Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Testing Talent

The children have just gone back to school after their two week break, the house is momentarily quiet, with four high school students from Germany asleep upstairs after their long flight here, come to work on building a sports field for our school during their holidays.

I need to get the writing mojo back. It’s foundering beneath all the number of practical things needing doing. It feels like the school is taking over our lives – I’ve got to think about doing the school photos, starting to organize the end of year newsletter, doing packed lunches for the visiting students, cooking a proper evening meal and entertaining the teacher who is staying with us for the three weeks (the students are going on to other school families), communicating with potential sponsors. My husband is overseeing the student’s sports field project, finding supplies, getting the ground leveled, as well as being on the board and making all sorts of difficult financial decisions. And we both need to work for our living as well. Sometimes it all feels too much. How about a nice pre-packaged school where you pay your fees and that’s it. Except that we love the Waldorf system and can see how much it has done for our son at least, who is now far more self-confident than we could have expected that shy little boy to become in his first days there.

I remember his first school concert, when he was in Class 1 and just turned 7. The whole class came on stage hand-in hand to sing a couple of songs. He was in the middle of the row and just as well that they were all holding hands, as his eyes were tight shut. He sang the songs and did all the movements perfectly, keeping his eyes closed throughout, narrowly missing hitting his neighbour with his outstretched arms at several points. He quite unintentionally stole the show!

At the end of last term the oldest class organized a Talent Contest as a project. They wrote to local businesses to organize prizes, put up posters to get the rest of the school to enter. We had no expectation of our children entering, until we heard from one of the teachers that our son had said he was going to do a magic trick for it… It was the first we’d heard of it.

He’s got a book of magic tricks and had been most struck by all the number tricks in it, the kind where you pick a number, double it etc etc and then he can tell you your original number. He planned to go on stage and do some of these tricks. He asked for one of his friends to come for the afternoon so they could practise. The friend duly came, but no practising was done, they were too busy doing other things and when I gently reminded him about it, he said that he might not do it after all. Fine, I thought, he’s chickened out, I don’t blame him.

I mentioned it to his teacher and the next thing I knew she said he was going to have three assistants on stage with him and it was all settled. Dead silence on the subject at home. We hoped that he was doing some practice with his assistants at school.

Finally, as the day arrived, we got more pro-active with our interrogation techniques. We finally extracted the information that he’d worked out exactly what he was doing in his own head, but hadn’t had a run through with his assistants at all. My husband persuaded him to go through it all out loud at home with me standing in as an assistant, him standing at the back of the room to get our son to speak loudly enough. We found a clip board for the assistants to write the numbers on large enough so that the audience could see the figures with the idea of making it slightly more interesting to watch..

Unfortunately his tricks relied on the Maths skills of the assistant to come up the right answer and as an assistant even I managed to add up the figures wrong and spoil the trick once or twice. We came up with a one-liner he could use in this event and got him early to the talent show to have a run through with his designated assistants.

Heart in mouth, we sat down in the audience and the show eventually began, with several lively dance routines, which got the audience going.

He was going to have to come on next and hold the attention of this rumbustious audience. I crossed my fingers.

On he came with his gallant assistants.
Announced his trick.
Told his assistants what to do.
A long pause followed while they huddled all three of them round the clip board, its back to the audience, with much whispering going on.
Eventually they worked out the answer, found the correct playing card, held it up to the audience and our son was able to guess the right number.
Generous applause.

The audience was patient as they launched into a second trick. This time the huddling went on longer, with hushed arguing over the answer while our son stood quietly by and watched them. Eventually he could bear it no longer and had to go and help them with the Maths, which slightly curtailed the trick, as of course he would now know the answer. We meanwhile were holding on tight to our seats to restrain ourselves from rushing up on stage to sort them out. Wisely he abandoned any ideas of doing tricks number 3 and 4 and retired from the stage in reasonably good order.

I, of course, felt like rushing back stage to see if he was alright, but couldn’t be so embarrassing and eventually he rejoined the audience nonchalantly enough and watched the rest of the show. There were several other acts after that that dried up slightly, so he wasn’t alone in that, and at the end after the judging and the main prizes were handed out, there were smaller prizes for all the others, so he and his assistants got something out of it .

All he would volunteer afterwards was that next time he’d get someone else to be his assistant. A bit later at bed time, rather poignantly, he said that he wished his friend Matthew (who moved away last year and was good at Maths too) was still here.

What impressed me however was that this slight, shy ten year old, who three years ago was keeping his eyes tight shut on stage, was able to hold his ground on the same stage, even while the trick was falling apart around him and the audience starting to get a bit restless, that he had the self-confidence to even think about ‘next time’.

I was the one who was in agonies inside, shattered nerves and the rest. He, unless he is a master of disguise on the emotional front, which could be the case, seemed cool, if somewhat irritated that his friends aren’t maths geniuses like him.


  1. They give us so many happy memories. I know the feeling about feeling rushed off your feet.

  2. What a great story! I love reading your blog because I am reminded of those joys of past years parenting the small children. You will look back on these years with your children, school, Maths, ect... with fond memories too. You've done a great job! They fly away all too soon.

    Don't worry about the angst on writing. I have been horribly vacant from blogging, mind, body and spirit wise. This 'blogging funk' has only gotten worse the past month since all this financial/ stockmarket turmoil has hit the US. I have felt like all I've posted for the past year has been dribble. Too many fires to put out it seems...

    When the spirit moves, your writing is delightful as always. Quality over quantity any day!

    Love, Jenny

  3. What a great story of the progress your son is making in such a good school.

  4. What a wonderful, wonderful post. My mom must have felt something like this when I (never the most outgoing of kids in company) suddenly took up debating and had to stand up in front of the school and SPEAK. I was always third speaker which meant I had to practically write my speech as the othes were making theirs, and this suited my way of thinking (i.e. stress is my favourite motivator!!). And after one or two successful debates, the bug bit and since then I have been a sucker for an audience :)

    I wish your son much luck in his next public appearance!


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