attention seekers

I just had a mini-moment. I won’t call it an epiphany because I don’t know that I’ll remember the moment years from now, with remarkable accuracy—as you’re able to do with true epiphanies—able to tell you what I was wearing (Phil’s cableknit cashmere sweater, waffle weave sweatpants, horn-rimmed glasses), or if I was on my bed, with my red water bottle on the night stand and an ipad mini propped up on the plaid flannel sheets of my unmade bed, with Fame High streaming on Netflix in the background as I tried to erase photos from my iphone after transferring them onto my computer, but it was a glimpse at insight that made me cry, without tears. It felt like an embarrassing truth made its way upon my face and didn’t know where to go. It was an elevator ding of self-awareness.

I feel ashamed that I’ve been embarrassed by my daughter’s hunger for the spotlight. I wanted her not to need it because when I saw her fighting for it, I saw myself. My hungry little ego, starved for validation, has been somewhat tamed into submission due to all the adult self-help books that have talked me down and told me NO NO NO, you need none of that, young miss! That kind of validation and love actually comes from within, not from others! Not from praise! Yes, but you’re an adult, she needs that from you.  Yes, no shit. She gets praised on effort, on originality, when she applies herself, when she displays kindness. I tell her I love her vivaciousness, her voice, and even her sass. She makes us all laugh. “You’re delicious,” we tell her. “You crack me up.” We love her when she’s quiet and thoughtful and shy, too. “Take your time,” I say. “When you’re ready, you’ll know.” She knows it deeply, there’s no question. Stage performer Stephanie belts back, “What’s so very wrong with being an attention seeker?” Why have I always judged it as one of my fatal flaws?

I was watching Fame High. I couldn’t help it. This coming-of-age chronicle captures a year in the life of students at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, also known as “Fame High.” At first I’d thought it was going to be a scripted show or remake of Fame. I mean, the opening scene even shows a lone chair, that just screams Flashdance. It’s a documentary film, one I intend to share with my beans this weekend! And in it, there’s a redheaded girl who says, “I was born and raised in theater. My dad’s actually a theater producer in LA. Even when I was three, I’ve always tried to get on that stage, where my dad works at. So, I’m definitely an attention seeker.” So totally me, I thought. And good for her for owning it. Why is that such a crime? Why do people make it out to be such a bad thing to be attention seekers? “They” (the everybody club– usually people who don’t approve or don’t have the guts to do it themselves, or who think you’re being too garish, who are quick to judge, who are conservative and reserved, the Barbara Hershey’s to the Bette Midler’s) make it seem like a disorder.

Yes, there’s the cry for help, when a child just wants to get attention from her parents, and will do so by acting out, even if the attention isn’t praise. I’m not talking about this scenario. Though, you will hear from plenty of comedians from large families who say they were forced to be funny and performers, to grab their parents’ attention.

When she was younger, Abigail was this girl.

Today, she ain’t that girl. At school concerts, she basically stood in the back, lip syncing the words. Never speaking up. She’s still shy asking for things or speaking to a flight attendant to inquire what snacks she has to offer. Is that a confidence thing? Jodie Foster said that she was always painfully shy as a child and that quality had absolutely nothing to do with acting or performing. That surprised me.

I was thrilled the summer when Abigail attended a small performance camp. It was the first time we heard her sing on stage, and she was so proud of herself. I can actually hear her voice in this clip:

Today, she walks around designing costumes with blankets and boas and swords from the play room then asks me to send my mom videos of her tutorials (the latest on Pencil Bun Beauty):

Olivia BooksOur girl will now go ahead and sweet talk the lighting crew into just so happening to aim the spotlight on her, while the rest of the stage (and her peers) go DARK. Wink, wink, shrug. She reminds me of Olivia. She’s suddenly “all eyes on me” girl. During recess, she sets up a stage and preforms comedy routines for an audience. Though I don’t know that she’d ever want to do the work it would take to learn a part in a play, maybe that will change with maturity. I also think that she’d always prefer to play the funnier or more interesting supporting role to the straighter starring role. At this age, she favors improvisation. Why aren’t there group improv classes for parents and children? I think this would be so much fun. I am VERY SERIOUSLY TEMPTED to audition for some type of community theater with her, but I fear that our rehearsal times would be different. I’d love to be in a play together! This would be so terrifically and terrifyingly exciting. It would be a dream.

I must stop cringing when I see my daughter acting silly for attention from her peers, making them laugh as she hams it up, just as I had at that age. I must appreciate her as she is, as I was, as I still am, as an attention-seeker, as a ham, as a performer. As so many of them are at that age.

Last night, at Girl Scouts, we asked the girls to write on a slip of paper, “I could be a better friend by….” and Abigail wrote on her slip privately and folded it up and slipped it into her box. She completed her sentence with, “sharing the spotlight more.” I became anxious when I read this because I fear that it’s something that’s come from my mouth to her. “Let someone else feel good. Let someone else feel like the star, too.” I told her this after listening to her during a play date when she hogged the microphone the whole time, and when it was the friend’s turn, Abigail lost interest and wanted to play something else. Maybe I shouldn’t feel anxious. It’s an honest lesson. You should pay attention to your friends and share the spotlight. I just don’t want her to feel that she has to give it up to be “good.” I don’t want her to be “a good girl.” I want her to be who she was born to be. Still, that was a very insightful and very thoughtful response to the question we posed. It wasn’t “being nice all the time” or “sharing my things.” It took introspection.

In a closing friendship circle, I had each of the girls take a turn and share one thing they love about themselves. Myself, my smile, my heart, my personality, my family (“What else, besides your family?” I said, “Because that’s not who YOU are. Something about who you ARE, alone.”), I like how much I like myself, my smile, my hair, my voice. And what does my daughter respond? “Hmm. Tough one. Okay, I got it. I got it. My eyebrows. Can’t go wrong with these eyebrows people.” I’ll give her one thing, she’s an original, and no one will ever accuse her of being cliche. I was the *exact same way* at that age, only I might’ve said, “Wait, I can only pick ONE thing I love about myself? There are just soooo many things. Well, if I have to choose one, I’d say my freckles because I have no choice about them, so I might as well love them now while I’m young, or else it will be a lifetime of self-hatred.” Of course, I wouldn’t have said this because eight-year-old girls don’t speak this way unless they’re on scripted TV.

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  1. This is lovely.

    I have several friends and family members who fit in the description of hams or attention seeking behavior. One thing that I’ve observed is the law of diminishing returns. At first, only a little attention is needed to satisfy. Then it is more and more — until friends and family can’t provide it anymore. And strangers might provide it, but with strangers comes criticism as well as praise.

    Abigail sounds lovely, and you sound like a wonderful mama. You are lucky to have each other indeed. I don’t think there is anything wrong with being a ham, but as the perspective as somebody who is not, this is something you might want to watch out for. How much attention is enough? And what will you do to get it?

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