Modern parenting magazines want more politically driven stories than what I have to offer. Today I just want to share our similarities instead of driving through division. Come dance with me and my eldest:
“Are you ready?” I gazed at my toddler.
Her chubby cheeks puffed out in a rosy grin. “Yeah mama.”
We stepped into the ballet studio for our first mommy-and-me class. Ballet had never interested me. Before she was born, I believed that girly-girls were forced into their femininity. A born tomboy I knew more about football and baseball than ballet.
When I had my daughter, I offered her neutral colors and non-gendered toys. I didn’t want to force anything on her, but she loved pink and purple. She adored glitter and sparkles. She treated every stuffed animal like a baby and cradled cars in her arms to sing them to sleep.
As soon as she could walk, she balanced and posed like some divine dancer. She was proud to display traditional female qualities. I struggled to let her be who she was, but she was happier when I ran with it.
I found myself enrolled in a mommy-and-me class with the St. Louis Ballet, afraid I would have to wear tights and a leotard. I had some hip-hop and jazz under my belt, but ballet was not my thing.
Thankfully the teachers weren’t that strict. They were sweet and inclusive. Instead of walking into some prissy school filled with competitors, I found a warm community who welcomed anyone with a curiosity for dance.
The classes breezed by. We sang songs and moved with the rhythm. My baby girl grew into a little dancer.
When asked about joining the end of the year recital, I was unsure if it was a good idea. Her father and I were talking about having another baby and that drew new concerns to mind. Maybe I should ask her, I thought.
“Do you like dancing?” I asked her.
“Yes.” She waved her arms in ballerina fashion.
“Do you want to keep doing it?”
She nodded like a bobblehead.
“Would you like to dance in front of everyone? Your school is having a show called a recital. You could get dressed up and dance in it, if you want.” I bit my lip unsure if she understood anything I just said.
“Yes!” She hugged me tight.
Class remained fun for both of us. My second pregnancy was tiring, but not an issue. By dress rehearsal, I felt confident that my daughter could handle the stage. We went out there and did all the steps to her little song.
Recital day brought a hectic mix of making sure relatives got to the theater and preparing my daughter. There were bathroom breaks and light snacks, plus the task of keeping dozens of squealing little girls quiet backstage.
Our call time finally came. We were hustled to the wings. My daughter shook in the dark. She whimpered and clung to me. I got her to her mark without any difficulty and knelt behind her, ready to offer my help as we’d been taught in class.
The spotlight went up and flashed in our eyes. The audience sat outlined by the running lights near the seats. When the song started, my daughter turned to me and clung to my neck. I hugged her in my lap and whispered, “You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to.”
She whined and tightened her hold into a death grip. I tried to stand and get offstage, but she struggled and cried, “No!”
She stood up and crossed her arms. Her bear lay face down on the stage. I didn’t understand why she wanted to remain onstage, but I was sure she would never dance again.
She plopped in my lap so hard, her little sister kicked back from the womb. I reach for anything, something to distract her. I grasped her teddy bear and held it out for her.
She ripped it out of my hands and threw it across the stage.
The embarrassment dissolved into laughter. I giggled at her and the audience laughed out loud. That buzz of amusement eased us both. Instead of frustrating myself further, I relaxed and let her sit onstage with me. We cuddled while her little friends danced around us.
When the song ended, she hugged me and I carried her offstage kissing her cheeks. “I guess you’re done with ballet?”
“No,” she said.
I figured she must have misunderstood me. “You didn’t have much fun did you?”
“Yes I did!” She leaped about.
I laughed and figured she was confused. She would forget about dancing and move onto something else, I was sure.
But she didn’t.
She played dress up in her recital costume every day. She demanded we read her ballet books all summer. After her sister was born, she asked to go back to class.
“Are you sure you want to?” I rubbed my temples.
She jumped up and down begging to dance at the studio again. No matter what I said, she wanted to keep dancing.
I gave in and took her back. Not only did she enjoy class all year, she wanted to do the recital again. I resigned myself to more embarrassment, but instead of throwing a tantrum this time, she didn’t miss a beat. She performed every move with style and grace. Her little chubby cheeks glowed under sparkling eyes.
Seven years later she is still dancing.
She approached three auditions with the courage of a lion. She landed small children’s roles in the Saint Louis Ballet’s big Nutcracker production twice, and this year joined the St. Louis children’s cast of the world-renown Russian Ballet.
This Wednesday night, my hard-working dancer will grace the most beautiful stage in our city. Instead of rushing around backstage like usual, I will be sitting among the audience at The Fox Theater forgetting myself, my writing, and everyone else.
Instead of just giving up after one bad experience, my daughter decided she wanted more and I’m so glad. Even though I was not a huge fan of ballet when she first started her journey I have grown to love this classical art.
I’ve also learned to listen and let my kids grow on their own terms. Instead of letting others dictate to me what is best for my children, or deciding what is best for them without their input, I help them guide themselves.
My eldest destroyed all preconceived notions pushed by modern society. She was a girly-girl from the moment she was born. She loves fairy tales and dream lands, but more importantly, she enjoys the traditional femininity that has been written off in the name of “strong women.”
To her there is nothing stronger than a flexible dancer, a woman who trains for hours to perfect every line and curve of her dance. Strength of mind means more to her than any Hollywood image of female superheroes, because she lives the truth of mind-over-matter every time she goes onstage.
I’m sitting here in awe of the gift of maternal love.
I was never a girly-girl. I’m loud and obnoxious, I don’t mind getting dirty or falling on my face, but I admire my daughter’s quiet classic nature.
I turn and twirl with my daughter even though we have different styles. We dance together despite our differing natures.
Everyone has a different rhythm, but the love we send out is the same.