“What’s the worst thing that could happen?” I asked my daughter, as I often do when trying to calm her anxiety. Envisioning the worst-case scenario helps put her worries into perspective—helps demonstrate that the shadow of the thing she fears is often scarier than the thing itself. Usually, it works. But not this time.

We were on our way to an audition. My 9-year-old daughter, who has no singing or dancing experience to speak of, decided she wanted to try out for a musical at a local community theater. For a girl with anxiety and confidence issues, this was a huge leap of faith, and we praised her courage. But now, with 20 minutes left before the start of auditions, she was wrestling with herself about whether or not to go through with it.

My daughter was auditioning with four of her friends. I knew what her worst fear was. It was mine, too. The minute I asked the question, I regretted it.

In the past, this small community theater had been able to give all the kids who auditioned a part in the show. But word had gotten out, and starry-eyed parents from miles around saw an opportunity for their children to be big fish in a small pond. Now, this sweet little theater had more kids than they could possibly cast.

The worry that all my daughter’s friends would make the cut, and she wouldn’t, was more than either of us could bear. The responsible adult in me assured my daughter that, while being singled out like that would certainly sting for a while, the sting would wear off in time. But the mom in me wanted to turn the car around and throw my arms around my sobbing, hyperventilating child. Was it really worth the risk?

We had made so much progress. Just in the past month, my daughter’s “worries” had drastically decreased. Whether it was due to finally committing to therapy, finding her passion in swim team, or forming some new friendships at school, I didn’t know. But the thought of losing all that progress to one cruel blow to the ego made me wish we had left good enough alone.

Please, God, I silently prayed, don’t let only one of them get cut. Not my daughter, not any of them. 

My daughter finally calmed down and was all smiles by the time we got to the theater. She played games and chatted with her friends until her number was called, then sang her heart out. She felt proud of herself, and skipped around the house for the next two days. We had made the right decision. Regardless of the outcome, my daughter was now a person who could try out for a musical.

When the cast list came out, I scanned it quickly. When I didn’t see her name, I put my reading glasses on, and combed the cast list line-by-line, my palms sweating and heart slowly sinking down into my stomach with each name I read: Marie, Eliza, Claire, Moriah. All her friends’ names were there. But not hers.

She was the only one missing.

It was just a play. I knew that. We had no right to feel sorry for ourselves. We had a loving family, excellent health, a stable income, good friends. But in the midst of all that luck, it seemed that my daughter had been saddled with a giant boulder to push up the mountain of life. Her anxiety, her overly-sharp intuition and oversized sense of compassion for others had always hung heavy on her. Nothing seemed to come easy for her. And just when that weight was beginning to lift a little bit, the boulder threatened to drag her all the way back down the mountain.

We waited until bedtime to tell her. As my husband and I delivered the news, snuggling my daughter between us in her twin-sized bed, I had the odd sensation of floating above myself, detached—unable to feel the fragile sadness that had surrounded me all day. I had to be the one above ground to help pull my daughter out of the pit if she needed me.

My daughter cried until her nose was a solid block, then curled herself into us and fell asleep with her cheeks still wet with tears. She woke up with sadness in her eyes.

When we got to school in the morning, my daughter’s classmates—who knew nothing about the play—rushed over to give her hugs and update her on the latest news. I felt an enormous sense of gratitude swell up in me for these friends, who see all the beauty in my daughter and none of the heaviness. 

Before they could whisk her away from me, my daughter looked up at me and gave me a kiss, letting me know that it was going to be OK, that the healing had begun. She was more than her loss. She was a valued community member, a scholar, a friend; someone people sought out and cherished.

And now, she was also a girl who had auditioned for a play, and survived the sting of the cut.

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Lisa Reisig Ferrazzano

I have always been a lover of language and have spent most of my adult life exploring various aspects of the spoken and written word. From Comparative Literature major in college, to lecturer in Italian, to PhD in Linguistics, to writer—I am fascinated with the power of human language. I mainly write personal narratives and poetry which focus on my favorite job of all times—being a mom.