Friday night my oldest daughter hit the stage for her first play at her new high school. Bear in mind, she’s been in the middle of a week of hell, sick, going through rehearsals until 9pm each night for the week, and I was trying to find out what the hell I was doing in working, picking up the kids and trying to get our home life to have some semblance of normalcy.
I managed to get hold of my sister-in-law, who came with her two daughters as well, and we got into the small auditorium for what was essentially a children’s play, but for Abbi it was a way to get into the drama program at her new school and for us it was a reason to go and see her perform. I took all three of her siblings, and we were excited to see her. I had purchased tickets in advance and had them waiting at the door for me and for my nieces. Not that it was a big deal for them, but they wanted to see the play.
It WAS a big deal for Abbi because she was the understudy to one of the bigger roles in the performance. For some reason the lead couldn’t make it so Abbi got her chance to hit the stage.
Bear in mind, now, that I’m not a theater person. I did my share of plays in high school and was the typical awkward, un-coordinated goofball you’d expect.
But Abbi isn’t. She is comfortable on a stage. Not in an egotistical, “look at me” attitude like she needs to be the center of attention. she actually enjoys this. She likes the process, knows the terms, how to block a scene, how to project, how to talk so the whole theater can hear you without a microphone.
So this night I sat in the audience, waiting for the play to begin. We’d all caught something. I had the flu, as did my son, Sam. Hannah had a cough. Noah had a runny nose, we were “Outbreak” in the flesh, so to speak. But I wasn’t going to miss this by a long shot. The lights flickered on and off signalling the “get to your freaking seats!” moment, and the announcement about no food or beverages came.
Then the spotlights hit, and Abbi came out from stage right. Except…it wasn’t Abbi. My sister-in-law voiced it first, but somehow, for the briefest of seconds, she was her mother. Maybe it was how her hair was caught by the spotlight, or perhaps it was the eye shadow glinting from the Klieg lights. Maybe it was the way she carried herself or talked.
But I knew what it was. It was the smile. Anyone can smile, sure, you part your lips, let your teeth show, you put on the appearance of joviality or frivolity but your mouth is all that’s working, the rest of your face betrays the emotions that truly lie beneath. This night, though, you could see it all in her face. It was the same smile her mother had when I met her. The beautiful smile, teeth showing, sure. But there is something else that my kids inherited from their mother: they smile with their souls. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true. The same kind of smile that a little kid gives you that makes you melt and say “ahhhh!” – that’s what Andrea had. That’s what Abbi was exuding right then.
Her teeth glinted, her eyes sparkled, and she glowed. For the briefest of moments, the 19-year-old girl I’d met in Omaha, Nebraska was standing there, in front of the crowd. It really took me aback. I heard my sister-in-law say it out loud: “Oh, my God, it’s Andrea!” She corrected herself, “I mean, she looks just like Andrea did at that age, my God she looks so much like her!”
But I know what she saw, it’s exactly what I said above. There’s a little piece of her in all of the kids. They all have her best parts. (Some have a few of her worst, but I won’t get into that) Abbi moved across the stage, remembered her lines, even fixed a few mistakes in the process. And she looked . . . happy. That’s the thing, it wasn’t an act, and that’s why I saw Andrea. My little girl was happy. She’d been stressed out, crazy, emotional, everything a teenager is supposed to be.
But Saturday night I saw her like she’d been more than a year ago. She smiled, her whole body glowing in a grin of its own. I cannot tell you how proud I was, and how part of me wanted to cry. I saw her Mom, I have no doubt. I know that, as much as Andrea might have pushed and prodded her daughter away from drama and theater, she knew Abbi needed to be happy. It made me tear up, a little. She’s an amazing daughter and I rely on her more than I probably should, but I was bowled over by her Saturday. I wanted to say I wish her Mom could have seen her, but maybe she did. She acted and looked just like her, after all.
Then, of course, after the play she told me how she hated every picture and she looked bad in every one of them . . . and she verified it all. She is, after all, her mother’s daughter.