Friday, June 28, 2013

Some parents' extremes are cringe-worthy

From today's Briefing:

The performance hall auditorium darkens. Seats are filled with patrons dressed in their Sunday best. Some hold glossy programs, sold for $15 in the lobby. Some balance flower bouquets on their laps.

The curtain lifts to reveal a dramatically lit stage. Jubilant music begins. Dancers leap, twirl and glide with studied precision.

And then, someone from the audience hollers a dancer’s name.

“Woo hoo, Lucille!”

(Note: Not an actual dancer’s name at this recital.)

Apparently, once Pandora’s dance recital box is open, there’s no turning back. Because from that point forward, for the duration of an almost three-hour performance, audience members didn’t hesitate to raise their voices in the middle of numbers to demonstrate support for the dancers they love.

I’m no stranger to shouting out affection under appropriate circumstances. I’ve strained my voice on soccer fields and cheered from the sidelines of basketball courts. I’ve whooped at awards assemblies.

I draw the line, though, at singling out a dancer or two in the middle of an ensemble performance.

Can’t applause at the end of the number suffice?

No, no, certainly not. So we buy flowers wrapped in cellophane and tied with a ribbon to present at the end of the show. We buy ads in programs that proclaim our love, pride and best wishes.

And, apparently, we yell personalized huzzahs from theater seats.

I’m afraid that we’ve gotten so wrapped up in our little people and their achievements that we’ve forgotten our manners. We are convinced that our children aren’t just special but are extraordinary; worthy of praise above all others.

I left the recital with a twinge of disappointment, worried about my generation’s parenting quirks and the expectations we’re placing on our children.


The sun has set. Girl Scouts and their volunteer counselors use flashlights to navigate a park by the lake. Between activities, the girls sit on lids of plastic buckets. They wear wide-brimmed hats and handmade lanyards. They smell of sunscreen and bug repellant and snow-cone syrup.

They sing silly songs about squirrels, bubblegum, ravioli. They stand at attention as the American flag is lowered. Then they say goodbye and wait in carpool lines for rides home.

In the middle of all this fun, my Katie started to feel sad. She was exhausted from a full day that included tennis, swimming and playing with a friend, even before she arrived at the lake for twilight camp. She was a little homesick.

She sat on her bucket and cried.

In no time, she was surrounded by four friends — fellow Girl Scouts who’ve known one another for years. They comforted her with kind words. They acted goofy to make her laugh.

They weren’t performing or seeking accolades. They were demonstrating true compassion and friendship without adult intervention.


I’m often overwhelmed by the extremes of suburban life. Hypercompetitive room moms, over-the-top birthday parties, competitive cheerleading, company dance teams, elite volleyball, select soccer, baseball coaches who publish 7-year-olds’ statistics.

We adults have created and perpetuated an unhealthy climate for our kids.

They don’t need a trophy at the end of every single season. Or an elaborate end-of-school- year party with expensive entertainment and take-home gifts. Or their names hollered in the middle of a group performance.

If we stopped all that nonsense tomorrow, I’m absolutely certain they’d survive.

Because they are naturally, innately good.

We just need to learn when and how to get out of the way.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

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