I just spent a weekend on Nantucket crashing on a friend’s couch. He’s the artistic director of the Theatre Workshop of Nantucket. Hey, it’s who you know.
We passed the island elementary school several times. Seeing it took me back to the summer I lived on Nantucket during college. It was my “black-and-white-Abercrombie-and-Fitch-catalog-summer-on-the-beach;” debaucherous and delectable.
I worked as a camp counselor for Strong Wings. Every morning kids congregated at Nantucket Elementary at 7:45. We counselors would ride bikes with ten eight-year-olds trailing like ducklings. We’d go to various points of the island to kayak, hike or build “extreme” (really big) sand castles.
My most indelible camp memory was of a kid named Clay. It’s illustrative, if boorish, to call him a “weenie”: chubby, whiny, always holding up the group, and most likely to lose the key to his bike lock on the beach. I hasten to say he was very sweet. Forgive my use of “weenie”, but I bet you’ve got a vivid picture.
Clay drew the most mockery from fellow campers with his irrepressible excitement for the Broadway musical, Titanic. He’d seen it that summer and memorized all the music.
The first time he sang one of the songs, all bets were off. The other kids constantly goaded him into singing more. And he delivered: feet planted as if at center stage, arm raised in a farewell salute, belting out some maudlin song from the tragic (in so many ways) show. Every time the kids ran around laughing at him.
I wanted him to shut up…because I’d been that weenie. I grew up a little Broadway fan knowing entire albums and could have burst into song at a moment’s notice. But I repressed my showmanship because kids already called me “fag”.
So I wanted to protect the Broadway fan inside Clay. I asked about the highlights of the show, his favorite characters, etc., all the while steering him away from performing. (Besides, he wasn’t a very good singer, even when standing on a rock on the beach and singing to the open ocean.)
The difference between Clay and me was: he didn’t seem to suffer from the kids chanting, “Clay’s singing opera, again! Clay’s singing opera, again!” Perhaps his grand singing drowned out the mocking? Maybe he felt most comfortable imagining himself at center stage? It seems I had more issues with the scene than he did. (And still do?)
As I drove past Nantucket Elementary on this last visit, my heart felt heavy. But was it for Clay’s mockery or my own self-consciousness?
I know we can’t protect our kids from teasing others or being teased. But I pray my sons won’t mock other Clays moved to song.
Moreover, I hope they don’t act like me – petrified of judgment. I’ll do all I can to inspire their inner Clay: passionate expression undeterred by others’ opinions.
And I hope Clay maintained his self-confidence. I hope that summer didn’t scar him. I hope he’s still singing opera.