in the wings

by bam

i wasted little time this week playing out my role as wholly dispensable mama in the wings.
on sunday, a whopping five days before the curtain so much as budged, i stocked up in groceryland, filled my cart with all the things a young thespian would need to stoke his flames. he tagged along, of course, not willing to succumb to my uncharted whims. he edited and amended as we rolled, my 5-11 mop of curls and me, throwing this and thats into the basket, willy-nilly.
ever since, i have been tossing all those duly-carted essentials—the steak, the frappuccino, the calamari, even—right back in the direction of his open gullet.
i am, after all, attending to the care and feeding of a boy about to be a butcher. tonight’s the night he fiddles. on a stage. in the glare of blinding lights. before a wad of strangers, ever-scrutinizing eighth graders, and even, gasp, a girl whom he might consider not only smart, but that’s all i’ll say.
and i, the mama who will be biting nails, slunk low in my cushioned seat, i will be left helpless, more or less. there is nothing, people, for a mama or a papa or anyone to do when it comes to watching one you love take to center stage. no matter what the stage, or what the stage of life.
all week, i have been pondering this latest twist in our equation. it is, like watching little backpack toddle up the giant steps to yellow schoolbus, yet another noodge beyond the nest. mama bird watching fledgling beat wings against the wind, catch the updraft, soar. see the world from vantage seen only when you fly on your own power.
and so, all week, i’ve done a little wing thing all my own: i’ve flapped, all right. flapped plenty. in little ways that no one’s really noticed. but i knew. i was flapping in the hopes that somehow i could build the breeze to keep him from wobbling up on stage.
i have lobbed vitamins by the handful toward his mouth. i have whipped up every dinner that he loves. and splurged on scrambled eggs and cheese tucked in cardboard pocket (he claimed the protein would do him well as he reached long arm deep into the freezer case). i have even—shh, don’t tell a single one of his uber-dude friends—tucked a love note or three in hiding places he was bound to come upon. underneath the toothpaste was one, should you need to know.
just now, as i tiptoed past his door, where on the other side he sleeps, i paused and whispered little prayer. God, give him strength. a mother’s mumbling in the half-light of the early morn. casting vespers as if a safety net. as if that will keep him from tumbling, say, through the stage floor trapdoor.
in the end, of course, it’s all just propping.
he, my not-so-little guy, will be alone on stage, belting out tradition, spouting lines with all the gusto he can muster.
this is all brand new. never before, not counting the piano recital where i held my breath and moved my fingers just as he was trying to do up at the front of the cavernous rented auditorium with really sad acoustics, have i seen him on a stage, alone, moving his mouth.
i have a feeling it won’t be the last.
but now, this time, i am feeling fully the fact that he is off without me, without any earthly anyone for that matter. i cannot hold his hand. oh lord, he would swat me with his glued-on, rubber-banded beard at the very thought. i cannot whisper lines into his ear. and i sure can’t quell the rumblies in his tummy.
i must interject, interrupt my blathering: i am not, not one bit, the stage mama you might make me out to be, despite the whispered mama thoughts that i’m confessing here. i’ve not set foot in the theater, not for weeks and weeks. i just lurch to curb, load in carpool, and meander on my merry way. and it’s not that i’m worried. not yet anyway, not until i’m slunked and peeking through my fingers.
this is all just the mama voodoo that we of certain ilk are wont to do. we all but wiggle our noses in hopes that we can keep the twinkling light from freezing, fizzling there in front of tens of hundreds. or at least a few occupied rows.
be not confused: he will be wholly himself. afloat. at sea upon the waves of his own making. a child turning man, all eyes on him. and, up to now, he is mister cool.
we have all, though, been the mama in the wings. we have all loved someone completely. but not been able to slip inside that someone’s skin. not been able to run the meeting, to take the heat, to grab the mike and lead the national anthem, so help ’em God.
there is a line, there is always a line. it is where life takes finger and runs it through the sand. then stands back and beckons, cross here. be your own person.
you know it’s coming when you’re the one who won’t be crossing, when you’re the one left standing just this side of over there, hands clasped politely right behind the tag on the back of your pants.
but when you are right here, at the edge of that line, you find yourself doing all sorts of silly things: vitamins, as if they’ll make him not forget his verse. delmonico steak (whatever slice of beast that is), in breath-held hope that it will put some pink in his most pinchable butcher’s cheeks. prayers to the patron saint of butterflies, begging for deliverance from that belly-flipping annoyance.
most of all you blink through teary eyes, knowing, praying, hoping, that all the love you’ve breathed into those great big lungs will come belting out in song and verse that tells the world, but most of all the owner of the lungs, “hey, kid, you’ve arrived. you crossed the line. you’re out here on your own. you’re somethin’ else, my friend.”
and then you leap to your feet and wish you could charge the stage. but you won’t. because you’re the one waiting in the wings. it’s not about you, mama. it’s about the boy who, all on his very own, became the butcher.

silly me, i get watery-eyed just thinking about. but what about you? what about the times in your life where you weren’t the one on stage, flying under your own power; you were the one in the wings, crossing fingers, holding breath? how did you breathe air into the lungs that would be expelling on their own? what voodoo did you do? or, if you were the one under glare of lights, how were you propped up by the hands that no one else could see?