Performing, Achieving, and Belonging
My first memory illustrates the deep ambivalence I felt, even at four years of age, over the expectations others placed on me for exceptional performance. I was at my paternal grandmother’s house for her annual birthday party. This was an especially exciting occasion for me each year because, although we visited my grandmother fairly frequently, we saw relatively little of the cousins, aunts, and uncles on that side of the family. What I remember about this particular year’s party was being asked to sing in front of everyone. A much older cousin’s fiancee—a dark curly-haired Irish policeman I thought very handsome—had been talking to me in the awkward but kindly way that adults talk to children when my cousin suggested to him that I should be asked to sing “Deep Purple.” He looked at me intently and asked. I wasn’t afraid or angry at the request. I knew the song, I was apparently accustomed to such requests, and I wanted to please this attractive and nice man. But for some reason I did not want to sing. My parents were not in the room, and so, perhaps for the first time, I decided to resist. Because I was normally an obedient child I faced a quandary. I didn’t feel I could just refuse. It didn’t occur to me to simply say no. Nor did it occur to me to cry. I was too proud for that. Suddenly I got a bright idea—I would pretend to sing. I can still remember how satisfied I felt when I thought of this solution. I stood in the middle of the room, as requested, and mouthed the words of the song but did not utter a sound. The adults kept saying, “Sing louder. We can’t hear you.” I didn’t comply. Instead I continued mouthing words until I had finished the song.