I took my daughter to her first ballet class on Saturday. Translation: I tortured my daughter for thirty minutes of a forty-five minute class.
My daughter does nothing if not spend her days twirling and refusing to wear dresses that don’t twirl in a particularly perfect way that only she is able to discern. She is somehow able to stand on her toes as if she were wearing toe shoes while she is really barefoot. She LOVES all things ballet. She is obsessed with the movie based on Noel Streatfeild’s The Ballet Shoes starring Emma Watson (and some others). She talks incessantly about Posey (from the movie) and pretends to be a prima ballerina. That may have been part of the problem.
We were having dinner with my mom when I suddenly remembered I’d forgotten to purchase her a leotard, tights, and ballet shoes for Saturday morning’s class. I ran out, still chewing the last of my dinner, and in an hour was able to purchase the required items. When I returned, I showed Huddy what I bought. She literally leaped into my arms, a la Maria Tallchief. She thanked me no fewer than ten times. She checked herself out in the full length mirror no fewer than twenty times. She was beside herself. If she had actually been beside herself she would have acted out a scene from Giselle and demanded her other self play the part Mikhail Baryshnikov made famous.
What I’m trying to say is this child lives for ballet. Or, rather…lived for ballet, that is until Saturday morning.
Warned isn’t the right word, but all week I prepared her as much as I could. “You don’t have time to be shy. There’s no reason for it.” “You’re going to be in class with a bunch of other little girls. Just have fun.” “Mommy can’t stay with you. You won’t want me there anyway. I never wanted my mom to stay with me (which might not be true, I can’t really remember.) All of this was met with, “I won’t, mom. I’ll be fine.”
So, she lied.
We got there early. We were the first people there, which is optimal for her happiness. She prefers to be the first person everywhere. I decided I would try the adult ballet class. We went to the bathroom so I could change my clothes. When we came back out it was very crowded. That is one of the most uncomfortable situations for Huddy. Big crowds of strangers is her kryptonite.
We waited outside the room and I saw two little girls I know. I introduced Huddy to them hoping they could be buddies. Well, that is impossible when your child completely shuts down and loses her mental capacity to function properly. Once we were invited into the room, she would not let go of my hand. The other little girls sat in a circle. I forced Huddy to sit, and she turned her back to everyone. I knelt behind her trying to get the attention of the assistant teacher–a pretty high school-aged girl. She came over to sit by Huddy and I walked in to the adult class ten minutes late.
I LOVED my class. I was on my best behavior. I would do anything to keep going to that class. It brought back so many lovely memories. About twenty minutes into the class I had a feeling I should leave. Glad I did. I walked into the hallway and hid behind another parent to see if I could get a glimpse of Huddy. All the little girls were running across the floor. And there was my child, holding the hand of the assistant teacher. I’m completely aware she probably never let go of it the entire thirty minutes.
It was then I saw that Huddy was sobbing. I dropped my bag and walked into the classroom. She walked straight to me and the assistant teacher never missed a beat getting back to the rest of the girls (who probably suffered through class with Huddy’s wails). She couldn’t catch her breath. She was out of tears.
It was pitiful. We sat on the bench for about ten minutes, her back to the class again as I watched the little ballerinas attempt to skip across the floor. I started crying. No one saw me, except for maybe one little girl but she couldn’t even skip so the last thing she needed to do was judge me.
I gained my composure and we left. Huddy held on to me all the way to the car and as I drove away I looked at her beautiful little face and only imagined what she must be thinking. Finally she said, “I don’t like ballet.”
I don’t think that is true. She loves ballet. She loves a lot of things. She just doesn’t know it yet. I can’t get her to do anything she doesn’t want to do. Sometimes she surprises the hell out of me. For example, we went to church today. Afterward, they have what is called Soup Sunday. Anyone who wants to can bring in soup and serve it buffet style and the congregation eats in the May Room. I love it. It’s one of my favorite things about the church. All the kids running around (not my kid, of course). All the adults talking and enjoying good food.
We sat right next to the drink station. From my seat, I could touch the water pitcher. If I leaned back, I could’ve probably grabbed a cup. Instead, I stood up to get our drinks. Huddy said, “I want to come!” I turned and said, “I’m right here. You are fine.” A guy behind me in line laughed. I said, “I have no one to blame but myself.”
She is my shadow. I went to get another bowl of soup. She came with me. During church, a little girl in our pew was coloring one of the Book of Common Prayer coloring books that are in the back of the church for kids. (Episcopalians are cool.) Huddy wanted one. “Come with me, mama.” I said, “If you want one, go get one,” and she did. I couldn’t believe it. And yet, this is the kid who yells “WHERE ARE YOU?” when I walk out of the living room.
A man sat to eat with us. He is such a lovely man. He was the first church stranger to make her laugh when she was only a few months old. He’s just celebrated his 90th birthday. He doesn’t look a day older than 65. Huddy LOVES him. He had her doing her signature cackle. Everything he said was hysterically funny. She gave her best deadpan expression and whacked herself in the head about forty times which is a sure sign she’s having a good time.
I went to take up our tray and she didn’t even notice I was gone. I looked back at the table and she had him playing with her baby doll. The same man who saw her near-meltdown when I was a foot and a half away was standing behind me. I said, “I found my new sitter. Mulford.” He said, “The kids love him.”
So you see, you never know what you’re going to get with her. I was not like this as a child. I never met a stranger. I am trying my best to encourage her to try new things. I am afraid for kindergarten next year. I know the cafeteria will be too loud, too crowded, too bright. Or maybe she won’t even notice. I have no idea. I can only imagine, in true Leo fashion, she will one day move so far away from home it will take two days by plane just to get there and I’ll be left here saying, “Don’t you love me anymore?” Be careful what you wish for.
My dear friend gave me some great advice. She had been a very shy child and her parents made it worse, she said, by feeding into it. I don’t think I do that, but sometimes here and there I think I will politely force her to get in the fire truck after the fire man sees her clearly wanting to check it out. I know she would love it. I know it.
Imagine the irony as I’m buckling her into her car seat, the Baby On Board sign that has been taped to my back window for four years breaks and falls to the floor. I actually watched it fall and taunt me.
On the way home, I asked, “So, why did you really not like ballet?” She said, “They didn’t do any pirouettes.” Slow down kid. Baby steps. (I’m just a mom trying to figure it out.)
And my directions on how to get to Carnegie Hall were completely lost on her.