I took my 12-year-old twins to see “Dear Evan Hansen” recently. The first time I saw it, several years ago with my husband, I cried for the entire play in a not-so-socially-acceptable way. I was hysterical, snot dripping down my face. At intermission, I sat in a chair in the downstairs lobby next to the endless ladies’ room line, and sobbed. It wasn’t pretty. No play had ever affected me like that. I couldn’t believe its power.
Driving down Broadway, I warned both kids of my possible impending waterworks.
“Oh great,” my son said. “Then why do you want to see it again?”
Why, exactly, had the play touched me so much the last time? With my current mom brain, I couldn’t remember the details of the show, only the feeling. (That seems to be happening to me with more and more things these days, including people I run into on the street. Name? Forget it. Feeling? Warm and familiar. Friend? Must be!)
Sitting between the twins, sixth graders who are now almost as tall as me, I braced myself for the crying fest and set out to examine what had triggered me so much the first time.
I didn’t have to wait long. When Evan’s mom started singing about her insecurities as a mother, I lost it.
“Does anybody have a map?
Anybody maybe happen to know how the hell to do this?
I dunno if you can tell
But this is me pretending to know.
So where’s the map?
I need a clue
’Cause the scary truth is
I’m flying’ blind
And I’m making this up as I go.”
Then she sings, “It’s a puzzle, it’s a maze. I try to steer through it a million ways. But each day’s another wrong turn.”
Preach! I’ve felt like that at so many times with my four kids over the past 12 years. Sometimes I just don’t know the right answer. Sometimes there isno right answer. Is that cough bad enough to keep her home from school? Is that issue a with the teacher something to worry about? How do I fix everything?
I’ve realized, of course, that I can’t. That it isn’t my job to control and solve every issue my kids experience but instead to equip them with the tools they need to do it themselves. I even made my older daughter a toolbox, literally, out of an old lunch box back when she was having extreme separation anxiety and filled it with notes reminding her of the many “tools” she had inside her, like “Take 3 deep breaths,” or “Think about a fun moment at Disney World.”
Hearing my own anxieties up there on the stage made me feel understood and not alone in a new, raw, personal way. It isn’t just me?!
In the second act, I was even more of a mess. Evan’s mom tells Evan what it was like when his dad left when he was seven years old and she realized she was going to be a single mom.
Now it’s just me and my little guy…
And the house felt so big
And I felt so small.
And the house felt so big.
And I felt so small.”
I’ve been divorced for four years (and remarried for two). I still feel sucker-punched every time the kids leave to go to their dad’s for a weekend. The house feels strange. Spooky. The bright, happy children’s rooms seem ominous. I try to travel as much as I can when they’re gone because it’s so painful to feel their absence. I can touch it, like a knife is jutting out of the hallway. It’s different than the middle-of-the-day feeling when I know they’re all just at school and will be back soon. It slays me. Truly. The house, my home, the most comforting, safe space, turns on me. And I can’t find my place.
Once again, I cried, but this time, my twins held my hands. My daughter squeezed mine: “Do. You. Love. Me,” and “Yes. I. Do.” My husband leaned over and rubbed my shoulders. I felt loved and appreciated yet none of it could or can dull that specific pain I feel when the house shape shifts. Knowing others feel it too, though, seeing my own emotional experience up there in the bright lights of Broadway, was beyond amazing.
Thank you, Dear Evan Hansen, for making this mom feel so understood. You found me.