Once a year, each of the preschool classes at Riley’s school act as “Kings and Queens” of Shabbat. That means the chosen class sits on the bimah (the platform or elevated stage in a synagogue) and leads all of the other teachers and children in prayers and songs during the weekly Friday Shabbat service. On this special day, the kids wear crowns and their parents are invited to the service.
The night before Riley was to be King, I asked him, “Riley, are you excited to be a King of Shabbat?”
“Yes,” he said timidly.
“You know I’m going to be there, right?”
“Yes,” he said.
“Are you scared?” I asked him.
Last year when he was a King of Shabbat, he was terrified. It was so bad that he wouldn’t even sit on the bimah. He spent the whole service curled up in my lap trying to inch his way back inside of my vagina. It might’ve been because I was there (mommies are magnets for shy toddlers), but I could tell there was something more going on. Even when he first walked into the sanctuary and before he saw me, his head was faced down like a dog with his tail between his legs. He was genuinely scared. It was adorable and sad, and I wondered if or when he’d grow out of it.
“Yes,” he said. “I’m stage scared.”
“It’s called stage fright,” I said. And then I stood in front of him and said with grand gestures, “You know, Riley, there’s a secret to getting rid of stage fright. All you have to do is stand tall and proud up on the bimah and imagine that every single person in the audience is…NAKED!” Yes, that’s the sage advice I gave my five-year-old son. And there was more. “If you imagine you can see everyone’s butts, you’ll laugh and be happy and forget about being afraid.”
I’m brilliant! I’m curing my son of stage fright as we speak!
“Will I see your butt, Mommy?” he asked.
“Well, not my butt. Imagine everyone’s butt except mine,” I said.
How about Karen’s butt?”
Karen is my good friend and the mother of one of Riley’s friends at school. It would awkward for Riley to imagine her naked butt.
“And all of my friends’ butts?” he asked.
“And my teachers’ butts?” he added giggling.
“And the Rabbi’s butt?” He was hysterical.
I had a dreadful vision of Riley pointing at everyone’s butts and yelling out vulgar butt jokes. In the synagogue. On the bimah. In front of his teachers and all of the parents and – gulp – the rabbi. As my mind raced trying to find the words to get out of the lewd mess I’d made, Riley said, “Mommy, if you’re stage scared, aren’t you just supposed to take a deep breath?”
That might work, too.