Friday, August 17, 2007

Thespian memories

Seven years ago, when Stacey was almost 4, I lived for a short time in a small apartment, piecing my life back together after Stacey's mom and I broke up. I started from scratch, taking only my clothes, computer, a reclining chair, and some odds and ends. By the time I had bled my money dry, I had procured the necessities of life: dishes, a kitchen table, cookware, a desk, two bookshelves, and two beds - one for me, one for Stacey.

The next few months were, without doubt or exaggeration, the best of my life. Stacey and I were close since she was a newborn, but we grew so attached to and fond of each other in the Spring of 2000 that it's difficult to describe. We were perfect in each other's eyes. She was beautiful and loved by everyone, a natural learner and eager and happy to explore everything. I was infallible, strong, and always available and willing to do anything she was interested in on a whim.

We hung out at parks, did crafts, and went to the zoo. When the weather was bad, we spent lazy days hanging out at a local mall that had a kids' play area.

We signed her for ballet class...

Went to see a kids' concert...

..and we discovered reading.

I introduced her to Sneetches, Madeline, the Velveteen Rabbit, Winnie The Pooh, other Dr. Suess stories, and some stories I wasn't familiar with that we bought at the local book store.

Stacey wanted me to read her bedtime stories almost every night, a ritual I looked forward to as much as she did. She would get under the covers in her bed which faced the bookshelf, then look at the books, throw the covers off and run and grab a book, then come back and get under the covers again, scooting over to me and putting her head on my shoulder. I would wrap my arm around her and get into character, and my reserved, quiet demeanor would fall away as I become a master thespian for a while.

I had never been skilled at reading aloud until I had someone who really wanted me to read to her. It took a few tries to get my confidence and ignore that I felt silly being in character, but I got over it, and became deft at reading aloud and speaking clearly and at the right tempo and volume -- and I became better at a lot of things because of that.

Around that time, I was recruited at work to come teach data communications to new hires when the "regular guy" wasn't available. This required not only creating my own materials and a plan, but also speaking clearly, and at the right tempo and volume, the very things I had been practicing nightly. I did well enough training my first class that I became the regular guy myself, and later went on to teach a week-long advanced class to the "level 2" tech support team.

A couple years later, I volunteered at an Elementary school teaching basic computer skills (creating Powerpoint slides and basic spreadsheet charts) to Fifth-graders, and ended up with a pair of giant construction paper thank you cards from the kids two years in a row. Again, the soft skills I learned by reading to Stacey, and the class-running skills I learned at work came into play.

So my kid wanting bedtime stories, and me embracing it wholeheartedly led to other benefits. Yet another example of how being good to your kids pays off.

This week, Stacey, almost 11, is in a theater daycamp, where she is learning the part of Peter Quince in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Last night we were practicing her lines, and I had great fun becoming Nick Bottom, arrogant and overbearing, and trying to play every part in Pyramus and Thisbe while Quince struggled for control of his play. As I hammed it up during our practice, Stacey got to the point where she couldn't stop laughing, and we had to quit for a minute.

The memories of reading bedtime stories came flooding back, little Stacey tucked into my arm with a grin on her face as I read off...

until neither the Plain nor the Star-Bellies knew
whether this one was that one or that one was this one
or which one was what one...
or what one was who.


Miss Genevieve,
noblest dog in France,
you shall have your ven-ge-ance!!

I've been pretty emotional with revery all day. The performance is tonight at 6. I'll get pictures and post how it went tomorrow.

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