The kids and I are at their school for the annual Christmas Craft night, building gingerbread houses and cookie churches. Happy families surround us. They are smiling at one another – wearing matching sweaters, humming Christmas carols and building crosses from popsicle sticks and Smarties. Positive and encouraging comments punctuate the snippets of conversation I can overhear.
At our table, my 6-year-old son is giving me the stink eye and whining. “I’m hungry! Why didn’t we eat dinner?” He is sucking royal icing straight from the decorating bag. My daughter is practicing her ‘mortified with a hint of haughty’ look across the table.
She asks me, “So what do you think I should do my speech on this year? I’m kinda worried about it.”
She has to participate in a public speaking competition this year. She doesn’t want to. I don’t know why; there is almost nothing I like more than speaking or the public. (I’d run for office, but I’m much too bossy and would monopolize parliament, leading to a) my eventual assisted removal, or b) some sort of international incident. It’d be a mess, trust me.)
I’ve never understood how public speaking got to #2 on the list of popular fears, coming even before death. There’s nothing to it! It’s as easy as cutting your own hair! But I recognize that this fear can socially cripple some people, and I want her to be good at it. Because I do it well, I want her to excel at it. She feels remarkably less excited, and while she is certainly not a shy child, she does become mortified when I start discussing things like natural childbirth with groups of complete strangers, some of whom – to be fair – care little for the subject matter. Quickie Lube oil change guys, I’m looking at you.
So I suggest that she do her speech on something she enjoys and feels comfortable talking about; something that will grab the audience’s attention. It should also be interesting and teach them something they didn’t already know. But above all else it must be something she is passionate about.
“I was thinking of doing it about dogs,” she says.
“Nah. Every third kid in your class will be doing a speech on dogs. NO dog speeches. How about farts? That’d be awesome. You can talk about how it’s something everyone does, no one admits to, etc. Then you can leave the audience hanging until the end to find out what you are talking about.”
“Mother. Be serious.” I’m getting THE LOOK.
“What? If handled properly, this one will take you to the finals. THE FINALS!” I’m disappointed she’s not going for it, plus I’ve already starting making bullet point index cards and making up fart classification names in my head.
“Fine. What are you passionate about then?”
“You know; what gets you all riled up? Good or bad? What could you talk about all day and what do you spend every social interaction hoping someone will ask you about? What do you lie awake at night for want of? What topic do you try to weave into every conversation you are having? WHAT MAKES YOUR HEART WANT TO KEEP BEATING?”
Suddenly I’m the Dad in the “We’re Not Gonna Take it” video. I’m in her face shouting, “WHADDA YOU WANNA DO WITH YOUR LIFE?” People are leaving the gym.
“Oh; that.” Luckily she’s pretty non affected by my personality
I repeat the question. “So? What are your passions?”
“Cheese. And bacon. And music.”
“Okay. What els…” But I can’t finish because I’ve tapped a vein and she’s bleeding all over the school gymnasium floor. Families are looking and whispering behind cupped hands now.
“People who say BAY-Gul! It’s a bag-el, or nothing! Commercials that ask “Why buy anywhere else? WHAT IF I WANT TO? How does a telephone work? Cinnamon Toast Crunch! Thinking about what’s going to happen in the future. Skinny Jeans, BUT NOT jeggings. Shiny things. Taking pictures. Taking pictures of shiny things! My hair – it’s really quite lovely! Taking pictures of my shiny hair! Doing high kicks. Cinnamon Toast Crunch – did I say that already? Singing in the Shower. Doing high kicks in the shower!”
“Okay. That’s more like it!” I reach over and s-l-o-w-l-y take the icing bag away from her. “You’ve got some great options and original ideas there. What are you gonna pick?”
She thinks about it for .003 seconds.
“No question. Dogs!”