Hello from North Haven!
I’ve been writing a lot lately about the state of Penrose’s attachment to me, probably because it’s summer vacation and we’re spending more time together than either of us is used to. She spends a few hours a day at “camp,” which she adores, but spends about twice as much time at home with me than during the school year, when I’m at work at all hours. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, but togetherness seems to have the same effect, and the separation anxiety that had mostly disappeared in the spring has come roaring back.
Because of this, when my husband and I had an opportunity to sing and play a few songs on Vinalhaven for their annual local talent show (we were technically imported talent), we decided to bring Penrose with us rather than leave her on the home island with a sitter. We had a sweet dinner invitation from one of Bill’s coworkers at the Vinalhaven School, and then the talent show. Dinner was easy – Pen wolfed down some cornbread and enchiladas and sprawled on the couch watching cartoons with the other kids – but what to do with her during the talent show?
We couldn’t imagine her willingly sitting with any of our Vinalhaven friends while we went on stage. Although they’re all wonderful, we were hesitant to risk interrupting the talent show with the inevitable howls of separation anxiety. So, we went with the only other apparent option.
“All right, kid. If you’re chill on stage with us, there’s a little bag of gummy bears in it for you.”
That’s right. Extrinsic motivation for the win, again.
Penrose had agreed earlier that she’d rather come on stage with us and either sit on my lap or hold my hand than sit with a relative stranger in the audience. We’d practiced the two song set with her at home, but she’d sobbed on my lap because we forgot to ask her permission before using her maraca on one of songs. Pessimistic, we almost called a last minute sitter, but persevered.
The boat ride across the thorofare, which on calm days is almost instantaneous, couldn’t have been more beautiful after a rainy and cloudy afternoon. Dinner, as I mentioned, was great, although Pen didn’t want to leave to go to the talent show. But the promise of gummy bears spurred her on, and we arrived at the school with good cheer.
We spent a few minutes getting a new maraca and a music stand from Bill’s classroom and then moseyed down the aisle of Smith Hokanson Auditorium just as the master of ceremonies, humorist Phil Crossman, was calling our names.
“Courtney and Bill? Are they here? Courtney and Bill?” Suddenly we were in a rush, with no time to remind Penrose of her role. But she marched up the stairs to the stage with no hesitation. I’d imagined her sitting on my lap, but chairs were in short supply and she stood next to me, holding my hand and swishing her tulle skirt as Bill and I performed “Only Trust Your Heart,” a bossa nova, and “Avant la Bagarre,” a French yeye pop song. She was perfect.
We stayed for the first hour or so of the talent show, which was a fundraiser for Vinalhaven’s preschool program, and as Penrose watched and laughed and clapped along with the rest of the audience I knew we’d made the right decision, if not the most convenient one. Sure, Penrose could have stayed home with a babysitter and watched a little Curious George and had some pasta and peas, and even if she’d been upset at first when we left she would have been fine. But having her with us, to practice table manners at a different house, to interact with different kids, to fearlessly get on stage and stay calm and focused, and then to hear musician after musician sharing fiddle, jazz piano, barbershop and guitar music, to practice being an audience member – that was an opportunity to grow.
We took her home before the end of the talent show, not wanting to push our luck by postponing bedtime. She hadn’t forgotten about her bribe, of course, and ate the gummy bears with astonishing speed on the drive back to the Thorofare, but I like to think that her participation wasn’t only because of the treat. The sky had cleared for the crossing, and as a unit, we admired the pretty sight of our hometown, growing closer by the second.