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.

The Late, Quiet Moments

The Princess’ dance studio is twenty minutes away from our home. Well, it’s usually 17 minutes each way, but I’ve done it in 12 minutes when there weren’t any slow people in front of me, no traffic on the freeway, it wasn’t raining, and I needed to get there very quickly, but I digress. Let’s just call it twenty minutes away. It’s not a hardship to make the drive, most of the time. Some nights, I’m just tired, but for the most part, it’s just an accepted part of the deal. The family we’ve become part of there, including her directors, studio manager(s), and teachers, are worth it. And we can usually get her a ride back to a closer-to-home meeting spot when needed.

Tuesdays are her late nights at the studio these days. She finishes class at 8:45pm, which means I leave the house around 8:20 to go pick her up. I was making the drive last night, and realized I don’t mind those later-night drives. I appreciate the quiet. On the way there, I appreciate the time to quiet my mind, the opportunity to just breath. It’s dark, there aren’t many cars on the road. I enjoy the drive on the curvy road between the freeway and the village the studio calls home. I also appreciate the drive home with the Princess in the car.  Some nights, she’s full of chatter. Some nights, she’s lost in her own thoughts. Some nights, she falls asleep, exhausted from a full day of cheer, school, homework, and nearly three hours of dancing. Some nights, we sing our hearts out all the way home. I love them all.

The drives at night, those late, quiet moments, remind me of when my babies were babies, and we had those nightly 3am feedings. At the same time you’re wiped out and just want to sleep, you know those quiet moments with your baby are fleeting, they’re special. There’s just something different about them. Some of my friends think I’m insane when I say I miss those 3am feedings, but I do miss them. I miss that quiet time, holding my loves closely in the dark, the rest of the household sleeping, the world outside dark, the busyness of the day  held at bay.

Here’s the thing – I’m so very aware how short my time with my babies home is. In two weeks, the Princess will take her permit test. This time next year, I won’t be driving to and from the studio because she will be driving herself. Our quiet, late night drives will be done. In two years, Big Man will graduate high school, the Princess in three. They are growing up, too fast. Maybe I’m overly-sentimental, overly-emotional, but those things that used to be irritating, annoying, disturbances to my sleep and my schedule are now cherished, because they are fleeting. So I make those drives late on Tuesday nights, or after dress-rehearsals, or after shows, or after football and basketball games, and I don’t mind.