When I was five, I was the star of the class play. I was the privileged only child of a doctor and a former fashion model. My kindergarten class was on the fifth floor of a lovely old building on the upper east side of Manhattan, in an exclusive private all-girl's school. The teacher, the unforgettable Mrs. Lederer, was young and beautiful and loved children and she was very tall and wore her red hair in a enormous beehive, which may be one reason she seemed tall. Or maybe it was just because I was less than four feet tall myself.
I'm not sure why Mrs. Lederer chose me for the lead. I was not one of the popular girls, but I was extremely compliant and reasonably smart. It may have been because I showed a high level of aptitude in ballet class, which was a required subject, along with French. My parents were thrilled and proud that I had been selected for the lead. My father arranged to borrow the newest thing in modern technology for 1968, a video camera, from the hospital to record his daughter’s amazing stage debut. The popular girls, Electra and her sidekick, Karen and my own friend, Nicole, were all chosen for the supporting roles and I was sick with jealousy.
I didn't want the lead. It involved a lot of squatting and making unattractive noises. The supporting cast got to glide around the stage gracefully. Since we were only five years old, there were no speaking parts. Mrs. Lederer would narrate from the edge of the stage. My arch rivals, Electra and Karen would get to show off their newly acquired ballet skills, arching their arms and floating around the stage, while I wobbled in an awkward squat and quacked. Yes, you guessed it. I was to be the Ugly Duckling.
My mother tried to console me. I would get to dance at the end. I was the star! And anyway it was the perfect role for me, she argued, because I had been such a homely baby and here I had grown up to be her beautiful girl. I was inconsolable. It was extremely difficult to waddle around in a squatting position and I was prone to falling over on my butt in a heap. I was just getting started in my beautiful swan dance when the whole thing was over. It just wasn’t fair. During practices, the swans were smug. I hated them. Nicole tried to be sympathetic, but she was thrilled to be a beautiful swan and I couldn't blame her. I wanted to be a beautiful swan too. I wanted to be a swan the whole time and not just for a second at the very end. The swans turned up their noses at me and giggled behind their hands while I wobbled around gracelessly.
The day of the performance, the auditorium was completely packed with proud parents. I did my best, pretending to swim around miserably while the swans did their beautiful dance around me. I tried to make my swan even more graceful than the others at the end. At the end, we took our bows in order, the forest animals first, then the swans and then my turn last, just as we had practiced. I stood there, all alone at the front of the stage and took a bow. And I swear, the applause was just the slightest bit louder than it had been for the swans, just a little. I was the star. The play was mine. So I smiled and bowed again.
Nicole was still my friend and the lovely Mrs. Lederer was still my teacher. And I was her favorite because I had been chosen for the lead. I had worked hard and I had been a good ugly duckling. There was quite a bit of satisfaction in that. When we went to meet our parents in the audience after the show, my parents were unspeakably proud. All the other parents came to congratulate me. I had done all right, even if I had to be the ugly duckling instead of a beautiful swan.