Friday, May 22, 2009

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.


  1. This is lovely and sweet and wise, Julia, thanks for sharing.

    PS I didn't know you were such a dead-on double for Natalie Wood!


  2. Anonymous8:16 PM

    Thank you for this post, Julia. Sometimes being a parent is a little scary and words like yours make us realize that we did something right. One thing that all young adults should realize is that you never really have the just do what you think is best and then hope your kid writes about what a good job you did 25 years later!

    Just so you know---you were not a hard child to raise---only a joy! I love you...Mom

  3. Anonymous11:13 PM

    Thanks so much for sharing - wish you could repost on every parenting blog in the world!

  4. Julia, just came across your entry in my google reader. I used to teach 7th grade students and many parents would ask me to advise them about when was the right time to let go of their children. I would tell them, "I don't know, I don't have children." But, I was a child once and I agree that your parents' decision to let go of you was a wise one! From a fellow NPR lover.

  5. Anonymous7:34 PM

    So I am know I am PMSing and everything this week, BUT... this entry made me cry a little bit, Julia! Thanks so much!

  6. Now I will hear that song in my head for 3 days !!!