When my daughter was 2 years old, she requested ballet lessons. I promptly put her off. The world of ballet, in all of its pink, graceful, waif-like glory, is decidedly not my thing. I didn’t want it to be hers either.
The mere mention of the B-word triggers painful memories of a brief period in my childhood when I shoved my awkward pre-pubescent body into pink tights and a matching leotard and stumbled and suffered through a class in which I was at least a head taller and 15 pounds heavier than every other girl in the room. I was not slender or graceful, and my blunt bob was not nearly long enough to put into a bun. It would be the first in a long string of experiences in which I felt like the outsider, and I didn’t want to experience that again, even vicariously through my child.
After six months–a lifetime for a 2-year-old– of requests, I decided to give it a go. Surely it was a phase, I told myself, surely we’d be in bejeweled soccer cleats within a few months.
Unfortunately, my fears came true–for me, not her. Each Sunday morning after my daughter bounded happily into the dance studio, I was confronted with a group of women who were decidedly skinnier and more put together than me (which isn’t saying much, considering that my Sunday morning attire is generally dirty yoga pants and a t-shirt from the sale rack at Target). But these women were… fancy. They wore outfits, even little black dresses and coordinating shoes. They talked about organizing fundraisers at Bloomingdales and taking bike rides along the Charles River and family trips to France.
As nice as they all were (and they were definitely nice), once again, I was an outsider.
I started sending my husband to ballet class on Sundays, and before I knew it, we had finished one year, and daughter #2 was following in her sister’s footsteps.
Now, another year later, my girls just danced at their first recital. I had to buy makeup (I don’t own any) and this weird foam roller thing called a “hot bun” because I have no idea how to make ballet buns.
To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to the recital at all. I worried about how my little ones would do on a big stage in a huge auditorium, and I dreaded having to sit through two hours of watching size 2 teenagers flit and flitter across the stage. I decided I would pass the time reading a book on my iPhone.
I didn’t read a single word.
The recital was amazing. And I’m not just talking about my daughters, who were shockingly adorable and did a wonderful job. (To be honest, my 2-year-old had essentially no idea what was going on, but she seemed to have fun anyway.)
Much to my surprise, I saw girls and boys of all ages, shapes, body sizes, and abilities dancing their hearts out. There were dancers with disabilities–both temporary and permanent–front and center. There were adolescents and graduating seniors who were anything but waif-like, and they were dancing with such beauty and strength that I could hardly take my eyes off of them. Some of the dancers were quite good, and to be honest, some weren’t very good at all. But they all had nearly equal parts in each routine (or so it seemed to my untrained eye), and perhaps most importantly, they all looked like they were having fun.
In the grand scheme of parenting, preschoolers taking ballet classes is pretty small potatoes. But it did remind me of an important lesson, one that I will likely need to relearn time and again over the years: I need to take care of the children I have, not the child I wish I could have been. Each time I let my own life experiences, good or bad, dictate the choices I make for my children, I risk robbing them of potentially important and beautiful opportunities–including dancing ballet.