Some of them pace nervously. Others read or do handwork. A few (men only) listen to a college football game with headsets, but without the usual accompanying animation. People speak in hushed voices. The atmosphere is reminiscent of a funeral or a dentist's office. It is the grimmest group of adults I have ever seen. We are in the Capitol Theatre lobby, and we are awaiting the results of our children trying out for the "Nutcracker" ballet.

Along the Wasatch Front, it has recently become a common rite of passage for girls ages 9-14 or so to try out for a part in the annual Christmas ballet. In October, conversations at recesses for these aspiring youngsters often revolve around this familiar event. When someone queries, "Are you trying out?" no one asks "For what?" There is hopeful, demure excitement and an air of fantasy. They are secret Cinderellas, awaiting the fairy godmother's magic nod of approval to transform their drab lives. Surely Bene Arnold is the perfect fairy godmother, issuing invitations to the Nutcracker Ball!But, like all fairy tales, these would-be princesses must overcome insurmountable odds to win the prize. They must slay the dragon of "Nutcracker" Tryouts. And their parents suffer through the ordeal, helplessly waiting in the lobby while somewhere in the hinterlands of the theater their child is being accepted or (more likely) rejected. Armed with consoling words, loving arms and Kleenex, we wait.

I recall, with guilt, tryouts from the year before. I had scheduled attendance at a conference for myself on the same date. I dropped my 9-year-old off with a kiss and hug and planned to meet her during my lunch break. I reluctantly left my meeting at the lunch hour and made my way to the theater.

The instant I entered the lobby, I realized that this was Serious Business. The somber faces, the tension, the parental support was innocently accusing. How could I have sent this vulnerable little girl off dragon-slaying and not be there to bind her wounds?

The first cut was made. Disappointed children came streaming through the door. Carrie, my daughter, didn't appear. I felt excitement - then guilt. My classes were resuming and I had to leave. A neighbor offered to bring Carrie home, and I finally returned to my conference. I called home later and she was there. She'd gotten cut in the second round. Despite her bravado, I knew she hurt and I wasn't there to comfort her. I wouldn't let it happen again.

So now, here I am, a year later, anxious and nervous (but at least not guilt-ridden!). I have brought a book to read, but I can't concentrate. I have a can of pop and some patchwork - they are better therapy. I envy the few dads with headsets, and I ask the score. I admire them for giving up their Saturday for a ballet tryout. They are faithful fathers indeed.

The door opens and out they come. These are the ones who have not made the first cut. We parents stand and watch the sad faces emerge. There are hugs and comforting words, but no Carrie! Whew! She made one cut, which arms me with a consoling compliment for her eventual loss. This is enough to use as balm for her soon-to-be-wounded ego.

The tension relaxes slightly. We mingle and chat quietly. Mostly we discuss anything but ballet, subconsciously denying the stress of the situation. We act calm, collectively exuding an air of indifference and/or confidence. Outwardly we are implying that this is cute and fun and no big deal. For some, this is an accurate demeanor, but inwardly, some of us tremble.

Why? Do we fear for our own egos? If our child doesn't make it, will we feel rejected also? Is it just that I don't want her to get hurt? I'm hoping that's the total answer, but I'm not sure.

Again the door opens, now for the second cut. I anxiously scan the faces, many crying, a few bravely smiling with quivering lips. The mothers or fathers enfold them in embraces, consoling, complimenting. "You were great. You were wonderful. You did your best. I love you." It is touching and warm and poignant.

The faces dwindle in number. Did I miss Carrie? Where is she? It hits me suddenly - she must have made it. I'm a little stunned. I can picture her in the room, thrilled and terrified. Why did I let her do this? She can't take it. I can't take it!

Finally, it is over. The door I have watched for three hours today opens once more, and the girls straggle through. This time it is full-fledged sobs. Here and there an ecstatic face appears, but mostly they are those numbers were announced to leave, who are hurrying away from the elated pandemonium of the tryout room.

At last her beloved face appears. It is like something from an old movie. Our eyes meet. Time stops. Her serene face breaks . . . into the most beautiful smile I have ever seen.