It somehow came to mind last week in the lead up to the music concert, ‘A Trip to Space’, staged by my daughter Amelia’s school for the deaf.
I hadn’t been paying proper attention to the school newsletter updates about the concert.
I sort of knew it was happening and my husband and I had sold wads of raffle tickets to raise money for the music program, but I had assumed it was only for the older kids at the school.
Phew, I thought. No need to get all stressed out about a new social event with its terror-inducing unknowns for a family that really hates, well, unknowns.
Then it dawned on me a few days from the big rocket launch. Amelia, along with all the other kids from the school’s Early Learning Centre, was expected to attend. And participate. And perform. And we, her fellow rookie astronauts, were to accompany her and watch either a spectacular lunar lift-off or a fiery re-entry to earth.
Regardless, it was to be our maiden voyage into the unchartered world of child pageantry and by Monday I was reaching for my inner sick-bag. I’ve seen Gravity, so I know that space is not for the faint-hearted. There’s a lot of debris out there. And occasionally Sandra Bullock. Who knew if we would make it out alive?
Little notes and pictures started arriving home in Amelia’s kinder bag with instructions about her costume for the night – black clothes from head to toe. Although I was still undecided about whether I would even let her go, I dutifully went out and found the garments she would need. The Right Stuff, as it were.
Then her space training went into over-drive. There was a mid-week rehearsal at the concert venue, a local school hall, and Amelia came home to me pumped to the eyeballs with the mysteries of the world beyond the earth’s atmosphere.
She began humming odd tunes around the house that I’d never heard before. New signs to describe the upcoming event suddenly appeared in her Auslan vocabulary. Her imagination was captured by the importance of her special voyage ahead.
Who was I to stand in her way? When I discovered that all but two of her fellow classmates would be on stage with her, I had to take the plunge. Into that black hole where new experiences lurk with the promise of success and the portent of failure.
I talked it over on the morning of the concert with our family psychologist, JM, who supports us with Amelia’s autism. I confessed my nervousness about the night and she simply asked me: What’s the worst that could happen?
I guess I had visions of my girl struggling to cope and turning on a mighty meltdown within the first two minutes and we – her Dad and I – would tread those familiar boards of embarrassment as we beat a hasty retreat to our car with a screaming banshee in our arms.
People would look at us and judge us to be bad parents of an uncontrollable child. JM reassured me that these negative thoughts were far from the reality of what those families – all with special needs children – would think.
The most important thing was to offer Amelia the chance to be a part of something nurturing and above all, fun.
I am ashamed of my pessimism, of how far I underestimated my daughter, but it is a cold, hard fact of my time as a parent that many family missions are aborted shortly after take-off and there’s no amount of planning you can implement to avoid metaphorical meteor showers.
Pessimism is terribly corrosive because it holds me back from being open to the possibility of change and growth but it is also my friend, ready and on guard to protect me from the risk of heart-break.
But negative feelings are there to be conquered and, like all good colonialists, my husband and I took a collective breath and made the journey anyway. Win or lose, we had to try and we had to hope which is far better than hiding from your own life. Or, far more deplorably, denying your only child a wondrous space adventure.
And it is no exaggeration to say that the concert was close to the best night of our lives. From the moment we stepped out of the car and Amelia ran to join her friends and run with them on the school oval, the planets that had scattered within our orbit suddenly aligned.
The kinder group was scooped up and marshalled expertly by one of their incredible teachers, RS, and before we knew it, our girl was led away from us to get ready and we were free to sit. Just sit. And watch the wonderful performance unfold before us.
We did not need to mitigate or negotiate. I kept waiting for the BAD THING to happen but it never did.
The school had Amelia in its care and, as it has so often this year, it enveloped her in its safe embrace and she was happy to be separate from us. To belong to another group of trusted adults and children. To belong to herself.
Of the 18 numbers performed in Auslan, voice, instrument and dance on the night, Amelia appeared in four magical moments. As debuts go, I put it in the class of say, Barbra Streisand’s captivating introduction to film goers in Funny Girl. Although there’s an outside chance I could be displaying some parental bias.
In any case, my little one took it up to Babs in the show-off stakes and no mistake.
She was a shocking lair up on stage. Whether she was hamming it up with her space walk, her scene-stealing turn on the bongos, or vividly signing the ‘I’ve Got a Grumpy Face’ song, Amelia was lit from within by one sight – her audience. And we couldn’t tear our eyes from her.
After the opening act set to Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra (what else?), she bowed deeply, repeated it with her patented Pimpernel hand flourish, then strutted along the stage line and did a few jazzy hand wiggles at her face before standing at the top of the stairs and offering a sombre salute. A salute.
The spotlight was hers to own and she was loving every second of it.
My husband and I have never laughed so hard or been so proud of a single person or event in our lives. Our hearts were fit to burst from the sight of Amelia’s confidence, her presence in the moment. For a deaf girl with autism that is no mean feat, in space or otherwise.
I’d always watched sappy American sitcom renditions of school concerts with a mixture of cynicism and scorn. But that was before our own journey into that world, where our daughter showed us that she is already light years ahead of where we sometimes imagine she is, emotionally and socially.
Amelia spent an hour and half going on stage and off and staying patiently with her merry band of space cadets. There was no crying or screaming or running away. She knew where we were and felt secure enough not to keep seeking us out.
And when she returned to us she looked different to my eyes and it wasn’t just the addition of the silver jetpack to her shoulders or the bright star now stuck to her chest.
Because when I looked at her this time I saw only possibilities. The dark matter that often weighs heavily on my mind turned to moon dust for an evening and was replaced by a feeling so radiant it would have outshone the sun.
And that was all before Amelia won the raffle prize – a chocolate hamper fit for an overacting astronaut on her first flight into the beyond. (To be strictly accurate, my husband’s name was on the ticket, but who could deny Amelia another victory on such a glorious occasion?)
At night’s end, we walked to the car with the other families calmly exiting the building. Just plain old walking with laughter and excitement as our soundtrack. Our feet were on the ground but for the next few hours my heart remained in space, and my eyes stayed firmly on the stars.