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.

And then there was one, X’s 2

For years I’ve heard the phrase, “You must be busy,” whenever I mention I have three children (sometimes followed by their ages, sometimes not).  I honestly admitted the other day, when presented with that same phrase once again, we are actually not nearly as busy as we used to be. Things have settled somewhat. The kids are getting older. Instead of doing everything, they have narrowed down to what they really want to spend their time on. Thus, I spend a lot less time shuttling to multiple practices, lessons, classes and sessions each week/weekend. 

Just two years ago, the oldest was playing competitive soccer in the Fall (which actually extends to most of the year by the time you factor in tryouts, early practice sessions and spring/summer tournaments) and baseball in the Spring. The middle was also playing competitive soccer, for which team I was the manager (think super-sized team mom), as well as dancing at least one day a week. She was also dancing in the Nutcracker with weekly Saturday rehearsals. The youngest was playing soccer in the Fall and baseball in the Spring. Having just been diagnosed on the spectrum, he was also in therapy  once a week in addition to psychiatric follow-up. I had a spreadsheet on the fridge just to keep track of what day it was, and who had to be where, when. Add to all that the regular stuff of just keeping a household of five (along with two dogs and two cats) running, volunteering locally and nationally with the March of Dimes, volunteering in three classrooms each week, and, well, let’s just say, I ended up in the doctor’s office having multiple tests trying to figure out why I felt sick to my stomach all the time and why my sleep was so disturbed. Duh.

We have entered a new phase. This Fall, we only have one (ONE!!!) child playing soccer, and that is recreational. We only have two practices a week to manage, instead of six, and one game each Saturday, instead of three on Saturday and two on Sunday. In addition, his practices are at a school less than a mile away from the house. I. AM. IN. HEAVEN. We haven’t had just one child in soccer since Ry started playing seven years ago. I nearly don’t know what to do with myself. The princess is dancing 4-5 days a week, but we have carpools to help with that, thankfully.

While I miss our competitive soccer family, I am relieved. We used to take the wagon, cooler, umbrella, chairs, and blankets and pretty much camp out at the soccer fields every Saturday. I am really looking forward to just showing up for one game, with maybe my coffee and one blanket. No need to pack tons of snacks and video games to keep them entertained while they aren’t playing, nor for my phone charger to get my phone through the long day. I likely won’t  know what to do with myself.

We are rather well-known (infamous? notorious?) amongst the staff at our elementary school. I’m in and out of the office constantly, going on field trips, helping out in classrooms, checking in with the social worker, grabbing one kid or another from the nurse’s office. This will be our 8th year in the school. But this year is a little different. I have just one child left in elementary. Shortly, we will head to the school when the class lists go up. It will be completely odd to only seek one child’s name, only find one classroom. I’m trying to wrap my brain around walking just one of my babies to that school on Monday. I am so used to herding three, and our neighbors joining us with their kids too. It will be a small group of maybe three kids total taking that walk Monday morning. Again, I won’t know what to do with myself not having to divide and conquer in order to see each child into his/her classroom. Just one…just one baby, one classroom, one teacher. We will not have all three kids in the same school again until the oldest is a Senior in high school. Wow.

Our family dynamic is changing quickly. So, yes, I still have three children, and yes, it can be busy. But I’m  not nearly as busy as I used to be with my three. And I’m hoping that means I don’t have to see the inside of my doctor’s office with stress-induced symptoms anytime soon.