This I Believe #4: How I Learned to Feel Pretty

Third Fourth installment of my unofficial This I Believe series.

Why did my parents let me go to school that day?

It was the day of the North Wales Elementary Lip Sync contest, and I was ready to compete and represent for the 6th grade. Since I couldn't convince find anyone to perform with me, I had decided to go solo.

My selection: "I Feel Pretty" from West Side Story. My costume: a long skirt from the dress-up box, Mom's embroidered blouse, and a fake flower to adorn my wedge cut.

And for some reason, my parents still let me go.

Looking back on it, I wonder why they didn't stop me. Forget anybody even recognizing the song -- the whole decision was ready-made for grade-school mockery (since I was less than pretty at that age). And, I was going up there alone, so if I failed -- a distinct possibility -- I had no buffer. No safety net.

Yet still, they let me go.

I arrived at school, stomach churning. The morning seemed interminable. By showtime, my adrenaline was pumping. Butwhen the music started ... that's when the hours of lyric memorization, dance choreography, and dreams of a standing ovation all came to a head, and I walked out on stage to claim my destiny.

So what might have happened if my parents hadn't let me go? I wouldn't have fulfilled my very real desire to be in the spotlight for three minutes. I wouldn't have proven to myself that I could set a goal and follow through with it.

And I would have learned a misguided lesson -- not to have confidence or be myself or pursue what fit me best. I would have felt ashamed and embarassed about my choices -- not from my peers, but from my home. In trying to prevent the potential cruelty of a harsh world, my parents could have inflicted much worse.

I'm proud to report I won award for best solo act(I was the only solo competitor). No one beat me up on the playground. A couple kids even told me I did a good job. So I came home pleased, relieved, and waving my certificate.

Ah. That's why my parents let me go that day. And every day before it. And every day after it. Because that's their single greatest responsibility as parents -- to leave me free to sing solo and act alone, whatever the outcome.

No wonder I feel pretty, and witty, and bright. I was allowed to become so on my own terms.