It’s the end of an era for us. The past six years have seen high school productions too numerous to mention. I have built some of the oddest things in an effort to make these plays look professional on a shoestring budget: A revolving 24 foot by 36 foot structure that ripped the curtain and nearly fell into the front row, prison cells out of PVC, and a toilet stall that doubled as a judges bench when viewed from the other side. But now we are officially finished with high school theatre because our final actress has kissed the stage.
Her name is Kendall but her little toddler friend called her Cookie and it stuck. Cookie amazes me. She is a fighter, she is introspective, beautiful, bright, creative, and fiercely loyal. Cookie is an extremely hard worker and I have no doubt she will be successful at whatever she chooses because she will either kick down the obstacles or figure out an ingenious way to ignite them. One of my fondest memories is when mom picked her up on first day of first grade. She bounded out of her classroom and suddenly realized something had gone terribly wrong. She grabbed the doorway to stop her momentum and cried, “Wait! They forgot to teach me how to read!”
Ready to return and let them correct their mistake, it took some explaining to convince her that the process of learning to read was more than a one day lesson. Who could know that reading would become both a passion for her and one of the hardest fights of her life.
You see, Cookie is dyslexic. That does not mean that she confuses god with dog. Dyslexia is a very misunderstood catch-all term for various cognitive disorders regarding language and/or visual processing. I think the best description I heard was that dyslexics often have a firehose of information rolling around in their brains but can only release it through the trickle of a straw. We watched her breeze through long words and struggle with “the” and “as”. It is so hard to watch the frustration of your child as they try to keep up with classmates who take something like reading for granted.
With the help of a specialist, Cookie fought. Although she struggled to read aloud, she never shied away when it was her turn in class – even when that meant facing some ridicule. And now? I would say you would have to look very hard to find a graduating senior who has read more books than Cookie. She reads voraciously.
Though schoolwork might take her a little longer than some, she will graduate with honors at the top of her class. She is the very picture of perseverance. She fought through the suffering and death of her beloved little sister and stilled maintained her high GPA.
And now she has ceremonially kissed the stage goodbye. That stage wasn’t always kind to her. She never landed the leading role she wanted. While I would have loved to see her star in a show, I couldn’t be more proud of the young woman who, although disappointed, honored her commitment, went to every rehearsal, learned every song, and shined with every opportunity she was given. I am impressed with the kid who struggled through cold reads even though reading itself was a laborious challenge. And I stand in awe of the child who got knocked down with rejection yet picked up her spirits and auditioned for the next show every time. She is a quiet child by nature, yet she jumped outside of her comfort zone this year to win the office of Vice-President of the theatre club and she even won the right to direct a very funny one-act show.
Next week she will graduate and in the fall she will move away to college to study screenwriting. She is ready, even if we aren’t. She’s taken her lumps and fought through them all. Her success is hard-earned, not given and the lessons she has learned have better prepared her for the real world than those for whom things come easily.
In her final performance, she sung, “Proud of your Boy” from Aladdin, which is such a special musical for our family. Changing “boy” to “girl”, she closed with:
Someday and soon
I’ll make you proud of your girl
Though I can’t make myself taller
Or smarter or handsome or wise
I’ll do my best, what else can I do?
Since I wasn’t born perfect like Dad or you
Mom, I will try to
Try hard to make you
Proud of your girl.
Cookie, you already have.
(photo credit to friend, John Pastore)