I Hope You Dance

As you know, this fall Em began her career as a baby ballerina.  The entire process was unique for us, because up until this point Em had never been dropped off at anything or forced to do an activity without me.  I go to school with her once a week, and still participate in her gymnastics class with her.  But at ballet, I had to take her by the hand, shoo her into the room and pray to God she would participate and not need me to go in to quiet her horrified screams as she clawed at the door to be let out.

 Most days I had to go in –not for screaming and clawing, but just a little hand-holding.  I only had to stay in for a minute and once she realized, Oh yeah, I like this place, I was allowed to go to the waiting room where I watched her rehearsal on a little TV.  It was low-key, low pressure, and she could dress in any combination of tutus and leotards or costumes that her heart desired.  She was always happy to go to ballet and couldn’t wait for the recital, especially after seeing my niece Erika dance on the big stage last spring.  She loves watching videos of herself perform, and my Mommy heart was waiting not-so-patiently to see my baby girl onstage.

The day of the recital came, and we had a lot of family make the trip up to see Em in her debut.  It was not my best Mommy moment because all the anxiety and fears I had about sending Em backstage without me had been magnified by the fact that she had flat-out refused to participate in the dress rehearsal and had just cried and sat on my lap.  Now don’t think I’m a terrible stage mom and that I was forcing her to perform–I wasn’t and if she had been miserable I never would have forced her to go on.  But she really did love it and loved watching the other girls get ready and perform–even her own classmates!  We got in the car to head to her show and I was still so unsure whether she’d even go with the older girl who was supposed to be her “buddy” at all, whether we would even see one second of her onstage.

Compounding this problem was the fact that I was a bit testy with Jason–ahem, maybe a bit hormonal, maybe a tad bitchy–and I think I may have assumed some things were self-evident when in fact I may have forgotten this was his first foray into the world of dance recitals.  My anxiety over Em’s anxiety was at an all-time high, and my fear that she would have to be torn from me, kicking and screaming (thus making me utterly miserable) was conquering all rational thought.  In reality, everything worked out just fine and after a slight panic on Em’s part, she took her buddy’s hand and walked backstage without a backward glance.  There was a real live ballerina practicing her solo on the stage behind the curtain, and Em was so enchanted I don’t think she gave me another thought.

At least, that’s what I told myself until her first dance arrived, and her whole class trouped out onstage….all except Em.

Well, my heart just about broke and Jax, to my surprise, burst into tears!  He was so worried about Em and demanded to know why she wasn’t onstage.  I was sad because this dance was the one she loved and was what I thought she was most likely to perform, if any.  I was sure there was no way in hell she’d get onstage for the other two now.

As soon as the song ended I hustled backstage to find my baby girl in hysterics, in the arms of some teenage girl who probably would have rather been anywhere but in charge of her.  She immediately calmed down when she saw me and I could have kicked myself for not going backstage with her from the beginning.  What did I expect, a miracle?  If she couldn’t handle me leaving her for practice every week in the same place with the same people, what made me think that backstage of a dance recital was a good place to cut the cord?  She quickly cheered up and was pretty excited to go on for the next song, but it still took all my bribing, cajoling, begging, and cheerleading to get her in line.

She was the very last one onstage, and I got to watch her from behind the curtain.  I don’t even know if my family could see her since she just kind of lurked around in the back and shuffled her feet.  But she was out there, and she kept looking for me to make sure I hadn’t left and that I was cheering her on.  I was so happy and proud that she had managed to take such a big step.

So we goofed around backstage again, changed her into her tap shoes for her last number, and I mentally prepared her again to go onstage one last time.

self-portrait provided by yours truly

And she did go out one more time, and I had a view from behind the curtains, stage right.  Not exactly what I had envisioned for the big debut, but all in all, it was a memorable experience for all of us.  It was a big step for my baby girl and a lesson learned for me, to trust my gut and be sure that my kids are ready for the next step before I push them off the diving board into the deep end.  I knew I should have gone to check on her, but I was nervous that she would be doing fine and the sight of me would cause a meltdown.  But I should have remembered, she’s only two!  If she wants to do it again (which I think is likely), I will listen to her and my heart and make sure that we are all on the same page to ensure her success.  And maybe a better photo op!

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