The Delicate Parenting Dance

06/19/2014 12:01 AM

06/18/2014 10:47 PM

Nora started her first ballet class this month — a big event she’s been looking forward to for months, ever since I promised her, after we saw a Carolina Ballet performance of “The Four Seasons” last winter, that she could take a class to learn about what that was all about.


We walked into the studio and she could hardly sit still as I eased off her sandals and helped her into her brand-new ballet slippers. From behind a one-way mirror lining the hallway, I watched as she walked into the classroom, tried a couple little spins, and followed the teacher’s instructions to sit down on a number painted onto the floor.


Soon, the other students flooded in — and it turned out they all knew each other already from having taken the tap class the previous hour. So they sat together in a clump, leaving Nora off by herself a little bit.


I have to admit, my hands went a little clammy and my heart rose up in my throat at that sight. My mama bear instincts kicked in, making me want to both protect my sweet girl from that awful, awkward left-out feeling and go in and scold those little you-know-whats for not welcoming her into the fold. But of course neither was a good option. So I just stayed still and kept quiet, and I watched.


She sat alone until the class started, looking a little uncomfortable but not particularly upset. The teacher started by directing all the students — maybe 10 or 12 four-year-olds — to gather ‘round her. Then my ballerina was swallowed into the clump, and my heart lightened. After a few words, the teacher told them to form a circle, holding hands with their neighbors. A little girl in a blue leotard grabbed one of Nora’s hands, and someone else took the other, and the circle was formed. And from then on, without any words exchanged, Nora was part of the group, dancing and laughing and having a blast.


When our kids are babies, we can protect them from pretty much everything, but as they get older, they tiptoe, then leap and dance, ever farther away, ever more toward independence, which inevitably will lead to discomfort, pain, heartbreak – all that stuff that goes with being human. They’re happy, really, to run straight into it, eager, even, to get on with this messy business of living. But as parents, it’s hard to stand there with our arms crossed, watching it unfold and doing nothing to fix it.


But just as Nora is learning to twirl and tiptoe and bend and pose in ballet class, I’m learning to be still. The other day she took off running down a trail in the woods, and I knew she was likely to trip on one of the many tree roots in the way and fall. Was a time I would have rushed to catch up and grab her arm to keep her steady. But that day I didn’t. I watched as she tripped (it wasn’t easy, believe me), then got up, brushed herself off and kept going — this time at a slightly more cautious pace.


That’s just how it’s supposed to be, and that’s just what’s happened to her socially at this age, too. She gets hurt, and she deals with it, and if she’s strong enough and feels supported enough — from a distance — she moves on.


Maybe one day I’ll move on, too, from the overwhelming desire to scoop her up at the first sign of trouble and fix everything for her. But I think it’s going to be more like becoming a dancer with just a supporting role on stage. My job is to keep an eye on things, but stay out of the way and let the spotlight fall fully on the prima donna — and hope that the times she hits her mark far outnumber the times she falls flat on her face.

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