If he can do the impossible, can we?

by Janelle Hanchett

Last week, my 11-year-old son Rocket hopped into the car after school and handed me a piece of paper as he said, “I want to be in the school play.”

“Oh yeah,” I said, “cool!” But then I looked at the paper. It was a permission slip for auditions. My eyes widened.

“What do you have to do to audition?” I asked, scanning the paper, suppressing mild panic, then realizing: “Dude you have to sing a song!”

“I know,” he said, all casual.

“Wait. Do have to do it on a stage in front of PEOPLE?”

“Yeah, mom.”

“Well, awesome!” I said, and started driving to mask my vague horror at the prospect. (Motherhood protective reactions are not uniformly rational. I have realized this over the past 15 years.)

I thought of him standing on a stage, singing. I thought of that time in kindergarten he brought a stuffed white seal to class and the kids “didn’t even think it was cute” and how he cried after his bath about it. Okay, he was FIVE. Whatever.

I thought of how he would feel if he didn’t make it, or was given some 3-second “overflow” part without words, and I thought about how I, as his mother, need to keep my fucking mouth shut about my desire to shelter him from pain, failure, and humiliation.

I don’t know much, but I know for a fact my job is to at least TRY not to pass my fucked-up life techniques on to my kids.

If I were in fifth grade, had no singing or acting experience, and was informed of an opportunity to sing some ditty on a stage – to be judged by parents and a few thousand cruel children (which is how I would see it) – I would for sure throw the paper away with a shudder, immediately, just to get the idea the hell out of my head. Possibly I would burn it, and sanitize my fingers just to be safe.

But what Rocket doing this is even more unthinkable than me trying it in fifth grade. You see, he has severe dyslexia, part of which is a rapid naming “disorder,” which means his brain often takes a really long time – and I mean a lonnggggggggg time – to retrieve the words he needs. Under the most relaxed of circumstances, he gets tongue-tied, and then when he sees you waiting, he feels anxiety, and puts his head down and closes his eyes to really think, and the longer it takes, the more stressed he becomes, which makes his brain freeze even more, and often this continues until he grows frustrated and/or cries, or walks away saying, “Never mind.”

Occasionally, he thinks of the word. We try to help him. But it’s so hard for him, and so hard to watch.

So the idea of this boy standing on a stage and attempting to belt out a song under anxiety-producing conditions took my breath away. My brain screamed, “YOU CAN’T DO THAT SON! FIGHT THE URGE! KNOCK IT OFF! BE SAFE HIDE DO NOT TRY WEIRD SHIT!”

But I kept that inside and instead went with, “Wow, Rocket, I’m so proud of you! You are amazing. I don’t think I could do it.”

And he said, “Well, I’m not afraid. I’m lucky that way.”


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how little power we have to keep our children safe. As I watch what’s happening with our government, as I watch it fill with big bank big oil climate-change denying anti-human rights white supremacists, I feel a sense of powerlessness and dystopian wonder as if we are caught in a sci-fi flick. (It’s a terrible movie, by the way. It ends in nuclear war. Everybody dies.)

Meanwhile, our leaders on both sides are eerily quiet. People say “Let’s wait and see.” What, pray tell, are we waiting for? Are we not there? Are we simply expected to go silently into that good night?

We wake up, send them to school anyway.

Aleppo. Hate crimes. Autocracy. Oligarchy. A president-elect who prefers Twitter over intelligence briefings.

We come home, make dinner.

I wonder what kind of world my kids will face. Can a reality TV star destroy the world in four years? Does that “checks and balances” thing really work?

My grandmother is killed. People ask my children and me for details of the crime. I want to explain this is not a True Crime drama. This is our life. I rage, consider railing at them, but I’m silent, because I don’t have the fucking energy. Not today.

My son gets in the car, says he wants to try out for the school play.

I wonder if he will grow tongue-tied. I wonder if he will crumble on the stage. I wonder if a snowball of anxiety will build until he rushes off the stage and folds into himself in the hallway, like when he was five, or, as I would.

I tell him, “Let’s practice the song.” Let’s practice it over and over. Let’s get as strong as we can. Let’s do it, son.


We play the song from YouTube. We print it out in a font that’s easier for him to read. He practices as 6am with headphones on. On the day of the auditions, I bring him his favorite drink from Starbucks – a green tea latte – and some lemon cake and I tell him, “I am so proud of you. I can’t even tell you.”

But I don’t stay, because I fear he will see the worry in my face, and I know my energy will bring him anxiety. I wonder if I’m a horrid mother for not staying. I go out to my car and cry, because I’m afraid, and proud, and tired.

My mom watches him.

He has to restart three times. It’s a full two minutes of false starts. The teacher says, “You’re doing great.” His head falls and my mom thinks he’s going to cry.

But he lifts his head higher and says, “I’ll try again.”

On this fourth and final attempt, he gets through the song. By the end, his voice raises and he’s got “enthusiasm.” His body rocks to the beat of the song.

When he gets home, we all cheer.

I’m not afraid. I’m lucky that way.

They teach us to go on. They teach us to do what cannot be done. They teach us to look at the beauty, to see where we are lucky. They teach us to keep trying even if the world feels against you, and you can’t see a way out, and the numbness and desire to hide is creeping so close you can almost touch it.

They teach us to be human, and remind us how beautiful “human” can be. They teach us to be unafraid. Or try, terrified.

I’ll try again, he said. And sang the motherfucker. 

You and me both, kid.

2017, Love, Humans. Let’s do this.


P.S. He got a speaking part! Thanks, world!

  • Anne

    Trying to make me ugly cry at work, eh? Well joke’s on you cuz I’m working from home today.

    • renegademama

      Hahahahaa! this made me laugh out loud.

    • Daphne Sheaves

      Hahaha. You beat me to it! I have learned to be very careful about where I read Janelle’s posts. So what if the Drive thru guy thinks I’m crazy???

      • Meghan

        Yep! No reading new posts when I’m in the teacher’s work room… They already think I’m nuts.

  • Rachel Romano

    As usual, I love this. Congrats to your son!

  • Cheryl S.

    Nice Job, Rocket! My anxiety suffering 11 year old daughter has blossomed alot this year too. When she told me she was going to try out for cheerleading, I died a little. All the anxiety you describe, I had it. Well, the child who hates loud noises and crowds tried out for and made the cheerleading team. And she loves it.

  • Kate

    First time poster. I cried on the train to work, cheers for that. Beautiful boy you got there.

  • Meg

    Jeez, woman, always making me cry. Love this, your son’s a rockstar, as are you for swallowing your own feelings and letting him do his thing (even if it could have possibly meant failure). Thank you.

    • Lou Taylor

      Yes…double what Meg said. Hell…..go for the trifecta..triple it!!!

  • Carrie

    Persevere your way to success, even if the triumph is only having done it. Wonderful story- and a brave son.

  • Leslee

    Wow! I’m sobbing. Congrats to Rocket! And congrats to you on being the kind of supportive mama I hope I can be. Thanks for sharing.

  • Melinda

    This is everything. Great post. Great job Rocket!!

  • Claire

    Just wonderful

  • Akilyn

    I have to stop reading things like this, I totally broke down! My 3 year old has apraxia and some of the same issues you speak of about your son. I imagined him 8 years from now doing something like this and it made me excited and scared all at the same time!! (and we aren’t even there yet!) Congratulations to your son, and for an awesome 2017 to come.

  • Lisa Anne Crain

    This brought tears to my eyes. Such an amazing child and mother!

  • Sara

    That was beautiful. Good for you and your son. Thanks for helping to verbalize that crazy sense of unreality as I go about my daily life with my 4 year old girls and try not to break down and feel hopeless about all the crazy shit happening in the world today.

  • Lydia

    I feel as if we might be twins that shared the same brain but were separated at birth and sold to gypsies who pretend to be our mothers, only we don’t look alike and you’re a much better writer than I. I enjoy these, thank you!

  • janice

    This is the lifeline I needed today.
    so much lifeline.

    virtual highfives all around.

  • Heathe

    This was awesome. I shared it with my 11-year old son who has anxiety. Thank you for putting it out there.

  • Andrea

    Thank you. I needed this. Way to go, Rocket!

  • Jessi

    I am so glad I was prepared yesterday with the news and fantastic picture because ugly cry indeed! I almost screamed “FUCK YES ROCKET!!!!!” but that would have meant waking up tiny terrors, so the ugly cry route we went! I am so happy for this awesome joy for all you guys 🙂

  • Shawna

    Well, unlike Jessi, I don’t have any tiny terrors napping any more so I did yell FUCK YA ROCKET!!!!!

    Scared the dog, tho.

    Well done, mama and son. I always support the scariest things my kids want to do, stretches me out of my comfort zone at the same time as they are stretching theirs.

    It’s very efficient.


    • Rebecca

      You nailed it – it’s the stretching of my own comfort zones that’s the hardest thing about parenting right now. I have two teenagers who continually amaze me. I just try to stay out of their way as they develop into awesome people, even though sometimes it’s scary as Hell!

  • Andrea Uhler

    Beautiful! Congratulations to Rocket.

  • Lou Taylor

    Well that was fucking beautiful. I’m sitting here crying happy tears wondering what I ever did to feel good before you and your posts about your amazing family. Don’t ever stop…..please. (Insert hearts and kisses here) (Lots of hearts and kisses)

  • John Hanley

    Great job, mom!

    Great job, world!

  • Michelle

    Our kids are so much braver and tougher than we are. These parental hearts are strong but so vulnerable. Thank you for sharing your and Rocket’s story, and thank you for writing a piece about the shitshow that is this entire world right now without being trite or Pollyanna-ish or in full despair (can you tell I’ve been wildly oscillating among these options?). Thank you for being you, and for writing your truth through all the pain and suffering and beauty.

  • Angie

    This story tells me two things about Rocket. 1) He is positively amazing. To have such difficult challenges at such a young age without letting his spirit be dampened or his self-esteem wiped away is truly impressive. 2) He must have some truly devoted, loving, supportive, and magical parents and siblings. The majority of children in the world would be terrified of an audition at that age, even without dyslexia or any other disorder. The courage that Rocket showed definitely comes from him, but he didn’t get there by himself. Congratulations to him on a job well done and for being such an inspiration to others!!

  • jnl

    omg hes so big!!

  • Robyn

    Well that, my sweet friend is you PARENT! look at you! So proud and so proud of him. I’m so sorry for your loss of your grandmother. Can’t imagine. Simply – cannot. For that I offer you no words of encouragement because WTF could I say to make anything better in regards to the horrible fashion in which she died. I can’t say anything. All I can say is I’m so dam sorry.

  • Anna

    My husband is wondering why I am crying…. amazing! Hope for us all!

  • Melanie Murrish

    Go, Go…..Go Rocket Go!!!!!! Smashed it dude. xx

  • Emily Donahue

    He’s a rock star. I had no idea about your grandmother.
    I am so very sorry

  • Wordvois

    * crying *

  • British American

    I love this! My son is 9 and in 3rd grade and also has dyslexia. I think he would be great on stage, because he loves to be in the school talent show with his friends. There’s a local play with auditions in January and I asked him if he might like to audition. At first he said no, but then he said yes. He has to read something, sing a few lines and do something else I think. I wonder if I should ask if we can have the lines ahead of time, so he can practice reading them. He has a stutter too. So many actors have dyslexia though, so I know it can be done. Love that Rocket kept trying and his strengths shone through.

  • Cassey

    I want to be Rocket when I grow-up. Yay for getting a part.

  • Rosie

    You are both so brave. Like mama, like son. Keep on being your brave selves. This world of ours needs more brave more than ever.

  • Cassandra

    This is awesome!!

  • Stacey

    Reading your words helps me in every way. Thank you so much for being here!!!

  • Renee

    Congrats to Rocket! Very proud of that kid! You must be beaming! However, I also want to say how proud I am of you. Do you know how hard it would have been for me to keep my mouth shut? I wouldn’t have. You, on the other hand, did the right thing and let him try his wings. Only a very strong, very confident mother would have done that. You seem to have that down!

  • Megan

    I’m crying too! So proud of both of you for doing the big scary thing.

  • Carly

    I was doing okay through all of this and was loving the picture at the end and then I kept scrolling and boom. Tears. So amazing.

  • Isabel

    Amazing kid you have there. Thanks for making me cry. 🙂

  • Jen

    Hooray for Rocket!!!! Amazing stuff. They are so fragile and so tough all at the same time. Way to go mama for doing exactly what he needed you to do.

    I laughed out loud at the first comment because I too had an ugly cry, on my pumping break at my desk, just before I head into an all-hands meeting. Must be more strategic about my Renegade timing 🙂

  • Angela

    YES!!!! In our world right now, when so much is uncertain, our kids our there to keep pushing us! Rock on mamma — and rock on rocket!

  • Sandy

    Holy hell. Thanks for this and reminding me the well minded teacher
    who is usually auditioning every kid and loving their efforts and trying so hard to make sure they are recognized. And also eat a sandwich at some point. Thanks for reminding me what it is to every kid and their parents. It matters and so does your son. Break a leg kid!

  • katie

    One of my absolute favorite pieces to date. Rock on, Rocket. Xo

  • Jenn

    That is just too fucking awesome for words!!! ROCKET!!!!!! Can you hear me cheering all the way from Saskatchewan?!? ????

  • Spenser

    And the bumblebee flies anyway.

    You ROCK Rocket!!!!

    Mazel Tov and break a leg!!!!

  • Lisa

    Jesus, Janelle, you and me both. Daughter: “I think I want to play the violin. I think I want to try acting. I think I want to sing.” Me: “Nooooo, dear sweet god, noooo, the world is a cruel place and they will not be kind to you. I can’t protect you if you’re out there.” Her: “Yep, I’m doing it.”

    We watch, we cringe, we wait in terror….and have our minds and hearts blown open every time. Because of her courage, I have stepped out of my comfort zone again and again and again…to the point where I’m taking singing lessons and am part of a chorus and I’m SINGING IN PUBLIC. And no one is laughing. It’s godawful beautiful.

    Cheers to Rocket. And cheers to you, mama, for your bravery in stepping aside and letting the magic happen. Our kids have a wonderful and terrifying way of stretching us from the inside and the outside. Thank the gods for that.

  • Rachel Tuttle

    Oh my god…. Your son is amazing…. You GREW THAT BRAIN! Isn’t that incredible? My heart has exploded…. The things we can learn from our kids.