How Not To

I’ve been processing this post for weeks, and debated whether to write it or just let it lay in my head and on my heart. But the words keep fighting to get out, so here it goes. I’m going to preface this with a word to my Princess……Please know I am not judging or disagreeing with your decision to try new and different things. Now is the time to explore and experience. Just know these words come from my viewpoint, my experience as a mom, as your mom….

When I found out I was having a baby girl, I was fairly sure I was going to put her in dance and/or gymnastics at some point. Whether it ever stuck or not would be up to her, and I would never force the issue if she straight-up hated it. But I knew we would try it out.  Before she was even born, I imagined her vaulting, swinging on the bars, and in a pink tutu and tights. When she was three, she started a Saturday morning combo class which covered ballet, tap, and a little bit of tumbling. It was adorable. She was adorable. Seriously though, I needed something girlie going on in our lives, outnumbered by men in our house. She made it through one year, and had her first recital when she was four. It was precious, and everything I’d hoped for.

We took the summer away from the studio, and when fall rolled around, I asked her if she wanted to dance again. She gave me a firm yes, so back we went to that Saturday morning class. That year, we met and made friends with another family whose oldest daughter was in class with the Princess. They’re still dancing together. That year, they did a tap routine for recital. I got used to doing the recital hair and makeup, to dress rehearsals, and buying flowers for my budding dancer.

Year-after-year, I would ask the Princess if she wanted to keep dancing. The answer was always yes. Eventually, we added a jazz class. Now, she was also playing competitive soccer. By age ten, she reached a level of dance we were at the studio three or four times a week, and she also had at least two soccer practices a week, plus Saturday (and sometimes Sunday) games. She was a busy little girl. That fall, midway through soccer and Nutcracker season, she told me she was tired. We told her it was probably time to choose between dance and soccer. She couldn’t do both at a competitive level and NOT be exhausted. I fully expected her to choose soccer, as that had been our life for more than three years.  She sat on it for a couple of weeks, and then told me she’d made her choice – she wanted to dance. I made her evaluate that choice for a couple of weeks before we started making any announcements, and she had to finish the season with her soccer team of course. But in February that winter, she became a dancer full time.

I’ve spent twelve years watching her dance, watching her become such a beautifully talented young woman. Every time I see her perform, I’m touched by her strength, her grace, her courage, her ability. I cry more often than not. I can cry just watching her hands moving in class as she works at the barre. This has been our life. I can’t begin to count the hours I’ve spent at the studio, driving to and from the studio, sewing ribbons and elastics on shoes, altering costumes, watching competitions, dress rehearsals and shows. I’ve loved it all. When  your kid does something so intently for so long, it’s not just about her anymore. You develop your own friendships with the other parents at the studio. We definitely have a much-loved dance family. And don’t get me started on her teachers and directors. They’re so much more to my girl than *just* dance teachers.

This past February, the Princess told me she wanted to stop dancing – well, at least stop ballet. I had no words, couldn’t even begin to think when she told me. I told her we were in it until recital as we’d already committed, paid, signed on the dotted line for this year. She’s a sophomore now, almost sixteen years old. She wants to try new things, be more engaged with her school. I understand. But this is hard. She may not believe this, but she is such a beautiful, talented dancer. Her face lights up on that stage. I see her – what’s inside of her – when she dances. And I just can’t imagine not being able to see that ever again.

Here’s the deal – I don’t know how not to be a dance mom. I don’t know how to not be able to watch her do something she’s so good at. I don’t know how not to be part of this dance family.

I watched her dance recital this past weekend. I cried every time she stepped onto that stage, knowing it might be the last time. We’ve spent twelve years doing this. I spent twelve years watching her grow, watching her turn into a real ballerina, a real dancer. At the hour of dress rehearsal I sat through last week, every dance she’s ever performed rolled through my head, from when she was a tiny ballerina in a pink leo and tutu, through her Hairspray jazz number, to being a turtle and lion, and on through her turn as Clara in the Nutcracker, to her solos, duo, and other competition pieces, to her finale as the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland. I could see them all in my mind. So  many hours, so many years.

Who knows what will happen in the next months and years. I know we have to let her choose, have to let her make these decisions. I will have to come to terms with change. She says she’s going to continue with some dance, but we won’t be here again, in this exact place. No more competitions, no more Nutcracker, definitely not nearly as much time at the studio. I will just have to learn how not to be the dance mom I’ve been for twelve years.

You don’t know her

I was downloading performance pictures from Nutcracker this week, and, like any good dance mom, posting them to my social media. It hit me that most of the Princess’ friends have never seen her dance. She lives in two separate worlds….her school world, and her dance world. They don’t overlap at all. There’s an entire side to her that her school peeps have never even glimpsed. I don’t hold it against them  at all. I just find it interesting.

I looked at those pictures of her dancing, knowing exactly what faults she would find and point out, which she would like, which she would tell me to not download. She sees herself critically in the photos. I just see her when I look at them, and I realized, you don’t really know her if you’ve never seen her dance. She bares herself when she’s dancing – her passion, her drive, her emotions, her intent,  her strength, her vulnerability. Every time she performs, I learn something about her, and I think that’s what makes me cry when I watch her. I see her, and I know all the work she’s put into it.

I hope someday her friends get to see her dance. They’ll see a side of her they’ve never known, they’ll maybe understand why she frequently has to say, “I can’t, I have dance”, and they’ll know her better, because you don’t really know her, all of her, unless you’ve seen her dance.

Sewing Ribbons

It’s Nutcracker week, or as it’s more affectionately known in our household, it’s Nutcracker He** week. The Princess has 3-hour dress rehearsals tonight and tomorrow night, a five-hour rehearsal Wednesday night, then two more hours of orchestra rehearsal Friday afternoon before a show Friday night, a show Saturday afternoon, and then closes the week out with two show on Sunday. I’m tired just writing that, and I’m not the one dancing.

This one snuck up on me. Usually, I’m totally prepared. But I found myself scrambling last week, making calls all over the county – and then the southern part of the state – in an attempt to track down her specific brand and size pointe shoe. We ended up having to go with a shoe with one tiny part of the sizing changed, and I had to drive to a store forty minutes away, but we picked up the new shoes this morning. Now I have the pleasure of sewing on ribbons and elastic. No – pointe shoes don’t come with the pretty ribbons attached. Every ballerina has her own particular crazy when it comes to where and how her ribbons are sewn onto her pointe shoes. No, the Princess doesn’t sew her own ribbons. I know she should, but she’s currently upstairs trying to get four hours of homework finished in two hours so she can get to rehearsal. And I’m faster at it anyways. And I’m kind of a control freak. Someday, she will sew her own ribbons, but not today.

I still have to go back out tomorrow to get tights, eyelashes, and toe pads. This is how unprepared I am for Nutcracker this year. I’m so completely off my game. The worst part is that I’m over here saying, “meh” about being completely unprepared. Here’s the deal – this is our sixth time in this rodeo. We know what we’re doing. We know there’s no need to panic. We know it will come together, even if I don’t buy her new tights until the day of the first show. So I’m unprepared and off my game, but I’m completely not stressed. Ask me again tomorrow when I’m sewing ribbons. You might hear a different answer.

Last year at this time, we were wrapped up in her playing Clara. The whole week revolved around her rehearsals and getting her ready for her rehearsals. This year, she in Corps, and it just seems easy. Don’t get me wrong – I’d do that Clara thing all over again in heartbeat. There is something about watching your daughter make the leap to dancing with the big girls, of which she is  now one. The big girls wear pointe shoes, and so I’m sewing ribbons, smiling proudly with the tears forming in my eyes as my baby girl lives her dreams so beautifully.

Dedicated to the Princess

My bigs have access to social media, and thus, get the links to my blog posts. It definitely adds a new element, and I’m always aware there’s a chance they’ll be reading my take on their lives. Now I will say this, my boys definitely provide a lot of fodder for this blog. I mean, seriously….ADHD, Prematurity, Autism, and just plain old being boys. I could write for years on what goes on with them in one month.

And then there’s the Princess. She is our princess, our middle child, our only girl. Outside of some colic when she was a few months old, she’s been our saving grace, our island of calm in a crazy world. She doesn’t get in trouble (much). She’s organized, self-sufficient, focused, self-motivated. She generally helps around the house without being asked. She’s an overachiever. Honestly, outside of the normal teenage-girl drama, she’s not much work. She’s been pretty independent since birth.

I do have stuff to write about her though. She is my mini-me, but she’s ten thousand times the girl I was at her age. And don’t get me started on watching her cheer or dance. Nutcracker weekend is in two weeks. I  know I will be that weepy momma once again, even though she doesn’t have a starring role this year. Watching her do something well when I  know how much work she’s put into it always moves me. Watching her do something she so obviously loves….I can see the joy in her face when she’s onstage. Watching your kid live one of her dreams – well, it doesn’t get much better than that.

I don’t know if she knows how much I appreciate the fact she doesn’t give me much to write about.  I don’t know if she knows how much I appreciate our time together, even if it’s just singing along together to the radio as we drive to and from the studio. Oh, I absolutely adore being mom to boys, but good golly, I am so thankful I have a daughter. I love our shopping trips, cooking together in the kitchen, rolling our eyes simultaneously at the  boys’ antics.

She isn’t perfect, trust me. We’ve had our moments, especially as she begins to spread her wings and begins to become who she’s going to be. I may  not write about  her often, but you can trust that doesn’t mean she’s any less prominent in our home. She’s just the calm in the middle of our crazy.

They just don’t seem to get it

Most of the Princess’ teachers know she’s a dancer. We discuss it with her team at the beginning of each year so we can shuffle homework as necessary on long-studio days, and so they’re aware of competition dates she may miss school.  So they know, and they’re fascinated. Then they found out she’s Clara in our studio’s production of the Nutcracker, and they’re asking her nearly every day about her dancing. Cue dorky teenage boys.

The boys…..once they got hold of this, they started giving her grief. They don’t get ballet. In their minds, nerd central. And it seems they’ve been letting P know their opinions. They  haven’t been mean about it.  She would be the first to let someone know if she’s been bullied. But they don’t get it. They just think tutus, tights, and classical music. They. Have. No. Clue.

I’d love for them to sit in on just one of her classes. Maybe then they would understand how hard she works,  how much it physically demands to be a ballerina. Maybe then they would commend her rather than tease her.

I guess in my pride over her dance, I forget how many people, particularly teenage boys, see ballet as nerdy or weird. Since dance has become so big with the help of shows like So You Think You Can Dance, I forget not everyone understands the beauty of it, nor the work dancers put into their craft. In my (apparently blind) mother’s eyes, everyone who knows she dances should just be thinking, “Wow, that’s really cool!”

Some of her teachers are coming to see her dance Clara. I think that’s completely awesome. I’m super excited they get to see that side of their student.  She, being a social-status conscious teenager, asks her teacher not to talk about it in front of her classmates. At the same time, she won’t stop dancing, never ever complains about going to class, and doesn’t mind – too much – missing dances and birthday parties when she has classes or competitions. She knows she’s chosen a different, difficult road, but she’s living her dream. She’s just going to do it quietly for now.

It’s their time to shine

A common refrain my vocabulary these days is, “I can’t, she has dance.” I don’t begrudge her for one minute. Same goes for Big Man, who is nearing the end of his first high school cross country season. Having a daughter who dances at this level means lots of hours in the studio. And since she doesn’t drive yet, and won’t for two more years, that means I spend lots of hours sitting in the studio.  Having a son on the cross country team means Saturdays spent at meets, and sometimes Thursday or Friday afternoons. And he practices five days a week. I don’t have to sit through those practices, but I do have to pick him up when he’s done.

My kids are not the center of my universe, but they do take priority. This is their time to shine, to sort out their dreams and live them. Which means time which used to be, and will be again when they’re off to college, spent socializing or on me is focused on them and their activities. I’ve given up both book clubs within the past few months. Meetings always seemed to be on a dance night.  I missed a Kenny Chesney concert with Spouse over the summer because it was on recital weekend. We’re trying to work out schedules for next weekend when we have tickets to go see Garth Brooks. Guess what else is that weekend? The Princess’ first competition weekend of the year. Date nights have been shifted to Wednesdays when she doesn’t currently have class. And I’ve hesitated going back to growth group at church because our schedules are constantly shifting.

The next seven years are big ones for our family, as they wrap up middle school and navigate high school, start figuring out what they want to be, where they want to go. I won’t ever have this time again. I need to be there for them, cheering them on. Watching them do things they so evidently love is one of my greatest joys as a parent. Does it mean sacrifice on my part? Sure, but trust me, I still take time to take care of me, refill my bucket so I can keep going. While they’re in school, I do take care of the household, but I also exercise, read, write, focus on my needs. The rest of the day belongs to them. I’m okay with that. My parents gave me my time to shine way back when. Music, cheerleading, swimming, gymnastics, clubs, social life…they let me have my time. They sacrificed their time when I needed them to be there for me.

I worry sometimes my friends will stop asking me to do things when they so often hear, “I can’t, she has dance or he has a meet,” but I hope they keep asking for the days I can say, “Yes! I can do that!”

Slipping through my fingers

The Princess has recital next week. We are in the big middle of preparations, altering what costumes need altering, planning a trip to the dance wear store for shoes, tights, eyelashes, and whatever else she may need. She has pictures this afternoon, and needs to arrive at the studio in hair, make-up, and costume (one of seven).  I still do most of her make-up. I stood there, doing her eyes, looking eye-to-eye at her, and remembered so vividly when she was teeny-tiny, and I had to put her up on the tall stool to do her make-up.  Before long, I’ll need her to sit on the tall stool so I can reach her face without looking up.

Where does it go? The time, I mean? We’ve been doing this for ten years. I clearly recall the little girl with the toddler belly, dressed up in her pink ballet costume, tiny ballet slippers on her feet, grinning ear-to-ear as she took the stage. Now she is nearly as tall as I, in pointe shoes, one of the “big girls” at the studio.

As she watched her cousin get married a couple of weeks ago, I could see her mentally cataloging things, taking notes in her head for her wedding years (and hopefully many years) from now. It’s too fast. She is closer to an adult than not. We have five years until she heads off to college – years I know will fly by even more quickly than the last thirteen. I remember bringing her home from the hospital, dressed in pink from head to toe. I remember getting to know her likes, her dislikes, her varied cries, her laugh, her spirit, her personality. I remember her first words, her first steps, the crazy way she would fall asleep wherever she was. And now we look eye-to-eye. She has her own mind. She has her own opinions.

I’m grateful the gift of being her mom, of the privilege of watching her grow up, the ability to be a spectator to her becoming. But oh how there are moments I long for more time with that teeny-tiny girl in the little pink leotard and tiny pink slippers. tinyballerina AI9R3063