The Show Must Go On and Other Lessons My Three Year Old Ballerina Taught Me

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Ballet Mom

This time of year girls and boys are hitting the stage in their much anticipated spring recitals. About three months ago I enrolled my three year old in a creative movement/pre-ballet class at our local dance studio. The tiny ballet slippers, leotard and tutus had me on cuteness overload and I was fascinated by this new sub-culture I was now playing a minor part in. Having never danced as a child, this was unchartered territory. My little one had a take it or leave it attitude but always enjoyed the $12 cold pressed juice we would share after class. Week after week she would dance and I would sit with the other moms talking about all the arbitrary things moms talk about.

I quickly connected with an alumnae mom who was kind and generous with her understanding of all things dance. As the details of the recital started to trickle out I began to get a sense of what I was in for. The costume. Of course. My little darling would perform as a Tiny Tinkerbell in Peter Pan wearing a sparkly green costume with wings to match. Price tag:  $100. Next up: tickets. Yes, naturally we will need to purchase tickets to attend the recital. What I didn’t know was that each family was expected to purchase 8 tickets at $24 each. Simple math puts me at $292 not including the monthly fee for the classes. Ok, deep breaths. I can break this up into a few payments and it will all be worth it to see her shine like the star her mommy knows she is. Nobody else seems to be recoiling at these details that were, to me, unknown when we signed up for the class that fateful day back in February. Back to the tickets. Each family was to purchase a voucher from the studio and then pick up the actual tickets at the box office starting on a specific date. Seeing the confused look on my face, the alumnae mom tells me to secure that morning off from the kids and suggests arriving at the box office early with snacks and a book in order to get good seats. At this point it becomes crystal clear that I have officially entered the Twilight Zone. But like a good doobie I do as I am told and arrive at 10:20am to find at least twenty moms ahead of me with beach chairs and coolers. As I return from my flashback of waiting in a line similar to this for tickets to see the New Kids on the Block back in 1989, I take my seat behind a woman who leads with “welcome to the looney bin,” and I hunker down.
TIn line for ballet ticketswo of her friends sneak into our homemade camp and this gesture cements us as fast friends. In this strange and fascinating circumstance I bond with three keen and dissimilar women and by the end of the morning we have made plans for a dinner date with our husbands. Two of my favorite things, serendipity and creating community, happen in the blink of an eye. As we say our good byes the line wraps around the corner and I’m scoffing with my new friends at how, even though we had been waiting for almost two hours, at least we will have good seats.

Fast forward to dress rehearsal. The buzz is building and I’m doing my best to follow along. We arrive, dress, and put on makeup. Yes, make up. Clearly I am all-in. It’s time for the Tiny Tinkerbells to line up and tip toe out into the big lights.  And….cue meltdown. As her classmates make their way on to the grand stage, my little one is clinging to my leg, stiff and frightened. I bend down and do my best to explain what this whole crazy and clearly overwhelming situation is all about but alas, she is inconsolable.

An hour later she had clearly moved on and I was doing my best to shake it off. I express my disappointment and even embarrassment to my husband and his words have forever changed my experience of motherhood. He reminded me that this was her experience and not mine. Instantly the pressure lifted and I let go of all the meaning I had attached to the situation. I moved forward with confidence and felt relieved, assuming she had got it out of her system and would be fine for the big day.

As you can probably guess by now, my shining star did not, in fact, get it out of her system. I offered to be a volunteer back stage for the big day and the morning was unfolding nicely. When it was time to line up the emotion took over and she was unable to recover. She watched from the wings while I encouraged my little darling to be bold and step out of her comfort zone and onto the stage. As each second passed by so did her chance to twirl and jump for her adoring audience, including both sets of grandparents as well as her father and brother. Those thirty seconds were simultaneously the longest and shortest of my life as the studio staff looked on with compassion, well aware of the magnitude of the moment. I could feel my little one’s conflict and at the last moment, she almost went for it! The scene ended and we all walked back to the green room for celebratory hugs and high fives.

There are times when it is difficult, almost impossible, to separate our children’s experiences from our own. This is a natural and beautiful part of motherhood but it can also be toxic and futile. Growing up, I had a flair for the dramatic and I admit the emotions of this experience were difficult for me to contain, as was often the case for me as a child. My daughter’s decision to opt out of the recital has been a huge learning experience and not in the way you probably think. I realize now that my children’s successes and failures are theirs and theirs alone.

My daughter will always be, in my eyes, the prima ballerina assoluta, dancing her way through life. At times, I am the director, guiding her to try new things and exposing her to a wide variety of experiences to see what makes her come alive. Other times my job is that of a producer, heavily invested in her success and in charge of handling all the logistics. But most of all, I am her biggest fan, sitting front row center, cheering her on as she makes her mark on the world.