Same Species

I have found that the best way to get to know my kindergarten son’s friends and classmates is by making a weekly visit to eat lunch with him at his elementary school.


My go-to questions when meeting these classmates for the first time are usually: “Do you have any brothers or sisters? And if so, how old are they?” and “What did you do in Special Area (art, music, library, P.E., computer) today?”


I can’t get out of there without also saying something like: “You need to eat that fish sandwich or you’ll be really hungry later.” Replace fish sandwich with chicken ring thing or steak sliders or whatever else is on the menu, and you get the idea. You can’t take away my Mom-ness, even in a busy, ear-ringing lunch room with other peoples’ kids.


A few weeks ago, I noticed one of the girls in my son’s class carrying her lunch tray while timidly looking for a place to sit. I watched as another student banished her with an outstretched arm and pointing finger to the far end of their table. The little girl smiled shyly, assuming they were teasing and tried to scoot back down to sit with the trio of her classmates, but she was instructed a second time to move away. With a broken heart for the crumbling kindergartener, I asked my son if I could go and sit with her instead of staying with him. He waved me off as if to say: “No biggee. I sit with you all the time,” and I headed to the other table.


By then, the little girl had pushed her tray forward and laid her head on the table. We chatted for the rest of lunch as I tried to cheer her up and remind her to eat: “That chicken patty looks good! And that corn? Yum! Come on and eat up!” But I was mostly sad for how poorly people often treat each other, even little kids.


Our family has been watching The Blue Planet TV shows recently. This nature series—like its forerunner, Planet Earth—shows amazing footage of animals doing unexpected things. The Blue Planet episodes are all set under or around water.


One thing I found remarkable was a segment about Sand Tiger Sharks. They pointed out that they are one of the few animals which may resort to eating their own kind. Sand Tiger Sharks will hunt other fish, but if things get desperate they will turn on each other.


This got me thinking about all of the times I’ve watched shows with animals in hunting parties—a pride of lions trying to take down a pack of gazelles, for instance—and even if they’re unsuccessful, they won’t attack each other. It’s like there’s something instinctive in their brains telling them not to eat a fellow lion but to keep working together instead.


I’d hate to think of humans in the same category as Sand Tiger Sharks, Praying Mantis, and Black Widow Spiders—all animals who are willing to throw away any connection to their same species when mealtime rolls around. I’d rather think that we can show kids (and other adults) the best version of ourselves. Not just because we’re stronger when we work together, though that is true, but because it’s the right thing to do. And because tearing one person down brings us all down a little bit.

The King and Us

When I was in high school I was very involved in our drama club. I did just about everything for our school theater group—built and painted scenery, ran spotlights and sound, props manager, stage manager, house manager, and even assistant director. In other words, I was busy BEHIND the scenes.


When our drama teacher announced that our spring production my junior year would be Rogers and Hammerstein’s The King and I, I was determined to step out from behind the curtain and participate onstage. By then, I had established a reputation for being organized and dependable—characteristics important for the backstage team. I knew what beverage our director liked in the afternoon (orange juice over ice), I knew all of the shorthand notations for blocking scenes, and I knew every inch of our theater—from the basement green room to the followspot booth. So our director was hesitant to “waste” my talents as a lowly actor.


After some begging and promises to be the director’s personal gopher (the assistant to the director), she allowed me to try out with the understanding that I would have a small part, literally small because I would be a child. The King of The King and I has a slew of kids so that was the part I was aiming for, but when I checked out the audition form, I saw that the princesses had to be 5’3” or shorter. Being that I was 5’4” at the time, I lied on the form and said I was shorter so I could get that part. That was the one and only time I’ve ever lied about my height because I was too “tall”!


Once I had wowed them with my average talent, they stood all of us potential princesses and princes in a line. Some at the audition were actual children, so my lie became evident. I was not 5’3”! Gasp! The director rolled her eyes at my obvious attempt at deception and consented to giving me a part, although now I would be a prince instead of a princess.


When I think back to that production so many years ago, the things I remember most didn’t actually happen onstage. I remember hunting all over town to find enough black hair spray for all of the actors. I remember having to tell the director about the accident involving the huge ceramic panther statue we had borrowed from a local store and my dad’s pickup truck. Yikes!


In the end, I realized I wasn’t made for acting. That just wasn’t my gift. But the beauty of being involved in a team as large and as complex as one which puts on a play is that I began to understand I didn’t have to be good at acting to be involved. I just had to be willing to play my part, even if it had nothing to do with memorizing lines.


Last weekend, I saw The King and I at TPAC. It was gorgeous and moving and I loved every minute of it. I get teary every time I’m in the audience during a standing ovation, and that matinee performance got me, too. I know just a tiny bit what it feels like to be on the receiving end of that kind of applause. It produces a smile from ear-to-ear that seems to say, “Thank you for recognizing how much work it took to do this thing we love and overlooking all our imperfections along the way. And thank you for not noticing that gaping hole in the neck of that giant ceramic panther.”