an adult even though all those around her know she is still a child. She wants coffee and high heels and all the trappings of adulthood.
When the adults recruited the two elder girls to sing to the crowd, they ran off to prepare a show. Benjamin ran off behind them, shouting “running!” Soon, all five children were ensconced in a back room, plotting. The girls made our boys feel welcome, dancing with them and showing them the motions. Adults, however, were strictly forbidden.
And then it was time for the show. Jane and her ten-year-old sister really put the show on themselves, singing songs from their upcoming music-class recital. The middle girl is brassy and confident, and there are actors the world over who would sell their souls to have just a portion of her stage presence, which was clear even in the small family living room. Jane, however, was nervous and sang quietly, and it was hard to hear her really pretty singing voice from just across the room.
I watched and I saw us. I saw me, perhaps not always confident but certainly always outgoing and ready to seek the applause of the next available audience. And I saw Helen, five years older, the one who could actually carry a tune, stooping over and hoping to disappear before too many people would notice her. She may yell and argue and fight, but my sister makes noise to cover for her desire to disappear.
When it was over, Jane sat down next to her older cousin, a college student who majors in theater and knows a thing or two about performance, and they started whispering. The younger children all got up to dance. Actually, three of them did. While Ben began boogying with the two younger girls, Zachary refused. Now, I have seen that little man swing his hips around my kitchen, and while he is not channeling Elvis, he does like to twist and shout.
Yet, he shrunk smaller at the very suggestion of dancing. I came and picked him up, offered to dance with him privately where no one could see. “All those people shouldn’t be sitting there,” he told me, indicating the audience. He wanted to dance with the other children; he just did not want anyone to know.
I pulled aside his lovely older cousin and we went into the next room. “Jane, Zach is nervous about dancing in front of other people. He doesn’t know that other people feel that way. Can you please tell him how you feel?” As she stood there and gently explained about not raising her hand in class and her anxiety about the upcoming performance, I was grateful to this teenager for opening herself up to help my little man understand about himself. I was grateful that she was showing him that his feelings were normal, that it is OK to find audiences overwhelming, that we all just have different personalities.
I also wanted to weep for them both. The world is organized to reward us, the bold and the brash. Teachers hear our voices and clients buy our products. The shy, the highly sensitive, the people who are secretly funny and silly and talented, they are not heard unless we can help them find channels that suit their temperaments. Their paths will be harder as they work doubly hard to make sure their heads poke up every now and then from the crowd.
Meanwhile, Benjamin will be throwing himself in the path of the action, always ready for more tickling.