Ah, we’ve come to the root of the problem.
Ben did not need a mental health day.
He needed diva lessons.
You see, as I walked into the school yesterday to drop Zachary off from his dentist appointment, the school nurse called me into her office.
Got another one of yours here…
And there was Ben boy, splayed out on the nurse’s cot, white as a ghost.
Hi, Mom, the weak reply came.
Meantime, Zachary has signed himself in, returned his coat to his locker and joined the school assembly- the dreaded WINTER CONCERT.
The kids who play instruments perform and the fifth grade chorus performs.
Why was my sweet boy on the cot?
Why was my sweet boy home the day before?
Now, this is a kid who wants to try out for American Idol. He wants a recording contract, a stretch limo to take him to soccer practice and a team of fashion designers to dress him.
Or for him to dress them, I’m never sure which.
He is certain he is destined for a life onstage. And yet… he almost fainted yesterday. During rehearsal.
What’s up, Ben? I asked, after the nurse excused herself from the room.
I don’t know… I just feel sick… my head got hot and my head was cold at the same time and I felt dizzy…
Ben? That’s nerves. Why are you nervous?
I don’t know…
We went around and around a couple times. I finally said, listen, I have a meeting today. Not one I can do on the phone. If you can’t stay here, you will have to come with me.
Well… I could come back for after school…
He loves the after school program he goes to- it’s like one long play date with awesome activities, unlike the highly supervised play dates at home with his annoying mother. Me.
No, just like the TV? No fun if you are too sick.
Mom… I’m… just…
What is it? Is there someone bothering you in class? You have to tell me…
Ben has had several experiences at summer camps where something horrible has happened and I don’t hear about it until six months later over dinner one night. Oh, yeah, mom, by the way… I had no friends and everyone teased me for being gay…
Little things like that.
You have to tell me…
Mom. It’s just. MOM. Seriously. It’s just. Well. THE CONCERT.
Huh? To my knowledge Ben has never shied away from being the center of attention.
I got on the riser and even though it was just practice? I got so nervous and then the room started to spin…
AH HA, the very very slow sleuth mother puts it all together.
Oh, sweetie, we all get nervous in front of crowds…. I do. My stomach hurts and I think I’ll forget everything and wish I were anywhere else but… it always works out.
I know but… my head…
Oh, that’s just stage fright. It’s okay. A lot of people get it.
I realize, my child has just had his first, full-fledged anxiety attack.
Let’s go back in the auditorium. I’m sure the concert is almost over. You’ll be fine.
Or else you’ll come home and miss after school.
Okay, I’ll do it, he said with sincere, and most diva like perseverance.
I thought I could break out in song. You know, like High School Musical, one of his favorite shows. Something sassy, something sweet, about climbing every mountain and shaking your booty.
The nurse grabbed me as I walked Ben back to join his class.
You know he’s going to faint, she said. They get up there and tense every muscle in their bodies like you cannot believe. No blood flow. They drop. They just do. Be prepared.
Okay, I said, quickly going over to his teachers. Can you get Ben off the top riser, please? Seems he’s gonna drop. We need a shorter distance or some padding.
As the kids were lining up to go onstage at that moment? No adjustments could be made. But I made them share my panic, at least.
He did fine.
And last night, with parents in the audience? He did fine again.
He flew home, completely pumped by his success. He talked to Walter and Allan on the phone for his second longest conversation EVER.
The first was of course with [his American idol watching buddy] and they sang songs to each other and that filled up a total hour and then he went to the mall and then and then and then…
I sat on his bed to tuck him in. There is a very famous singer who always has stage fright, I told him.
His eyes widened.
She was so afraid of going on stage, she finally stopped. I mean, this woman was so famous, thousands of people would want to see her. And even if she were horrible, they would clap and clap because she was a great star. Beyond a great star.
And she could not stand being onstage. She was terrified. She finally stopped doing concerts. For a long, long time. Everyone was very sad because they loved her, her voice, and her presence on stage.
Did she ever go onstage again?
Finally, she did. Because she realized she could do great things with her audiences. She could make change in the world that was really meaningful to her. So even though she was so afraid, she did it.
Ben gave a heavy, knowing sigh.
Mom? Who is she?
Barbara Streisand. You may not know her but she is so so so very famous for my generation.
So… I’m just like her? He asked.
Yes, sweetie, I suppose you are.
And I leaned over and kissed him goodnight.
As I walked down the stairs, I started to laugh.
My son… and Barbara Streisand.
If he ends up gay? It really is my fault.
Ben needs a dressing room filled with white flowers only, like Jennifer Lopez, McDonald’s hamburgers cut into eighths, like Christina Aguilera, and obviously an artfully placed bucket to puke in, like Barbara Streisand.
So he can make it through the middle school concert. Almost reaching the stars by then.
I love my son. And I know, deep inside? He’s a diva.
He just needs some lessons.