In the end, we are family.

Friday, August 4. Competition day and crowning at Princess of America. Early practice at The Mansion Theater. We arrive, drop the kiddos off, and I set up. Steam. Organize. Pace.

After Thursday's break through with Addie, I am determined to keep her focused and excited about competition. She's a brand new contestant. She's eager. She's ready. Until, I see her after rehearsals. I notice a trend in how she approaches competition. As the time gets closer she lets the nerves sneak up on her. This isn't uncommon but it is something I have to help her face and conquer. So today's that day.

We practice her intro. She skips a few lines here and there and it's starting to affect her. So I remind her that the judges do not know what she is supposed to say and won't know if she skips anything - we come up with a back up plan. She feels better. HOWEVER, it is our goal that she nail her intro. We continue to review, she gets it one try but misses something the next try. We have to switch focus for a bit to evening wear. She has had a habit of going too fast and not looking at the judges. We've worked on it all day Thursday. Bad habits sneak back in BUT we have a "coaching" moment and then she's focused again. I'm feeling good about her performance, and so is she. We review both the intro and evening wear ONE MORE time. She's ready. Time is quickly approaching for the start of the show.

Hair fixed, Dress on. Smile warmed up. Pep talk delivered. Fist bump and GO!

Let's take a step back for a second. Now, if you remember, there is another Molander here at Princess of America. She is the reigning 2016 National Tiny Miss Princess of America, Emery Molander. This week is about HER and her sister queens as national royalty. All week long this little queen bee has been working her tushy off. She has had early mornings. She has had long practices. She has had appearances, two volunteering events, outing event with the pageant, limo rides and fancy dinners, PJ parties, Pink Parties, and MORE! She's one tired little beauty queen at this point. And Thursday night, mom reminded her that this was her final night as the queen. It took - ohhhhhh - 4 seconds before tears began to fall from her eyes as she realized this was the end. We didn't mean to make her sad but it hit her that she wouldn't see her sister queens for a while and they had such a wonderful year no wonder her heart hurt. They went on a cruise together. They went to Miss America together. They traveled to pageants together. They became a family. This is Emery's first national title, and I assure you it isn't her last! But this one is one that she won't ever forget! So Friday, Amy and I waited for that final walk where we were pretty certain she would shed tears ... so I had kleenex on stand by. As the show started, she was excited with a big, beautiful smile fit for a queen! It was going to be a great show!

So everyone hits the stage and opening number begins! Addie exits the stage and I begin the pageant routine - you know - run to backstage, quick change into intro outfit and start reviewing. Addie looks adorable! We find a spot to practice entering stage, smiling, microphone handling, and saying the intro. Those who have seen me work with my younger ones have seen me do really funny things while they practice - whether it's handle signals or silly poses or whatever, it is guaranteed to be something that sticks in their head. I never coach from the audience but the point is to have THAT memorable moment pop in their head as they perform, as their mental reminder. Addie is super nervous and asks me to do actual hand signals from the audience in case she forgets. I tell her "Sure" but I know her all to well now after having this week with her that she will NOT need that assistance, but I tell her "sure" anyway to calm her nerves. So we review with the signals and she nails it. (I may have also given her Neuro Sonic and told her it has super hero powers!)

Before she goes on stage, I run to the audience. I find the front row and wait. I have a super overwhelming feeling of nervousness come over me. I never EVER get nervous but I know it isn't my nerves but Addie's. I would rather have all the nerves wash over me than for my girls to have them. She comes on stage, stands on deck and I watch her. She is smiling. She is staring at the judges. She walks forward and grabs the mic from Emery.

Here she goes ..... I hold my breath. She speaks. She NAILS IT! She even stared those judges down the entire length of the stage as she exited! WOW! I was so proud I ran to the back and caught her when she jumped into my arms! That tiny human brought tears of pride to my eyes! She didn't miss a word. It was perfect (and from her scores she even got a perfect score from one of those judges!). After a proud momma gave her a big bear hug, it was time for evening wear. Again with the quick change, and fix her hair. We go back to our spot to review her routine. She's ready. She is SO ready!

The biggest thing was to make sure she went slow enough, looked at the judges, and didn't look at the X's. Now I do not use X's when practicing stage work. I don't use them because I never want my girls looking at the stage. They have to learn to use their peripheral sight AND stop where they think is close enough but where the judges can see them. I'm standing with her and she asks me, "Erin, are you going to watch me?" I tell her "Yes, when it's your turn." She stares at me and replies, "Go now. I got this. See you on the other side."

"Ok kid. Go get 'em tiger!" (Fist bump)

Boy was she right! She went on deck. She smiled. She delivered the best evening wear performance - EVER! Amy and I were soooo over the moon proud! That was the best way to end competition! No matter the results, Addalyn gave her absolute best and being that this was her FIRST nationals - I pretty much called it a 'win' at that point.

After a few hours, it was now time for Emery to prepare for her farewell walk and crowning her successor. All the POA queens wore white and one by one gave their speech. Surprisingly enough, neither of the Molander's cried. I guess because we did that Thursday night! But these moments are always so bittersweet. Yes, it's the end of one adventure but the beginning to so much more. I'm very much looking forward to what else Emery has in her future. It'll be one amazing journey!

Time for the "Tiny" division results. They called a top five. One by one by one. Then ... Contestant #110 ... Addalyn Molander - OMG SHE MADE TOP FIVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! OMG I couldn't believe it! I mean, yea I guess I can but SHE REALLY DID IT! She earned herself a 3rd Runner Up placement on her very first nationals! I was so proud of her! So proud!

After the pageant POA had an after party with food and dancing - and I'm just saying Addie is a dancing fool! We've got to get her a talent in the works -STAT! But the best part as the end of the night was:

Emery (after falling asleep under the buffet table from pure exhaustion!) came up to the room for bed time. We were able to talk about the week. She said she was sad it was over but she was ready to get back on stage. That's my girl - wasting no time! Yep, she's a Molander! She said she was ready to make new friends and meet up with old friends along the way. (Aww!)

When little miss dancing queen, Addie, made it upstairs with Amy - she insisted on me seeing her many MANY dancing videos. HAHAHA! Eventually we got her into bed (45 mins later) and she was STILL dancing. The things that kid said all week in her superior sarcastic tone was priceless! It could fill a book! This was the first time I was able to really spend a long bit of quality time with her and it was awesome! I told her, "You're cracking me up - you are making my ribs hurt! You're my new favorite!" Then she looked at me and said, "Thanks, Coach! I needed that!" (insert more laughter!) Priceless. We had our moments but it all brought us here, to this moment. I wouldn't have changed it or traded the week for anything!

As POA ended, I realized that my favorite moments were just like these, with my TCM girls. The moments where they can just relax and let loose, and be themselves. The moments when we aren't stressed or focused on just competition, but where we can just laugh, be silly and smile. We weren't sad about the outcome and we weren't down on ourselves. We were enjoying being in each other's company and making precious memories. That is when I know I'm doing something right. I'm not just a coach, but I become a good friend to the moms, someone they can lean their heads on, or to the girls, like a big sister. That's what makes me smile .... to see my TCM girls become a family. From coast to coast, TCM girls got each other's backs!