When I’m alone, or with my immediate family, or with very close (and equally silly) friends, I can be myself. But I am reserved and downright shy when out of my comfort zone. I like to blend in amongst a crowd of strangers. And it seems as if my son has inherited this shyness from me. Even with people that he knows, he sometimes struggles with answering the simplest of questions.
When my son won a recent art contest, we received admittance to a black tie gala benefitting the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. At first, I was ecstatic. As I rattled off all of the details to my husband, it felt like we were Cinderella and family.
The elation lasted until reality set in. My husband didn’t own a black suit. I didn’t own a formal gown. My children had only “church clothes” at best: khakis and polo shirts. When checking the website for confirmation of appropriate attire, I noticed that the gala was attended by the city’s “most prominent professional and social leaders.” My throat constricted. Our living room got hotter. I wasn’t sure we could do this.
The next day, I got a message on Facebook from a friend. She asked about the gala and asked if we would definitely be attending. Nervously, I confirmed that we would be there, and she didn’t hesitate to purchase tickets for her family to attend. They were familiar with black tie events. They had the attire. They knew how the evening would proceed. They had the financial resources. They would be at our table, at our sides, giving us the support we would need.
So I dug through our closets. I had shoes from our wedding. My husband had pants, a dress shirt, and a tie. My oldest son had black dress shoes. My youngest son had a tie. I borrowed a dress and jewelry from my mother-in-law. And thanks to a good sale at Kohl’s, we were able to purchase what we lacked. I knew we weren’t going to be on the best-dressed list, but I hoped that we would blend in enough to satisfy my comfort zone.
When we arrived to the event, there were men in tuxedos and snappy black suits. There were women in flowing, sparkling gowns. And yet, I didn’t feel out of place. Our boys got a lot of attention. Men and women alike were giving my oldest son high-fives and making comments on how handsome he looked. Our baby boy got lots of “awws” in his Mickey Mouse hand-me-down tie. I started to feel at ease. Like we were supposed to be there, and like we were catching a glimpse at how the other half lives at the same time.
As we sat at the table for dinner, our children joked and laughed. My friend asked our son if he had prepared a speech for when he goes on stage to talk about his artwork. And suddenly, all of my panicking returned. I had been so worried about our appearances and blending in, that I had failed to help my son, the only one of us who was truly going to be on display.
“We’ll just wing it,” I said, nodding confidently at my son, despite all of the “you’re a terrible mother!” alarms going off in my head.
My friend offered my son her expertise. “You need to get up there and say, ‘I made this artwork to help my brother who has CF. It’s worth MILLIONS. I need you to open your pocketbooks, and DIG AS DEEP AS YOU POSSIBLY CAN.”
We all laughed. It was a great speech, and I was kicking myself for not thinking of something so clever to help him.
When the MC called my son to the stage, he jumped out of his seat and marched straight to the stage. He was on a mission. I could see a twinge of nervousness in his face, but there was enough determination there that I knew he was going to do it. He was going to stand in front of all of those well-dressed people and speak. I stood next to the stage with my husband, holding our baby boy in my arms. My son climbed up the step stool at the podium. From the front, one could see only his little blue eyes and forehead. The MC asked him to step down and stand next to his artwork instead. He asked my son to tell everyone a little bit about his artwork. My son was quiet. Although I could see him collecting his thoughts, none of them were making their way out.
“Dig deep!” my friend whispered loudly from the audience.
My son looked at her. Then he looked over at us. And then quietly but clearly he said, “My brother painted the green grass, and then I drew the flowers and painted them. And that’s all I remember.” Everyone chuckled at his cuteness. It was the perfect speech. Not rehearsed, not embellished. A simple response that was all his own.
The auctioneer started the bidding, and he was quickly on a roll. My son watched as the hands went up around the room. $500. $550. $600. $700. $800. $900.
“I should keep you up here all night!” the auctioneer said to my son.
My son replied, “I don’t know if I could stay up here all night. I might get tired.”
More chuckles from the crowd. $1,000. $1,100. $1,200. Going once. Going twice. My son’s artwork was sold to a gentleman in the front for $1,200.
Now that everything is back to normal in our cozy little home, there are no more anxieties. I left all of those at the gala, and I returned home with more pride in my son than I’ve ever felt, more thankfulness in the generosity of people like our friends, and an internal acknowledgement that my six-year-old son was braver that night than I have ever been.
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