With her wild, curly hair pulled back in a neat bun, and her pink tights, leotard, and ballet shoes in place, my little girl tapped her toes and lifted her arms in rhythm to the music of her first ballet recital. At least, that’s how it appeared from the video that my sister-in-law sent me and I watched on my iPhone while I attended a wedding two hours away.
For four weeks I sat on a hard, cold bench in a stale waiting room listening to classical music coming from my 3-year-old’s closed-door ballet class, longing to get a glimpse of what she was learning. But her ballet school has a strict student-only policy until the day of the recital, which left me in the dark about her pliés and pointed toes. Even when she emerges from her class with a smile stretching from ear to ear, she won’t show me what she’s learned, insisting that I have to wait until it’s my turn to watch.
When my opportunity to see my daughter show off what she’d learned finally came, I realized that the date not so conveniently coincided with a close friend’s wedding. I had no choice but to send my little one’s aunt in my place.
My daughter took the news in stride. At first, she was indifferent about the fact that I wouldn’t be there. But as we got closer to the weekend, her nerves started to get the better of her and she became overrun with anxiety and sadness. We were both disappointed over this milestone that I’d miss, which was, in actuality, a milestone in itself.
The truth is that a 3-year-old’s ballet recital is more humorous than it is anything else, with a strong dose of cuteness, too. However, while I knew I wasn’t going to miss an earth-shattering toddler version of Swan Lake, the thought of missing it left me utterly heartbroken, and left my sister-in-law with specific instructions to videotape every minute of the performance. (Technology really has closed the gap in “missing” an important moment or milestone—thanks, Steve Jobs!)
The wedding was beautiful and my husband and I had a great weekend away. But as we sat at brunch with friends on Saturday morning at 11 a.m., the exact time that the recital was set to begin, I took note of the moments I was enjoying in comparison to those I was missing. The two don’t really compare—a weekend of adult conversation in a sleepy wine tasting village and a morning of swim class followed by the ballet recital. And yet, I felt myself longing to be a part of my normal Saturday routine while simultaneously grateful for an opportunity to sleep in and eat a morning meal that didn’t consist of syrup being smeared all over me.
Though my disappointment over missing my daughter’s recital hasn’t gone away, I realize now that this is the first of many opportunities my husband and I have to create a healthy separation and foster our daughter’s sense of independence. We started this separation process the day that we put her in daycare and continue it each time we leave her with a babysitter or encourage her to do something on her own.
At times, this separation seems easier than it did before, like we’ve all grown a bit from the experience of being apart. But, just as easily, her youth and our guilt over leaving her allows the separation to consume us and we succumb to the challenges of these developmental milestones.
Life as a mom will be full of separations, from first days of school to putting our child on the bus to summer camp to moving her into her dorm room in college. Inevitably, there will be important moments I will miss, moments I’ll long for later and moments she’ll wish we had shared. But these are also the moments that will make her more independent and resilient. The best I can do is to equip her with the tools she will need to stand on her own two feet, and hope that this will allow me, or more appropriately prepare me, as a mom, to watch her spread her wings and fly.