This Ability of Mine

There comes a time in every parent’s life when they question whether they should be a parent or not. Whether that self-doubt happens before having children while dreaming of parenthood, or while being pregnant, or after the child is born and holding that infant in their arms, or even during the tumultuous teenager years. Every parent second guesses themselves and wonders at one time or another if they have the goods to be a good parent; to raise a child that will be a contributor to society. I am no exception to this self-evaluation. But, if anything, I question it more often than most. I often wonder, have I made the right decisions for my daughter? Have I advocated for her enough? Have I put her into situations that will enhance her life’s experiences? Have I given her the opportunities to do what she wants to do in life? And more importantly, and sometimes harder to see than others, am I impressing my own dreams on her and not letting her be who she wants to be?

I think as parents, we expose our kids to the things we know. In my case, one would think that my daughter is exposed to my writing and therefore she writes.  (I write this blog that nobody reads. But it doesn’t matter because it brings me joy to make the few people that do read it laugh.)  But I can honestly say that I have never sat Rachel down and told her she needs to write. Nor has she read much of what I write.  She has read so few of my writings (mostly due to her age and the inappropriate nature of the things I write about), that she couldn’t possibly get her writing abilities from me. And yet somehow, she loves to write. At recess time, she used to take a notebook and pen outside with her and write plays that the other kids could perform. Or make up games that the kids could play. She has written story after story. I have 3 totes full of books and cartoons she has written and she is only ten years old. I would have to say that it is her favorite pastime. But did I do that to her somehow?  Why, of all things, does she love to write? She just does. So is it biological? Did it flow through my umbilical cord into her somehow?  Did I somehow consume ink and paper when I was pregnant?  I don’t know.  But to see her writing her stories in Word documents, is surreal at times.

As a young adult, I loved to go out dancing.  I spent 6 out of 7 nights a week dancing in the clubs.  I have never told this to my daughter.  (Mostly because I don't want her to know how often I hung out in bars!) But if you ever try to have a conversation with my daughter, you will notice that she can't stand still because she is constantly dancing.  She constantly has the music in her.

And to see my Rachel at the age of 3 with a mouse in her hand, drawing pictures on the computer.  And drawing, by hand, cartoon characters with explicit detail, makes me think that most of this is genetic.  My father was a draftsman for the State of CT and would draw maps by hand, with ink pens.  This was before computers, CAD drawings and Mapquest.  I have been told I can draw as well.  So it's natural that she can draw.

So is what we have to offer in life just simply genetic?  If my parents had had passion for something, would I have had it too?  Are our lives formed by what our parents instill in us?  I hope not.  I want so much more for Rachel. 

I don't know what Rachel will become in her life.  But I do know that, as her parent, I want to afford her all the possibilities that I never had. I want to expose her to as many things as I can humanly find possible that will help her in finding her passion in life. I was never encouraged to find what I truly love to do in my life. Instead, I work at a job that I’m good at, that pays me well, but that I have no passion for. It’s a chore to drag my butt to work every day and I just feel like there has to be a better way to live. What I’ve noticed about happy people is that they do what they love. How lucky are those that discover that at an early age and are given the opportunities to go after their passions. They say that if a person doesn’t find their passion by the age of nine, they won’t find it at all. I don’t want Rachel floundering through life like I have, wondering what to do with her life. I want her to find her passion, so that when the rest of life’s challenges get her down, like losing jobs, suffering through bad relationships (we’ve all had ‘em!), being broke, getting sick, whatever the case may be, she will at least be able to cling to something she loves. This is my fervent hope for my daughter.

So in that effort, she takes piano lessons, jazz, tap, ballet and hip hop dance lessons. She plays soccer in the fall. I encourage her writing and reading. I‘ve encouraged her to audition for the school play. I work full time and find as much time as I can to allow her the exposure she needs to find herself…to find her passion. All with the hopes that she will have a happy and content adult life.  Even if that passion is foreign to me.  I want it to be her own.

Okay, so last summer I signed her up for a week at Performance Art Camp that was taking place in Ledyard. The program has been there every year but Rachel has never been able to attend since it lets out at 3:00 and I work until 4:30. But this past summer, Dianne had surgery and was home recuperating and offered to pick her up if I signed her up for it. So I did. The opportunity presented itself and I took it. I didn’t have any expectations of her abilities; I just thought it would be a fun thing for her to do. Mia had always been the one that had the flair for drama. She acted in many plays and was quite good. And I’m not sure if Rachel wanted to go to this particular camp because she had been exposed to it by watching Mia on stage or what. But she certainly took to it and as it turned out, she was exceptional on stage. She did a comedy piece called, “The Ugly Step Sisters” based on the Cinderella story. It was a dialogue between her and another girl pretending to be Cinderella’s step sisters and it was funny. I was amazed at her performance. She had exceptional comedic timing, and the audience, which consisted of the parents of the kids in the camp, were all laughing at her delivery of the material. It was like watching a person I hadn’t known existed. She wasn’t nervous; she had remembered all her lines; had not stammered once; and was quite convincing.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Proud mom being biased. Maybe that’s true. But when the performance was over, the instructors took me aside and told me that auditions were happening for the Performing Arts Youth Collective (PAYC) at the Bushnell in Hartford and that I should take Rachel to the audition. They hadn’t done that with any other kid so I started to take note.

I said to myself, first, if she auditions and doesn’t get in, can she (and I) handle the rejection? And then I did what every other parent that works does.  I burdened myself with thoughts of if she does get in, how am I going to get her to Hartford on a Monday evening once a month? Hartford is just so far away. (And this is where Dianne says, “Oh really? I do it every day!) Anyway, I asked Rachel if she wanted to audition and she said yes. I decided that I would take her for the audition and let fate take it from there. If she was chosen, I would work it out somehow. I wrote about the audition and if you want to read about that process, click here:

To sum it up, for the audition, she wrote her own song and performed it for Michael Lamb, the CEO of the Performing Arts Program. After the audition, Rachel was quite excited and came out and said confidently and nonchalantly, “He liked me”. I asked how she knew that. She said, “He smiled at me the whole time.”

A week later, I received an email stating that she had been chosen. Oh great! I thought. Now I have to actually follow through on this.

Over the last 6 months, on Monday nights, I have managed to pick her up from school at 4:30 and get her to Hartford for 5:30. It turned out to be quite enjoyable because we would chat the whole way. And once we got there, I would drop Rachel off at the Bushnell and Dianne would meet me there and we would go out to dinner. It was like having a babysitter for an hour and a half. Score! We enjoyed going to J. Gilbert’s in Glastonbury, J Restaurant, Hartford, Morton’s Steak house (overpriced and the bartender was incredibly rude – wouldn’t go back there!). This little excursion to Hartford once a month actually turned into something I looked forward to doing. Except for the time that my car broke down on the way and I kept losing my steering and brakes because it kept stalling while I was driving! Driving around downtown Hartford, I got lost and was in fear that my car was just going to die in some bad neighborhood. To compound matters, the roads were slick from the ice and snow and every time I applied the brake, we slid. Rachel at one point had the audacity to say to me during this panicked, are-we-going-to-survive-this moment, “Mom, we’re going to be late.” Out of sheer frustration and panic over the situation, I lashed out at her. Saying stupid things like, “You’re lucky I’m bringing you. I’m taking the chance of driving this car that is not working right, IN THE SNOW, and you’re worried about being late??!!!” Immediately, she started to apologize. I got her to the Bushnell and Dianne met me there and we tried to fix the car. Mechanics, we are not. So we took her car and went to get a bite to eat. After all was said and done, when I picked up Rachel after, she thanked me for bringing her every month and for everything I do for her. I apologized for yelling at her and told her that I was just frightened over what was happening with the car. We hugged it out and from that day forward, she has thanked me, without prompting, for bringing her to Hartford. She’s such a good kid.

Okay, so by the third session with the PAYC, she was given the assignment of finding a song or a monologue to perform at the end of the year recital. The theme was Broadway hits and she was to find a Broadway song that she wanted to sing along with the sheet music. Or she could look through a catalog of monologues that the PAYC has, or look online for a monologue that she would like to perform.

Most parents at this juncture would look at the book and say “pick one”. I, on the other hand, sat down at my laptop and started typing up a monologue, one that was specifically designed for Rachel. In much the same way as I write this blog, I typed the words and thoughts that came into my head. And similarly to this blog, I never know if it is funny or if it’s just me thinking something is funny. With this particular monologue though, the most important thing to me was how Rachel would receive it. It was about her and her hearing loss. I would have to say that honestly, up to this point in her life, we had never joked around about her hearing loss. At times, it’s such a non-issue to us, that sometimes I don’t even think she knows she has a disability. No lie. She’s never been treated any different because of it. She’s never been teased because of it (how lucky is that!), and because she has been this way since birth, she doesn’t know anything else. So to actually joke about this, would be unchartered territory for us both.

I wrote the monologue and can honestly say that I was nervous when I handed it to her to read. She would be my harshest critic or my biggest fan. Would she be hurt? Would she laugh? Would she hand it back to me and say, ”I’m not doing that, Mom.” Would she go running into the bathroom and lock herself in, crying, “What do you mean I’m ‘different’?” All of this was unknown to me. But of course, I hadn’t factored in that she is MY daughter. And with that, she inherited my sense of humor. She read it and at the end, started laughing. Then her expression said it all. With complete surprise, she asked, “You can write, Mom? That is so funny!” I hugged her and told her of my apprehension of letting her read it. She assured me that she thought it was funny. From that point forward, she had chosen what I had written for her as her monologue that she would work on and perform.

The next step was to get it approved by the PAYC to actually get permission for it to be her piece. Being new, I didn’t know if they would reject it, or if it had to be an existing monologue in the book, or, God forbid, they didn’t think it was funny. The night I dropped her off and she had to introduce the monologue to the group I was nervous for her. I think at dinner I actually had two glasses of wine to calm my nerves. Not only was I nervous for her for having to read it to everyone. But could I handle the rejection of someone saying that my writing sucked and she needed to find a “real” piece? I suffered through the hour and a half and upon picking her up, the CEO, when releasing the kids to the parents, made a point of looking over at me and whispered, “That was funny!”

I felt like I had just won the lottery. Wow. How so few words could make me so ecstatic. I asked Rachel how it went and she said that everyone in the room thought it was funny. And from that point forward, the monologue that she was to work on and perform at the end of the year would be the monologue I had written for her.

Now, granted, her audience for those 6 months were the rest of the PAYC which consisted of other 6-18 year olds who want to be in the performing arts. They weren’t about to tell her that her monologue was stupid. It’s a very supportive type of atmosphere. So did we really know if the monologue was funny or not? Not really. I do know that every time she rehearsed it with me, I would laugh. Between what I wrote on paper and her acting it out, it never got old. It was just funny.

I’m not sure that everyone can understand this or appreciate what a risk it is to try to be funny. At times, when I write what I think is funny, I always wonder how others will receive it. Especially in this blog, where there is no immediate satisfaction of hearing people laugh. And so I have to wait to see if people think what I wrote is funny by making a comment. And most times, nobody does comment. So, was what I wrote funny or not? It can be very unrewarding at times.

So, to hear that the kids in the PAYC thought that what I wrote was funny and they laughed, and Rachel heard and saw them laugh? I’ll take it!!

About halfway through, the CEO told us that all acts needed to be no more than 2 minutes long. I timed Rachel and the act I had written was 3 minutes. Unfortunately, I had to cut it down and take out some important lines. This had an impact on the humor and I was quite concerned that having to cut things out would affect the outcome. Plus, Rachel had to relearn the script by leaving some of the key elements out. But like a trooper, she did.

Rachel rehearsed and rehearsed to Dianne and I over the last few months. Sometimes nailing it, sometimes not. Sometimes remembering her lines, and sometimes not. As the time grew closer, I became more nervous for her. Up until a week prior to the recital, I hadn’t really considered the fact that this whole thing could be a flop. I’m not sure why I hadn’t considered it. I suppose if I had, I would have pulled the plug on it and made her do something more tried and true instead. But the week before the show, I started to have severe panic attacks over it. What if it’s not funny? What happens if she forgets her lines and then it won’t be funny at all? What happens if she gets nervous and goes blank? This was not normal preshow jitters. Rachel has performed on stage since she was 2 ½ years old at dance recitals; in school plays; she stands up at All School events and never messes up; she has written, directed and performed in a play that she and her friends performed at school; and more recently, she delivered a speech to the CT State Board of Education that was poised, funny, and well spoken for a ten year old. But notably, I have never been as nervous as I was for her the week before the PAYC show. A monologue is a difficult thing because if you mess it up, there is no one else to blame. It’s just her and the audience and if she forgot her lines or didn’t deliver the lines in the way that was rehearsed, it wouldn’t be funny.

And if it wasn’t funny, who would be to blame? THE WRITER! More importantly, THE MOTHER, who sent her daughter out on stage to fail! Holy crap! Why this all didn’t occur to me prior to that week before is beyond me! I guess having the show within sight, I started to realize all the things that could go wrong. The pressure was phenomenal.

I tried not to let Rachel know how I was feeling. She was under her own self-inflicted pressure and having her own anxiety over it. I didn’t want to compound it by letting her know I was nervous too.

The day before the performance, I took her to the Mohegan Sun to audition for the Connecticut Sun Munchkins. This was a hip hop audition and she worked really hard at the audition. The audition consisted of a dance that had a lot of quick moves and they had gone over it several times. By the end of the audition, she was wiped out. She started getting glassy-eyed and when I felt her head, she felt like she had a fever. She started having the sniffles. I was talking to a parent and Rachel started to cry (an odd thing all unto itself). She said she just wanted to go home and get in bed.

Oh great! The day before the performance, and now she’s sick!! She got all nasally and she didn’t look like her bright, cheery self. I was reminded of how when I was young, I always got sick right before the school plays. Strange. I didn’t know that this was hereditary and could be passed down to my poor child.

That night, I pumped her full of liquids, chicken soup, clementines for vitamin c, slathered her in Vicks, made her take Motrin, and all the things I could think of to make her feel better for the next day. I had less than 24 hours to nurse her back to health. Otherwise, surely the performance was going to be a disaster. Not only that, but sometimes, not all times, but sometimes, people with hearing impairments sound nasally due to learning to talk through low quality hearing aids. My daughter typically has overcome that with her speech. But with a cold, she sounds just like someone that hasn’t learned how to speak correctly. This presented its own issues in the delivery of the monologue.

The night before the performance, lying in bed with her quietly by my side, comforting her, stroking her hair to help make her feel better, handing her tissues to blow her nose, she looked up at me and in a very serious way, she said, “Mommy?”
“Yes, Honey?”
And for the first time in 6 months she asked, “What happens if nobody laughs?”

My heart broke instantly.

What did I do? What did I do this for? Did I set my own daughter up for failure? She has the same concerns I have! How do I answer this?

Keep in mind that up to this point, 6 months into this thing, Rachel had never expressed any concern or doubts over her performance or the monologue that I had written. She never uttered a word of wanting to do anything else. And she never questioned hers or my sense of humor. But I think that, like me, all of a sudden, we started to picture the worse case scenarios.

I held her tight in my arms and I said, “Rachel, you’re going to do a great job. Don’t you worry about that. All you can do is get out there on that stage tomorrow night and give it all you have and do it the way we have practiced it. If people laugh, great. If they don’t, you know that me and Aunt Gloria (who has a very loud, uproarious laugh) will laugh louder. We’ll laugh enough for the entire audience, ok?” She smiled at the notion of my sister and I laughing loudly, nodded and snuggled in.

The pressure in my heart was almost too much to bear. I prayed for snow the next day and for cancellation of the show.

That night I had answered her, but all I wanted to do was cry. For the first time, she had questioned whether this monologue was a good idea. I kept asking myself, how could I have put her in this position? She is so eager to do a good job. So eager to please me and perform my stupid writings!! How could I be so self-absorbed as to think that my writing ability is of the level of being performed by anybody, much less my own daughter! The fate of her self-esteem was left up to a crowd of people in a room that neither of us had ever met before. It’s one thing to take chances at being funny in this blog or at a party. It’s a completely different thing to subject your daughter to delivering your humor and expect complete strangers to join in and laugh.

Not only that, but for the first time I had realized that our mother/daughter relationship was at jeopardy. I knew that if this was a flop, she would never, NEVER, trust my creative opinion again.

When I was 10 or so, my school, St. Mary’s, had a poster contest to solicit new students to the school. My father helped me with my poster. It was made with colored popcorn kernels that we meticulously glued over the words on the poster. I distinctly remember coming up with the slogan with my father. The pastor of the church at the time was Father Morrisey. I had wanted to say on the poster that “Father Morrisey invites you to…” But my father thought it would be a good idea to capitalize on the 1945 old time movie, “The Bells of St. Mary’s” and use the character's name instead. “Everyone knows who Father O’Malley is”, he said. So the poster read, “Father O’Malley invites you to…” I trusted that he knew better. I entered the poster in the contest and I didn’t win. Matter of fact, everyone after kept asking me who Father O’Malley was? Some people went as far as to correct me by telling me what our pastor’s name was. “It’s Father Morrisey, stupid!” When you go to a Catholic school, knowing who the leader of your school is is kind of important. What a flop and what a disaster. And I never trusted my father’s opinion again. Right or wrong, I never did.

So here I am, giving my daughter words to say in front of complete strangers, hoping that they will find my sense of humor humorous, and subjecting my daughter, my own flesh and blood, to humiliation and to flop on stage. The only people she knew were me, Dianne, my sister and brother-in-law and her lifelong friend, Sabrina, who came to support her. Being all the way in Hartford, (again, Dianne chimes in and says, “I DO IT EVERY DAY!”), I guess I can understand why others didn’t want to drive all that way to come see her. But I think on some level, we need to somehow get better at supporting our kids. In reciprocation, we will be going to Sabrina’s music concert. Those who don’t have extended families, like grandparents, aunts and uncles, et cetera, that can come, need the support of their friends.

Anyway, had Rachel questioned whether people would laugh or not prior to this day, I can almost guarantee that I would have pulled the plug on the whole idea and had her sing some song instead like the other kids. But being the day before, it was too late for any changes. Too late to turn back now. We both knew it. We would go forward and she would do the best she could. I told her that I would love her no matter how it turned out. I think that put her a little at ease. I told her just to have fun with it, be in the moment, and if she got stuck, to just look at me and perform it to me like we had been doing since I wrote it.

As luck would have it, the next day, Rachel woke up feeling so much better. No fever. Just the sniffles. I gave her an antihistamine and she was fine. She was still a little stuffy but she was so much better than she had been the night before that I felt that this was the best that anyone could hope for.

I picked her up from school and took her home. She took a shower and got dressed. My mother had given Rachel a dress for Christmas. It wasn’t a dress that she could wear to school but was more fancy. Come time for the recital at the Bushnell, this dress had been hanging in her closet and was perfect for the occasion. I gave her some face embellishments (“see Rachel Quotes”), and packed everything she needed. We went and picked up her friend Sabrina and off we went to Hartford.

We were asked to come earlier than everyone else so that we could work with the sound system guy and hook up Rachel’s FM device to the stage sound system so that she could hear. We arrived early, got that all set up and were allowed to put our coats on the chairs that we wanted as seat savers. Naturally, we took the front row, center!! (There are some advantages of having a child with a disability. They are far and few between but when they present themselves, we take advantage of them.) All the other parents had to drop off their kids and wait outside or downstairs in the Bushnell for an hour. Due to the sound system, we were able to stay upstairs and watch as the kids rehearsed their grand entrance and exit. It was nice to be working with a company that took Rachel’s hearing the show so seriously. This was a comfort to me. (A big shout out to Michael and all the staff!)

I’m not going to lie to you. I was a nervous freaking wreck. Again, this is not the first time that Rachel has performed on stage. Several times, matter of fact, I have had to go through this. But this time was different because, let’s face it. MY creativity was on the line this time. And if it bombed, we would both be disappointed.

I’ll leave it here for now. Next week, come back to My Kaneclusions to see the video of her performance at the Bushnell.

Kidding. I know what you all want to see. Actually, if you have read up to this point I would be amazed. I know you just want to see the video. Most of you skipped the story and scrolled to this spot. I know. So without further ado, here is Rachel Kane’s comedy debut that was held on March 21, 2011 at the Bushnell in Hartford, CT. Written and sweated out by yours truly.  Click here: PAYC

Do not read on until you watch the video. The video is only 6 minutes long. Watch it then come back here.

Rachel did an exceptional job. Not because I’m her mother and I say so. But listen to the crowd as they laugh. Parents and others came up to me after the show and told me how special and how FUNNY it was. With some, I shared that I had written it. The look on one of their faces looked like I was lying about that. I suppose that was a compliment in some odd way. Michael Lamb’s mother works at the PAYC but had not seen Rachel’s monologue up to that point. After seeing the show, what she said was, (and keep in mind she sees lots of talent coming through those doors), “Wow, she did a great job! What comedic timing she has!”

So many people stopped Rachel on the way out and told her what a great job she did. It made us both feel so good. She had nailed it! And most importantly, her respect for my opinion had increased. Score all around!

I can’t really put into words the level of emotion there is when you and your child work on a project and it turns out to be a success. Euphoria just doesn’t quite cut it. I walked around for the next few days like I was walking on cloud nine. Better than any drug I’ve ever taken (and there have been a few). :-)

After the show, I asked Rachel where she wanted to go to dinner to celebrate what a great job she did.  She said, "All those nights you dropped me off and I couldn't go to J. Gilbert's, that's where I want to go tonight."  And so we did.

My Kaneclusions:  This may not turn out to be her passion in life. Nobody knows what the future holds. But what happens if it does? What would have happened if I had said, "No, Hartford is too far away" and didn't expose her to this?  Both of us would have missed out on this opportunity!

Getting back to asking ourselves as parents are we meant to be parents? After that performance, I can honestly say that it is abundantly clear that I was meant solely for the purpose of being Rachel’s Mom and she was solely meant to be my daughter. Me, writing, and her performing what I wrote, was nothing short of symbiosis.  (A symbiotic relationship is one that thrives on mutual existence. For example, clownfish and anemones have symbiosis. The anemone receives protection from polyp-eating fish, like butterfly fish, which the clownfish chases away. The anemone also gets the fertilizer from the feces of the clownfish. In return, the clownfish gets protection from the anemone by hiding within its tentacles. The tentacles normally kill off prey, but for some unknown reason, the poison does not affect the clownfish. It is a near-perfect symbiosis. They both benefit from living with each other.)

Now, I know what some of you are thinking. I’m the clownfish giving my daughter my “feces” to perform. You may have a point. But if it propels her into finding her passion, which seems to be performing on stage in some capacity, then so be it. I will continue to write my crap and give it to her to perform, for as long as she will let me. The joy we experienced together that night is only shared by few. Our talents merged to form 2 minutes of entertainment that people other than our friends and relatives enjoyed. There is nothing better than that. Nothing.

That night, I felt the closest to a symbiotic relationship I had ever experienced. I wrote, she performed it, and either way, I was going to protect her. But thank God, as it turned out, I didn’t have to protect her at all. She aced it, and not only did she ace it, but people came up to her after and told her how special her performance was. Being in this moment with her was like seeing a clownfish in the tentacles within an anemone.  They coexist in a beautiful, harmonic way in their environment, feeding off each other’s natural talents. Symbiosis.

After watching the video, if you don’t comment on how well she did, don’t be shocked if my poisonous tentacles reach out and touch you!

To see pictures, please click here.

PAYC Pictures

 Rachel N. Kane Performing "This Ability of Mine"
at the Bushnell in Hartford, CT.

The Performing Arts Youth Council 2010-2011
Some Very Talented Kids!

Mr. Michael Lamb, CEO of the Performing Arts Program
and Rachel N. Kane

Rachel N. Kane, Comedienne

Rachel and her life-long friend, Sabrina Honvo,
at J Gilbert's Restaurant,
celebrating Rachel's success at her performance.

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