When you learn about Shakespeare, one of the first things they teach you is how to easily distinguish between a comedy and a tragedy. In order to entertain, both may have jokes or moments that pull at your tears, but the easiest way to distinguish is to stick around to the end. In comedies, the main characters live. In tragedies, they don’t.

In high school, I loved theater. I had done children’s theatre growing up, and loved the friends I made and the chance to sing on stage and have fun parts and know my way around backstage. The theater helped me survive middle school, where I was ugly in the way of all middle schoolers and self-conscious and lanky but there somehow felt confident and important up on stage with my play friends. When I got to high school, the best extra curricular was by far musicals, because, at my small school where everyone could be in everything, it was the only place I went where I actually belonged. (I also played volleyball until my senior year. When someone asked me recently how good I was at it, I explained that, senior year, I decided to quit the team. I told my coach, and with no hesitation, he said, “Okay!”)

I thought about this a lot this year, because my daughter, Vivvi, who is in first grade, is trying out children’s theater. We tried soccer last year, and, although she is more athletic than I ever was, she doesn’t have an ounce of competitiveness. On the way to games last year, we’d turn around to pump her up. “Are you going to play hard today?” we’d ask. “Nope!” she’d respond. Because she loves singing, has a big imagination, and can be quite the drama queen when she is feeling up to it, I signed her up for the theater this year.

The spring show was The Wizard of Oz. This play is near and dear to me—I was in it twice, the second time being in high school where I was lucky enough to play the part of Dorothy. It is, hands down, my favorite high school memory. So when Vivvi made the show and was cast as a Lullaby League munchkin, I finally understood the heart eyes emoji. Whenever I told anyone that was the part she got and it wasn’t via text, I was at a loss for how to verbally express it’s particular tone. I was overly proud and smitten.

Wizard of Oz

Her first play, in the fall, was Christmas Carol. She played the part of an orphan, and during one song she sat on the edge of the stage and dangled her legs. She knew we’d be in the audience at one show, and we hadn’t told her our seats were front row, right where she’d be sitting. During that song, as she sang with the rest of the ensemble, her eyes searched the crowd for us. She looked everywhere but right in front of her. And then, at the most exciting part of the chorus, she spotted her brother Wally first, right there. She beamed, her face lit up like an orphan opening her only present for the year, as she sang even louder and gestured even bigger. I sat behind Wally and balled and balled. It was the best moment of that show.

You might sense from this that I am over-attached. I was crying over my 6-year-old, who I’m pretty sure wasn’t even aware she was in a show until halfway through the run. My heart breaks to pieces when I remember now that, during dress rehearsals, I was able to see part of the show. She was on stage with the rest of the cast and they practiced an entrance. It didn’t go well, so they ran it again. But before they did, she walked out from backstage and came to sit in the audience, alone. She watched the entire cast run the exact same thing again twice before popping out of her seat and running back up to the stage—she didn’t realize until then that she should be up there, too.

By the end of that show, she understood that she was one of the entertainers. She enjoyed it enough that she wanted to do the next show. Now, with two shows under her belt, she’s an ole’ pro.


I will admit, I can’t shake this spilling over of pride I feel when I think of her in the show and watch her. Although I am aware that she is a 6-year-old, and at this point I might care more than her, I can’t help but slide into the role of the stage mom. After all, who more than me knows how funny she is, how big she can be, how lovely her crazy soprano vibrato can sound. She goofs around opera singing and I am jealous because at 6, she has more control over her tone than I ever did. Even as I type these things, I feel how I am trying to slide back into my youth through her. I am trying to encourage her to be big on stage because I want to be young again and try to do it big and right—what I never did in elementary school. I feel how unhealthy this could be, how I am balancing on a line that borders encouraging and oppressive. I feel these things, and yet I can’t stop myself.

Maybe all parents don’t get this overly obsessed, but with just the fact of the term “stage mom,” I suspect I am not alone. We do this to my son as well with soccer. He is aggressive and fast, and he could be “the best” if he would only practice his skills. He moans and groans at the idea of 20 minutes of drills a day. And a part of me wants to know—where do we find that balance between pushing toward obvious potential, and realizing that they are children. Their job right now is to live, and to have fun doing it. How can we come to realize that no one else cares how good they are at a play or at a sport? Or at least, no one cares nearly as much as us. And that their ultimate success at those things probably doesn’t hang in the balance right now, when they are still at an age where they cry if you tell them to take a shower. And if we take this further, does their ultimate success in these things matter at all? Do we anticipate the yellow brick road for Vivvi leads to Broadway? Or that Wally will be inviting us to see him in the World Cup in a decade or so? Orand I know this is the truth, but my level of concern tells me otherwise—are these just extracurricular activities? Here is the biggest of all true things, what I know at my core, although I can’t help my big feelings I battle around the subject: this isn’t a tragedy—their lives are not at stake.

For Wizard of Oz, again, we invited our family and friends. We secured tickets months in advance, because in the small theater the play was in where every seat is good, I had to be sure to get the best seats where I could sit and cry as my daughter welcomed Dorothy to Munchkinland. The theatre Vivvi does this through really does the show right—they have 10 total performances. The first 3 performances went incredibly well. Vivvi didn’t have anyone in the audience for those, so her big show would be Sunday. My family was coming, and we had secured 14 seats in the center section, 3rd and 4th row.

That morning she woke up and said her stomach didn’t feel well. Then she did what my children have only done a combined total of 3 times in their lives: she threw up. (This record of not puking is something I am also unusually proud of. Wally Ben finally lost his streak of never having puked when he was 8 years old, and we texted everyone we knew.)

“You’d better call your family,” my husband said, when Vivvi threw up.

“No!” I said, unwilling to call it. “Maybe she ate something bad. We have 6 hours until she needs to go. If she feels well by then, she can do the show.” He agreed, imagining the hassle of changing all of our very good seats to a show the following weekend. Then, two hours later, she puked again.

That was it. I knew it was it. It was most certainly a bug, and, especially with shows the following weekend, I couldn’t send her into a room with 60 other kids to subject them to the same fate. We started making the necessary phone calls to report the absence.


And, even with it official, even with the certainty I had that we made the obvious correct call, I felt regret. My family wouldn’t see the show from the best seats in the house. My parents wouldn’t see the show at all, since they were out of town the following weekend. That day’s show would bring the lullaby league down to two girls, and Vivvi’s partners in certain dances would be holding their arms up to air. This hole on the stage that only we and a few others would probably notice where Vivvi should be—I felt it in every part of me.

I know that in the big scheme of life, this play does not matter. I know that, like me, a lot of the people who attend go and stare only at their star, who twirls so well at just the right moment, who makes the cutest face ever when cowering and scared of the wicked witch, who skips the highest and most joyfully of any peanut out there. I know that the empty space on the stage where Vivvi should be didn’t change the show for anyone else in attendance. But I needed final, total confirmation that there was no way on earth Vivvi should have done the show. (To be very clear, after the second throw up, there was never going to be a possibility of her going.) But I needed her to not be happy and healthy and playing games before the time of curtain call. I said as much to my husband.

“So you are saying you want our daughter to throw up again,” he asked.

“No…” I said, knowing the good human response. “…well, actually, yes. I would like that very much.” I  admitted, because he forgives me for not being a 100 percent good human. He laughed, and then left to run errands.

At around the time the Wizard of Oz would start, my husband was still out, and the kids were upstairs watching shows. I was using the bathroom downstairs and had just discovered a typical occurrence in my house—no toilet paper. I was about to yell upstairs when both Vivvi and Wally started screaming.

“I got my wish!” I thought, at the same time imagining all the mess on the couch that awaited once I got the dang TP I needed. “What’s wrong?!” I yelled, hearing more screams in response. “Wally, come down here right now and tell me what you are screaming about!!!”

Finally the screaming stopped, and Vivvi appeared in the bathroom instead of Wally. “What happened??” I asked, baffled.

“I lost a tooth!” she said, and proceeded to explain that she was drinking from a water bottle, and opening it up with her teeth made a tooth that was only kind of loose fall out. “It’s bleeding!” she exclaimed.  I ordered her to rinse her mouth in the sink next to me. She did, examining her face in the mirror between splashes.

Then, like a damsel, she said, “Everything’s blurry…” and folded to the ground.

Immediately her eyes popped open, “I thought I was dreaming!” she said.

I yelled, “Vivvi, you fainted!” And, still imprisoned on the toilet, I grabbed her shoulders and dragged her over to me, making her lean against the toilet seat at my knees. I slapped her face and tried making eye contact with her. She kept going from focus to out-of-focus gazes to closed eyes, and whenever she seemed in focus she would shout out random things. A few memorable favorites include:

“I don’t want to faint!”

“I don’t want to lose my tooth!”

“What if I don’t get another tooth?”

“How will I eat?”

She said all of these things, and seemed to faint after each one. I continued slapping and saying, “Vivvi, wake up!” I was sure that she was okay, and just whoozy from the idea of her tooth and dehydrated from the emptying of her stomach and a morning of not eating or drinking. Be careful what you wish for, I thought, weirdly satisfied as I continued slapping, laughing at the crazy places her brain goes.

To add to the chaos of the moment, she started dry heaving. I stood up, pants around my ankles, flushed, and threw her in front of the toilet. She threw up a little more into the toilet, finally seeming to come back into focus. I yelled for Wally to bring me some toilet paper.

“Did you catch me?” she asked. Wally knocked, and handed me 3 squares. I laughed so hard. Because sometimes, when parenting, you are worrying about something that you know doesn’t matter in the grand scheme, but it feels like a big deal at the time. You are trying to step into your children’s lives and control things, make them shine. You are crossing the line into territory where you will shine for them, if you have to, dammit. And then you find yourself with your pants around your ankles, with your daughter yelling random things and fainting, and your son handing you 3 squares of toilet paper—and the truth is, you didn’t catch your daughter, but she landed gracefully anyway on her own. And you realize that it is all going to be okay, because you are in a comedy after all—no one’s life hangs in the balance, and everyone will live to see another day.