The best ballet recital I’ve ever attended and will likely ever attend, is over.
When my daughter turned 3, she begged every day as she did twirls and jumps in the air that almost resembled spinning karate kicks,
“Mommy? Can I do bawwet? I really, really wanna do bawwet! Just like June!”
June, most of us are aware, is the graceful, red-shod, diminutive Little Einstein ballerina character that teaches our kids how to do échappés and arabesques to escape menacing boulders and other forms of impending doom.
I had done ballet as a kid. I wasn’t very good at it. My gracefulness never improved. I never had an overt aversion to ballet so I didn’t have any reservations about her wanting to try it. If she were to become serious later in her years, I guess I’d have to be on high alert for signs of body image issues, eating disorders or neurotic competitiveness.
But, she was 3. She was asking to try something. And, I thought she would look adorable in a leotard and tights.
Of course, she did.
We learned quickly that dance attire, if you bought it at a dance store, was very expensive. It was 10 to 20 dollars per pair of pink tights. She put holes in those tights every week. I quit trying to show up in un-holey tights. Those holes were my daughter’s trademark.
And, if I am honest, I thought those holes in her knees were beautiful. They were a juxtaposition when she put on that stiff baby pink tutu during class. They were proof that my daughter was rugged and adventurous. I loved those holes in her tights.
Something happened, though. About six months after she started to go to ballet once a week, she would tell me that she didn’t want to go anymore. The studio was great. The instruction was great. The instructors were gentle and great. She said she just didn’t like it.
Every week was a battle. I bribed and I coaxed. I had pre-paid for a recital outfit that wasn’t for another four months. We had paid for the month. That was a good amount of cash in the trash. We’d just finish out the month. “Get in the car! Let’s go!” And, she’d go. She’d get in the car after I battled with her to get her ballet outfit on. We’d get there, and she’d refuse to get out.
I am a firm believer that Mahatma Ghandi developed his philosophy of passive non-resistance by watching toddlers. The emulating hippies in the Vietnam era whose limp bodies were static weight bags for the police officers struggling to move them resemble toddlers at their best moments of recalcitrance.
When I’d try to remove her from her car seat, she’d just slump in a way that made it hard for me to get a grip. Once, I got her out of the car, she’d lay like a wet noodle in the parking lot. I would have tried dragging her, but I thought it might be hard to explain the road rash to friends.
After two weeks of having the ballet teacher come out and beg her to come inside for 15 minutes of the hour I’d already paid for, I decided it was enough. We weren’t coming back. If I’m completely honest, the money excuse was an easy one for me to defend as a reason for not wanting my daughter to quit something she had started.
I believe I struggled with the thought that my daughter was starting to quit things early. At what age are we supposed to tell a kid to suck it up until they’re through with a commitment? Would I be making a mistake to not force her to complete the task of finishing the recital so she could feel the pride of completion? Or would the mistake be forcing her to waste precious childhood hours doing something she detested? Either way, we’d adore her. But, which was the right way?
I remember taking piano lessons as a kid. I never asked to take them. My parents bought a piano and for six years, I went once a week to lessons. I practiced every single day for one hour. I became decent at it, graduating to some moderately complex Sonatinas by the time I reached 14 and my parents told me that I could choose whether I wanted to stick with it or not.
By then, I resented the tick of the metronome I’d listened to every day for six years. I quit. Sometimes, now in my thirties, I wish I hadn’t. I wish I could play the piano like a concert pianist. Was this ballet struggle the same dilemma faced by my parents, just with a much lighter and considerably less expensive pair of ballet shoes?
It didn’t take me long to determine that she was, in fact, three whole years old. She was someone who committed to eating waffles for breakfast who, after one bite, would change her mind and inform she really wanted Cheerios.
I reminded myself that I had quit things, too.
When I was 14, I quit the piano. And about a year and a half ago, I quit my job.
That was something I never believed I would ever give up. It was something I probably judged others for giving up before I came to the precipice of my own “should I work or stay at home?” turmoil.
In the end, I quit and it is a quitting that has brought more happiness than any other period in my life. Perhaps, quitting is the wrong word. Perhaps, “changing course to follow a path that is right for you” is the better phrase. I imagine, for many women, the opposite is true. Changing their course to go back to work might be the decision that sets the balance right in their heart, spirit and mind.
We put a lot of stigma on the word “quit” in our meritocratic society.
But, I’ve come to believe, in my very wise and often pedantic thirties, that sometimes quitting is the best way to reach one’s true potential. (Please, please detect the sarcasm in that statement. I do not actually believe I have a single answer to life’s dilemmas. I’m just exploring here.)
So, we packed away the leotards and the holey pink tights, and she told me she really, really wanted to do gymnastics. That has stuck. At least for now. And, if it changes. I guess we’ll deal with that if it comes.
I got a call about four months after we quit ballet from the studio. Our recital outfit was in and could we pick it up? The recital had actually taken place the week prior in a massive lit auditorium full of illegal photographic flashes and beaming parents.
I drove up to the studio, picked up the garbage bag that held the lime green sequined ballet outfit inside with matching wristlets and hair scrunchy.
I took it home and showed my daughter.
It took her breath away. We put it on, at once.
Then, we went into the front yard, and I received the best ballet recital I could have ever seen in my entire life.
It was full of uncompelled joy and spirit. Her leaps and jumps were happy and full. She played with leaves and wiggled her rear parts. She smiled throughout and giggled in a way that confirmed that there were no other decisions than the ones we made. She was beautiful. This was perfect.
Maybe quitting something we feel is not right in our hearts, for whatever reason, can lead us to our very best performances.
When I watched my little girl dance, I felt like I was dancing with her, and through her.
Have I ever doubted our decisions to move on?
Does June wear holey pink tights?