Monday, November 28, 2011

Ballet Slippers (Or, Asking for What You Want)

Saskia is in her middle school musical, and we are wrapping our minds around the politics of it all. I remember from my high school years that the people who get the leads in the school musical are -- invariably -- the uber popular kids. And the director of Saskia's play has proven the truism. Now, I'm not an unbiased party when I tell you that Saskia is a deeply talented singer and actress, but a lot of the other people who will tell you that are. And she does have a named part, with a few lines of dialogue and a few lines of vocal solos.

But she had paid her dues in sixth and seventh grade, with ensemble and small roles, and she really, really wanted something better. I was pretty sure it wasn't going to happen, and I was right. Who got all the juicy parts? Why, the middle school glitterati, of course. I've seen most of them in other plays. They're okay, not great. But they've got moxie. They feel entitled to the world, and they insist the world deliver. Usually, it does.

Quiet, thoughtful types like Saskia don't make demands on anyone (except maybe their parents). So, often they do not receive what they want -- simply because they don't feel entitled to it. And now she sits attentively at rehearsals, even when they are boring, and the queen bees talk and text and create little whirlwinds of drama around themselves rather than paying attention and taking the play they are dominating seriously. The girl who got the part Saskia wanted has not even shown up for rehearsals yet, two weeks after they started.  

OK, rant over. But this situation of Saskia's is making me think about if and how to teach my children to ask for what they want. The last thing I want is a couple of entitled kids -- Lars and I do not admire such creatures -- but I do want them to advocate for themselves, and sometimes -- just sometimes -- to get a little piece of the pie.

But just how do you do that? As a kid, I was not entitled, either. I remember once wanting something dreadfully, and not feeling justified in asking for it. Have you heard of the ballerina Patricia McBride? She was big in the seventies, and I used to watch her dance when the New York City Ballet came to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center for a month every summer. She was truly amazing: beautiful, graceful, an incredible, poised athlete -- everything I was not. But my parents had friends in the NYCB orchestra so I got to go backstage and meet her. What I wanted more than anything, apart from telling her I  thought she was perfect, was a pair of signed toe shoes. My sister Sue had gotten a pair the summer before, signed by a dancer I'd never heard of. They hung jauntily on her dresser mirror, and I was desperately jealous.

So there I was, backstage with Patrica McBride, mostly gazing at her and listening while our orchestra friends chatted with her, and Readers, I was that close to snagging a pair of toe shoes. I could see a barrel of discards (they are only worn for one performance) within touching distance. But I was not able, somehow, to tell her I wanted them. And after ten minutes or so, our violinist and cellist friends delivered me, empty handed, from the magical backstage to my parents waiting by the stage door.

I am trying to figure out why all of us in our little family have such a hard time feeling entitled to ask for what we want. We know we are good people, and deserving, but we just haven't got the moxie you need to stake a claim it in this social Darwinist world. Will someone else will always get the toe shoes, the lead, the high salary? I don't know, but my project for myself over winter break is to figure this out. I'll let you know when I've got an answer. 


  1. First and foremost, Saskia, though I think it's silly, as the theater expression goes - Break a leg! You'll be way better than those other guys.

    Regarding the rest of this post, Anna, and to draw a Sales analogy, you've got to learn to ask for the order. That's something that's hard to teach rookies. Even more importantly though, you've got to earn the right to ask for the order.

    That means you've got to put in the effort, understand the circumstances and make certain that the problem you're solving isn't your problem but the client's. Once you do all that, it's really unfair to expect the other person to then figure out what it was you really wanted. To be fair, to them and to yourself, you do have to ask. That can be scary because they might say No (and sometimes they will) and then you have to start all over again somewhere else but life's just like that.

    But you know all that 'cause that's how you've gotten to be so terrific at helping Benjy. Be Well, You Guys.

  2. Dear Papa,

    Thanks for stopping by, and for your insightful advice. I guess this is why there are no sales people in our (immediate) family!! But what you say rings so, so true... we DO need to let people know what we want, and that we are open to getting it. Thanks for your kind words, and all the best to you! Anna

  3. Wow, I relate to this post a lot; I was a lot like Saskia in high school. My family's a bit like this too (on my side, not my extroverted husband's side). I see the same trait in my little guy, who's polite and observant and ends up with two pieces of pinata candy at parties instead of a bulging bag of it. Or who waits patiently and for twice as long in lines for fun activities because more assertive and bigger kids push ahead. Teaching entitlement and assertiveness is something I think about a lot. Is this an issue of introverts living in a world of extroverts perhaps?

    Oddly I find it easy to advocate for my son or others in my family -- I can be pushy and demand things for him if need be. Just can't do it for myself with such ease!

  4. Diana, I too can advocate for my kids, if not for myself. Re: the kids, I think there's a difference between assertiveness (which I would like my kids to acquire) and entitlement, which I do NOT like -- even though in our town the entitled do seem to walk away with the prize more often than not. It's funny how similar we and our kids are in that respect (and why I connect so well to you!). I heard the tail end of an NPR piece on kids and entitlement today...I might check out the book on that subject they were featuring. Thanks for weighing in!