I originally wrote this blog a few years ago. I have updated it a bit. The life lesson is still applicable!
Last week Rachel was in her 16th stage production, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. This was her 8th Christian Youth Theater Kansas City’s production. She loves the stage and the stage loves her. Part of the reason is because she thinks her role as the Villager is as big as the role of Cinderella and sets out to share that joy on the stage. People I have never seen and will never see again tell me how much they love watching her in a show. That is very humbling and such a blessing.
I remember her first audition like it was yesterday. She was 5 ½ years old and in kindergarten. We lived in the Memphis suburb of Bartlett, Tennessee, and the Bartlett Performing Arts Center (BPACC) would be hosting auditions for Pinocchio. Missoula Children’s Theatre was the company that would be running the audition and shows. She was in the correct age range so we decided to try it. I knew nothing about Missoula Children’s Theatre, and only knew that BPACC was a beautiful facility. People frequently want to know what made us decide to try plays and acting with Rachel. Like any child, you are always trying to decide what is the natural fit for their interests. My former Bible study leader has always described Rachel as a “dame.” We had noticed but more importantly others had noticed that she seemed to have a comfort on stage. Even when she is in the grouchiest of moods, she gets on the stage and comes to life. People had encouraged us to look for some acting outlets. It seemed that BPACC and Missoula were about to give us that outlet.
Before we jump into some events and activities, I sometimes call ahead and say, “My daughter has Down syndrome.” Sometimes that helps my controlling nature feel like I’m a little more in control. On this day I had not. That morning, Mr. Fear and Mrs. Doubt started to work on my psyche. “Maybe you should wait, “ came from Mr. Fear. She can try next time. What if he other kids laugh? What if they can’t understand what she says? What if she has to memorize something on the spot and she can’t? What if people are mean and rude to her? Then, there was the great fear: What if she didn’t get a part? Indeed every parent of a child who has auditioned or tried out for anything has experienced the angst of this thought. At that moment in time, I wasn’t thinking about “normal fears”. Nothing seemed normal and I felt almost paralyzed by my own fears. I had no experience with BPACC or Missoula and our community wasn’t always the “most inclusive” of people with disabilities. Still, I kept pushing Mr. Fear and Mrs. Doubt away.
We showed up at the theater with the other 130 children hoping to get parts. My heart was beating so fast that I almost took her home. Instead, I took her little hand and told her to do what she was told to do, to follow directions and just smile. We went in and signed the registration. No one seemed to be staring. The nicest man came over to us and with a gigantic smile he said, “I’m Ron Jewel and I’m the director of BPACC. We are glad you are here.” He showed us what to do and what to expect and then pointed Rachel to the front rows with the other kids. She was not the youngest but she was the smallest one there. She strutted up and found her seat. I looked at Mr. Jewel and said, “I didn’t call ahead. I hope….” He interrupted me and said, “We are thrilled to have her!” Rachel and Ron became fast and fabulous friends and for so many reasons I believe he is a gift to the Bartlett Community!
Missoula has a distinct way of doing their auditions. They went through the audition routine, which took about 90 minutes. After 90 minutes, Rachel was starting to get a bit restless. She was not alone but of course, I thought all eyes were on her. She certainly wasn’t the only younger one who needed a bathroom break, but I conjured up visions of them turning her away because she needed to go to the bathroom. At the end of the time, the children were divided into sub-groups. Those who were cast were given a piece of paper. They were told to take it to their parents and when to come back. Rachel had a piece of paper! Rachel had been cast as a magical baby doll. We invited everyone we knew and Rachel even had a line. She said, “Mama Mama.” When we saw her on the day of the show, we understood why she was cast as a magical baby doll. This picture, taken by our friend Elizabeth Duncan, is my all-time favorite of “Magical Baby Doll” Rachel.
I learned a life lesson that day. I learned that I would never let my own fears paralyze me to the point that they would interfere with allowing Rachel to be who she was created to be. I knew that day that my own fears would never be the reason others would not give Rachel every chance to live her dreams. That January day in the little town of Bartlett, “Mama, Mama” learned a much bigger lesson than Rachel.