I was brought to tears last night at the incredible bravery of my son.
He volunteered for, auditioned for, and got a speaking part in his school’s 2nd and 3rd grade song performance for the parents that the wonderful music teacher, Mrs. J, puts on every year. Last year he thrilled down to his toes as he sang patriotic songs for the Veteran’s Day sing. The enjoyment of that memory buoyed him up to speak up when the teacher was asking for volunteers for this year’s “Celebration of Music”.
He came home a month or so ago bursting with pride to tell me about it. He was Speaker #8 and had three very long sentences that introduced the third song. He read it a few times and then refused to practice. “Nah- I got it,” he would brush me off when I suggested that he practice with me. Two days ago, I finally bribed him to read it through with the lure of cookies- two cookies for 10 times reading it through. He garbled it, ran through it, and said it correctly maybe twice in those 10 minutes- when he had the paper right in front of him. He said “wite” for “right”, and “thud” for “Third”. I have learned not to pressure him, and I hoped that the visual memory would carry him through- that, and I’ve heard that Mrs. J stands off to the side to prompt them. I gave him his cookies and resigned myself.
Last night, I watched him with my heart in my throat during the first two songs. It was a crowded auditorium- well over 500 people. The lights were bright on the stage. The children filed in and he was on the side, next to his best friend. He was ticcing- not really obviously, but he was tapping his arm- to the point that it interfered with the salute that they were to do during the second song. He didn’t swing and beebop with the other children- he stood there and wrung his hands. He didn’t even sing- I could see his mouth was still- just every now and then popping with a verbal tic. I hoped that everyone would be kind; that Mrs. J would be right there; that maybe the microphone would go out. And we waited for Speaker #8.
He and a little girl- Speaker #9- strode out to the front of the stage, where he picked up his microphone. I heard him take a deep breath. And we in the audience heard every word- clearly, in the right order, and with almost perfect pronunciation. He hit every “l”, every “r” and paused between sentences. He lost his place once, and quickly righted himself, finishing the sentence. And then, he was done. He waited for the little girl to finish, bowed and took his place.
When he looked triumphantly in our direction, I lifted my hands to clap for him so that he could see, but I could barely make him out through the blur of tears in my eyes. The enormity of what he had just done just overwhelmed me and I… I sat in that audience and quiet, silent tears absolutely streamed down my face. His speech teacher, who helped me fight for services last year, was sitting right behind me, and reached over to pat me and said “Nice work!” I leaned back, and in a choked whisper said “Thank you.”. She and I both knew that I was thanking her- for her instruction, for her insistence on giving service to a child who “wasn’t affected” academically, but was wobbling right on the edge of problems, and for her persistence. And I was thanking God that Ray did it… He could do it and he did do it. Tonight, he did not let Tourette’s win, he did not let anxiety win, he did not let speech problems win.
As I was tucking him into bed, I shared with him…
Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. Nelson Mandela
Ray got one of his perfect, rare smiles and snuggled down- silent now and proud.
My great-grandmother, in her imitable Texas way, would have called it “Grit” what he did tonight. And she, too, would have been proud.