Monday, September 19, 2011

Ballet Lessons


Two weeks ago was Sophia’s first ballet lesson. I think I was at least as excited as she was. I remembered when I started ballet as a kindergartener, myself. I was thrilled at the idea that she would be able to have the same fantastic, confidence-building, creativity-nourishing experience that I had. Then, I saw her in her pint-sized slippers and little bun, and my mother heart melted to consistency of warm honey.

Brian was at a youth ministry conference that morning, so I prepped breakfast the night before and laid out clothes. In the morning, everything went smoothly, and I managed to get even my contrary two-year-old buckled into his car seat with plenty of time to get lost on the way. Which I did. But, thanks to my handy iPhone app, I managed to find my way back lickety-split and we still had fifteen minutes to spare before class would begin.

I snapped a few shots of Sophia while we were waiting for her teacher to arrive. I tried to introduce her to some of the other little girls. But, I could tell that something was off. Sophia was speaking in one-word sentence, a very odd thing for my loquacious social butterfly. Then, she started sucking on her two middle fingers, a habit she’d given up with infancy. Now, she only does it when she’s hurt…or scared.

My anxiety was starting to rise on her behalf. And, then her teacher arrived.

The other girls got ready to follow the lovely teacher into class, but Sophia suddenly had other ideas. Or needs. Tears spilled out of her eyes, and she reached for me, whimpering, “Mama! Mama!”

At first, I was sympathetic. I held her and calmly introduced her to the teacher, who Sophia seemed to warm up to right away, despite the tears. Our sweet instructor told me that I was welcome to come back with her for this first class, although normally parents are only allowed in for designated “watch days.” So, I took Sophia by one hand and James by the other. But, she dragged her feet. The tears continued to fall, and I knew that this was fruitless. By the time we reached the door, both children were crying in earnest and both begging me to hold them.

I was frazzled. I was frustrated. And, oh, I was so sorely disappointed.

All my dreams for my daughter, all my excited anticipation, my hopes for some peaceful alone time with my second-born while my eldest learned knew and exciting skills and made some new friends…it all washed away in my daughter’s desperate tears.

I would like to tell you I was sweet and compassionate. I would like to tell you I knew what to do. I would like to tell you I handled things differently.

In truth, I could barely contain the embarrassment and irritation swelling in me like hot air in a pressure cooker. My simmering lid was starting to rattle. I called my husband in desperation, and though he offered to talk to our daughter, it did nothing to calm her hysteria. I thought about lifting one kid under each arm and heading for the car.

Retreat, I thought. Just admit you’ve been beat.


Reality hit me upside the head, as it so often does. This wasn’t about me at all. Who cared if the other mothers did think I was a helicopter homeschool mom who raised her children to be forever dependent on her? Who cared if they thought I had raised a couple of crybabies who didn’t know how to behave in public? Who cared if they raised their eyebrows at me thinking, Why is she losing her cool? Can’t she tell her daughter just isn’t ready? Why did she even think to bring her here?

The answer, of course, was plain. Me. I cared. I cared a lot. But this wasn’t about me. It was about my daughter. A new challenge in her sweet, young life. An opportunity to face fears and, hopefully, to overcome them. My only role was support. Could I push aside my own insecurities, my baggage? Could I humble myself and learn a lesson at her side?

“Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible.’” – Matthew 19:26

I ferried my children off to a quiet corner where we could see through the windows to watch the class. I gently coaxed my daughter to share with me how she was feeling. Of course, she was too overwhelmed at this point and hardly spoke beyond the occasional whimpered request for Daddy or for Agnes, her stuffed sheep.

So, we prayed. I laid my hands on her hot, little head, and I asked God to grant her the grace to be brave. I asked for the grace to walk her through this. And, grace came down.

We never made it into class that day, and all week, I admit I was anxious. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go back and try again. I was afraid I wouldn’t it any better this time. I was afraid I would handle it worse. This was a challenge as much for me as it was for Sophia, and I didn’t know if I could face it.

I knew, though, that running from a challenge out of fear is never the answer. So, this Saturday, we ate breakfast, buckled into car seats, and headed off for the studio again. We met a few of the little girls we had watched through the glass the last week. We spoke with our teacher, who kindly offered to give us a quick tour of the studio. Agnes, the sheep, came with us, too, on the understanding that she would be placed against the wall to watch.

I prayed. I prayed hard.

And, do you know what? Everything went fine. Of course, Sophia still refused to go across the floor for one-at-a-time exercises, but her teacher assured me that was fine. “A few weeks, and she’ll be itching to try it,” she said.

I underestimate my children so often.

Just like I underestimate my God.

I am flawed, it’s true. But, He is not, and He is stronger than my weak faults. And, He is strong enough to be the Parent I cannot. And, He is strong enough to make me the Mother I should be.


  1. Sophia looks darling in her little outfit.

    Rose was skeptical of ballet at first but wound up blossoming after the first few classes and doing wonderfully at her first recital a few short months later.

  2. I'm sure she learned more from going back and trying again than she would have if everything went perfectly the first time. Working through anxiety and conquering fears are life-long lessons that we all have to practice.

    I'm not a parent, but I do remember my first ballet classes. I don't recall any particular anxiety but I figured out pretty early that I just wasn't cut out for ballet. It was no one's fault; the teacher tried and my mom was supportive. But I was a bit chubby for my age, I had a vision problem at the time that threw off my coordination and my body just didn't easily bend and softly leap like the skinny girls, who were later selected to have small parts in the local production of the Nutcracker. (And I wasn't picked, boo hoo!) But no really, I'm over it...forty years later, lol.

    I went through the whole course, and I did the recital, but I didn't choose it again; I just knew it wasn't my "thing." But I'm glad my mom made me try, otherwise I would have carried around this fantasy that I could have been like the graceful ballerinas in Degas pictures, if it weren't for mean Mommy who didn't put me in ballet, wahh!

    Anyway, I guess my point is, she may be twirling across the room in no time, or she might not, but by teaching her to express her feelings, and break down her fears into smaller pieces, you're teaching a great lesson. And all girls should experience the joy of wearing a tutu at least once in their life! ;)

  3. What a beautiful and humble posting. I am so proud of Sophia--and of you.

  4. I can tell you I've been through this experience 10-fold between 3 children and it never occurred to me to pray about it. I never did. I am pretty sure I lost my cool one or another time. Sometimes I just hung out in the class, holding my son or daughter, participating as best we could. Sometimes the teacher would be patient, sometimes not. But it all did work out at some point. Just encourage them, be consistent and have patience. Sophia's apprehension was/is a very normal occurrence.


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