It all went off without a hitch. When Sam brought home the paper for the annual lip sync show and said he wanted to sign up, I was skeptical. But the past three weeks have shown his fortitude and he, along with two of his best buddies, pulled it off tonight.
As one of thirty four acts, they had their two minutes in the spotlight and remembered every move we’d choreographed. I was so proud of them. What surprised me was the fact I didn’t get teary eyed when it was finally their turn up on that big stage. Yes, I couldn’t keep the big goofy grin off my face, but the whole thing didn’t make me all gummy eyed with nostalgia, like I’d expected.
That moment had already hit me. In the fourth act of the night.
I didn’t even know the kids doing the song that ended up reducing me to tears. They looked to be about third or fourth graders and they did a great job matching their dance to their song. The part that got to me was their song selection. “I Just Can’t Wait to be King”, from the Lion King soundtrack.
As I found myself singing along I immediately became emotional. I knew every word. Every single word. Because that song was a part of our family at a very fragile time for me. It holds so much more meaning to me than I had ever realized until this night, at an innocent elementary school talent show.
A decade and a half ago, just a short time after my mom had died, I found myself in a dark theater with my toddlers. It was their first big kid theater experience. Michael was barely two but we figured we’d see how long he could last. Meredith, being a year older, was plenty big enough to have been primed by endless Disney promotional commercials. She could barely sit still as we waited for the show to begin.
The lights dimmed and it was time for the movie. It began with a beautiful, moving, emotional song that was all about the Circle of Life. It was a topic I had thought about way too often in the weeks prior, as I contemplated how I could be so motherless so early in life.
In the midst of taking turns introducing new little lives into our extended family, my siblings and I had to slow down and accept the reality of losing one as well. A pretty important one. The hub of our family. The contrast was sharp and cut as deeply as any knife.
For the sake of my babies I did my best to hold back the tears as the movie played on. They burned my throat and stung my eyes. The music was stirring, setting the scene so beautifully. The animation was amazing, as each animal in the kingdom gathered to celebrate the King’s new son.
The circle of life. In theory it’s a beautiful thing. Especially when the part you’re singing about is welcoming a new little lion cub to the tribe. I just knew too well the other side of that circle.
Of course I fell in love with the movie, as did my children and most of America. For weeks afterward we sang the songs as we played in the yard and drove in the car. Hakuna Matata became a regular tune around our house. So did I Just Can’t Wait To Be King.
Eventually the movie came out on VHS (in the days before DVD) and we played our copy over and over until we almost wore out the poor VCR. Before long I had memorized the songs. And they became a part of the fabric of our lives.
Those magical days when we had all the time in the world to raise these impressionable little people. Those days and nights when the world revolved around figuring out how life was going to be without a mom to call when things got hairy, how this sudden hole in my heart would ever be filled again. Through the giggles of my children and the lonely tears that came in the dark hours of night, I heard the Lion King soundtrack in my ears.
Now I am in this new stage of teenagers and am so aware of every minute that passes and how it brings them closer to leaving this home we’ve created together. We rarely watch Disney movies anymore and I don’t think we even own The Lion King anymore. It was sacrificed when we purged the house of all VHS material.
But somewhere, in some storage bin, is a small plastic figurine that I just can’t bear to throw away. It’s a plastic toy we probably got in a Happy Meal back in those toddler days. It’s a model of the lion cub, snuggled on his daddy lion’s belly, both of them smiling broadly. It was a scene that took place early in the movie, before the lion cub loses his parent and then loses his way.
At one point Michael brought this toy to me and asked me to write some words on it so he could give it to his daddy. I happily found a black sharpie and asked him what I should write.
“Just like my dad.”
That’s what my boy wanted to write on his new favorite toy, so he could present it to his own lion king daddy. I happily obliged, maybe with a few tears in my eyes.
So tonight as I sat in another dark theater, this time the mother of a bunch of older kids, and heard those familiar, poignant words fill my ears I couldn’t stop the tears from coming. Our family is so far past the days of Disney movies. I shouldn’t know this song so well. But the words come as easily as the tears. Both so familiar.
And this is my defense, my explanation. No, I didn’t cry when my baby boy nailed his act, chopping away like an expert to “Kung Fu Fighting”.
The tears had already come and gone. Along with a sappy little song about a little lost lion who was forced to find his own way.