My son Stuart turned 8 in February and was baptized as a member of our church last Sunday. (Children typically get baptized when they turn 8 in the Mormon church, so he has been looking forward this. It’s something of a rite of passage.)
On Saturday (the day before the baptism), Brent and I took him to Houston to see the play Billy Elliot for his birthday. For those of you who don’t know Stuart, he likes to dance. He has always liked to dance and seemed to sort of just have dancing in his soul. He started taking dance lessons when he was 4—mostly because it allowed me to drop him off at pre-school 30 minutes early (hey, I was writing my doctoral dissertation!). But once he got into it, he loved it. And now he is in 2nd grade, still taking dance lessons (tap, ballet, and jazz), and still loving it. I keep waiting for him to say he doesn’t want to do it anymore, but so far, so good. I’ve seen him respond to many a comment/criticism—“You can’t take dance lessons! You’re a boy!”—with a shoulder shrug or an eyeroll.
So when I saw that Billy Elliot would be performed in Houston (2.5 hours away), I knew we had to take our dancing boy to see it. So off we went on Saturday—just the three of us. We prepped him a bit by explaining the context of the play (mining, unions, striking workers, stereotypical gender roles, etc.). He paid rapt attention throughout. He laughed and smiled and was awestruck (as were we!) by the dancing and the music. He was slightly amused when he looked to his right and to his left and saw tears coursing down both of our cheeks during this song (click below), in which Billy and his dance teacher read aloud a letter that Billy’s now-deceased mother wrote for him to read when he was 18. (He’s 11 in the play, so he obviously didn’t wait to read it.)
It’s a beautiful song—a tender back-and-forth between Billy’s mom (sung by Billy’s dance teacher) and Billy. The mom’s letter reads:
And I will have missed you growing,
And I’ll have missed you crying
And I’ll have missed you laugh.
Missed your stomping and your shouting,
I’ll have missed telling you off,
But please Billy,
Know that I was always there.
I was with you through everything.
And please, Billy…
But please, Billy
know that I will always be
Proud to have known you
Proud that you were mine
Proud in everything
And you must promise me this, Billy
In everything you do
Always be yourself, Billy
And you always will be true
Love you forever.
I’m not sure what Brent was thinking as the tears dripped down his cheeks (and he’s not much of a crier), but I was thinking of how proud I am of my own little Billy Elliot. Yes, he’s a boy and he’s 8 and he loves to dance, and damn anyone who tries to tell him otherwise. But more importantly, he’s a nice boy. Such a nice boy. I have often felt humbled that he is mine—just like Billy’s mom said in her letter.
The next day at the baptismal ceremony, we went through the usual motions (a prayer to start the meeting and then a hymn of Stuart’s choosing), and then were treated to a short talk by Stuart’s 9-year-old cousin about what it means to be baptized. Stuart and 12 of his cousins sang a sweet song and then it was time for the baptism. I gave Stuart a squeeze and then everyone dispersed to go into the room with the baptismal font—a room which Stuart and Brent (who would be performing the baptism) would enter through the men’s restroom. I stood there for a moment and watched them walk towards the men’s restroom and then had a moment of panic when I realized that I would be standing on the other side of the plexi-glass—mostly missing out on the moment, much like Billy’s mom. So I ran to catch him before he went into the restroom. I got down onto my knees so I could be at eye level with him and was surprised to see that he is tall enough now that—from my knees—I was looking way up at him. Fighting back completely unexpected tears, I looked up and him and whispered, “Hey, buddy. I can’t go in there with you, but I’ll be with you in your heart, just like Billy Elliot’s mom. I’ll just be on the other side of the glass. I’m so proud of the wonderful boy you are growing up to be and proud to be your mom.” He flashed me a puzzled grin and headed into the bathroom.
I went into the other room and watched Brent perform the ceremony. Stuart looked resplendent. As they got ready to step out of the font, I walked up to the glass and tapped it quietly. Stuart turned around and I blew him a kiss and mouthed the words “I love you” to him. I felt a twinge of sadness to be a spectator rather than a participant, but it was Stuart’s day—not mine.
My favorite part of the song just might be when the dance teacher says, “She must’ve been a very special woman.” Billy hesitates and then says, “No. She was just me mam.” I suppose that’s what I am to Stuart–just his Mom. And, also like Billy’s mom, I am proud to have known him and proud that he is mine.