Veeder: Little moments to be brave
Columnist Jessie Veeder shares a story about helping her daughter write her own song and navigate the nerves of her first public performance.
WATFORD CITY, N.D. — For as long as my youngest, Rosie, could talk, she’s been asking me when she can have her own band and perform on the stage. My answer at first was to offer to accompany her, but Rosie wants her own band. And she wants to play her own guitar. And she wants to write her own music. And just this morning she informed me she wants to play drums too. So now I tell her she has to practice.
I’ve been working on writing some new songs these past few months as I prepared for the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering and a new album I’ll record this spring. This means the girls have been wandering in and out of my practice and writing sessions quite a bit lately. A few weeks ago I heard their four little feet march up the stairs and fling the door open and suddenly my lonesome little love song turned into a collaborative writing session with Rosie, who was determined to live out the promise I made to let her sing at open mic night at Gramma’s coffee shop in a few weeks.
She recently (as in, right that second) decided her song needed to be an original. Now I could skip over this part, but I don’t want you to get the impression that this was any kind of made-for-Hallmark movie-moment. Rosie’s first attempt at writing a song ended with six harmonica solo breaks, a speech about how this song is not just about her being a cowgirl, but about families working together and a stomp-off because, when her big sister wanted to try her own song, she was stealing all Rosie’s words. My husband called it their first “intellectual property dispute.” I call it the first of many dramas in the family band.
That’s where we left it, a little song unfinished on a scrap piece of paper and we all went outside to play (drama comes and goes quickly around here). Fast forward to my arrival home from my week away in Elko after taking the 17 hour drive in one shot, where I was greeted by hugs and a reminder about open mic.
She had been telling everyone at preschool, including her teachers. And they were coming to cheer her on. This was serious. I can sleep when I’m dead.
So the next morning, we finished her song and practiced it all day (I mean, are you really a rock star if you don’t cut it close?) and headed to the coffee shop to make her debut. But as the big moment grew closer, Rosie started to experience nerves, something her little five-year-old body wasn’t expecting. Her eyes were watering as she thought about not getting it right in front of a crowd. In the car, her big sister tried encouraging her and I followed with some pep talk, so completely aware of exactly how her little heart was beating. We walked in the back and practiced the song again before it was her turn. They called her name and I knelt down beside her with my guitar in the front of that tiny coffee shop filled with our smiling friends and family. It was her turn. Rosie buried her face in my arm as her cousins and big sister came up to offer hand-holding, sing-alongs, hugs, cookies or whatever it was going to take to make her brave. I whispered in her ear “come on now, you can do it!”
But little Rosie couldn’t do it. Not right then. It was all too overwhelming I think, the idea that in her head, she was a professional singer, but in real life she was still only five and she’d never done this before. Oh, I could relate. Just a few days before, getting ready to walk out to a theater full of hundreds of people so far away from home, I wondered if I truly belonged. If I was good enough. If I could pull it off. My stomach was in my throat, the same way my daughter’s was in our hometown that night. I so badly wanted her to do the thing she wanted to do, but I didn’t read the chapter in the parenting book on this.
So I told her we’d try again.
We went to the back and gathered ourselves. I wiped her little tears and told her she was brave. We practiced the song again, three or four more times. She said she wanted to try again in a little bit. So out we went to listen to the other performers and get a hug from her teachers, who promised her a pizza party if she gave it another go. Bless those two lovely women because that did it, the promise of pizza. I think that would probably do it for me too.
Her cousins and big sister at her side again, Rosie looked down, got a little teary, got it together, took a deep breath and sang.
“Daddy feeds the horses, sister cuts the twine, me and mom chase cattle, the dogs come for a ride…”
The small coffee shop crowd cheered and Rosie was so proud. She even got a tip, which she can’t get over. She didn’t know she was that good! But to everyone in that room that night, it was less about being good and so much more about being brave. That’s where it starts, at little open mics, little rodeos, little gymnastics meets, little dance recitals, little talent shows, little opportunities that we create in our little communities to help each other grow wings. I’m so thankful for the efforts of those who make things like this happen.
Anyway, if you’re wondering, Rosie’s big sister got wind of the tip and is working out her own song for next month as I type. So if you like drama, stay tuned for the saga of the sister band.
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Greetings from the ranch in western North Dakota and thank you so much for reading. If you're interested in more stories and reflections on rural living, its characters, heartbreaks, triumphs, absurdity and what it means to live, love and parent in the middle of nowhere, check out more of my Coming Home columns below. As always, I love to hear from you! Get in touch at email@example.com.