I was on the parenting tightrope tonight. The one where falling to the left meant tears and sadness and I had to pick up pieces of kid2 and put them back together. The same one where falling to the right meant we shallowly skipped across a potential life lesson without any benefit from the augh and angst of the whole thing.
Kid2 is attending dance camp at the Quinte Ballet School. It’s kind of a big deal, she’s technically too young (you have to be ten to go) but was admitted as she dances above her age, and she rocked the audition. She’s attending as a day student, which saved us $1K (the three-week program is residential) however with our driving back and forth and gas prices, that may work out to only be $40 when all is said and done. Tonight was picture night.
Picture night looks like this. 80 students ranging in age from 10 to 18 (with one 9-year-old) from across Canada, in platter tutus and pointe shoes, body suits and tights, striking various poses that demonstrate the strength and flexibility, grace and beauty of ballet. When I pulled up to pick up kid2 tonight she was off to the side, by herself, in shorts and a t-shirt. I watched for a bit, she hadn’t seen me pull in. Yep. Definitely seeing a person who wasn’t feeling a part of things. Twiddling with her ear where her earring would be, if they were allowed to wear jewellery to class. Sometimes looking away, sometimes inching closer to the group of chattering ballerinas having their picture taken, but without question on the outskirts and feeling it.
I walked up to her and could tell her breezy “hello Mummy” required effort. My “Hiya darling” was heartfelt but wary for what I felt was coming. “Where’s your stuff?” Her bag was inside Albert College, so we headed to collect her things. The regular list of questions was run through, about the day’s classes, about how my picky eater child did that day at the buffet. Finally I cracked. “How come you’re not in ballet gear, lovey?” I asked – and gave myself props for how light my voice stayed.
She stopped and turned to face me. Her freckled cheeks turned pink. “I forgot it in my locker.” (the classes are a few blocks away from the residence). “When we got here I remembered it was picture day but I couldn’t go back and get it.” She took a deep breath and her blue eyes with the eyelashes that are not to be believed started to shine even more. “I was the only girl not in ballet wear, so I couldn’t be in any special pictures.”
“Special pictures?” I asked, feeling a sting in my heart for her.
“Ya,” she said. “I got a solo picture in this…” (she wore a too-small t-shirt today and shorts that are actually cut off track pants. This child does not worry what she wears, as long as she is covered, she goes). “Then we did our group photo, and I was the only girl not wearing tights and a bodysuit.” She stopped talking as her voice cracked at that point.
Enter the tightrope. I could admonish. How could she forget her ballet gear? The whole point of her staying late was for the photo shoot?! I could commiserate. Not hard for me to empathize with the terrible feeling it is to be somewhere and not be fitting in, much less be dressed properly. I put one foot in front of the other, and found my footing where I so often do, in onwards.
“Well doll face, it seems like you rolled with it pretty well” is all I said. I waited the heartbeat it took for that to sink in.
“Ya,” she said. “It was just a photo shoot.” We went on to joke about how many pictures of her I have, and how awesome it was she went for it and posed for the group shot anyways. When we got back to the car, she called Memere and I started the drive home, my inside voice telling me not to be such a sap, as I had tingles in my tear ducts. Listening to her on the phone with my mom sealed the deal. I could only hear her part of the conversation, and it went something like this:
“Today was pretty good. But tonight was the photo shoot and I forgot my ballet stuff, so I was the only kid there in shorts and a t-shirt.”
“Ya… I did anyways. I smiled as hard as I could without squinking up my eyes.”
“Squinking is like when you squint but your eyes are a bit more open.”
“Thanks Memere…” and their conversation turned to other things.
Remember the horror when you were younger of wanting to fit in and knowing sometimes – we all had them – sometimes you just weren’t? Remember if that was magnified by things being outside of your control? She couldn’t get her ballet stuff, but would have done anything to be able to. She rolled with it, and you can imagine the photo – 10 beautiful girls, all in tights and bodysuits, hair in a bun with one kid in shorts and a t-shirt and a messy ponytail. I don’t know if the universe sets things up like this for my kids to navigate to help them learn resilience at an early age, but it does seem that kid1 and kid2 often deal with formative events. Maybe it’s because I write about them. Either way, tonight my heart sank, felt bruised, and hit its regular stride again all around a three-minute exchange and an experience I hope kid2 remembers as a funny story and not a hit to the confidence.
I tell my kids all the time how life is never perfect, you just roll with the hand you’re dealt. I called Memere when I got home. The first thing she told me was how she told kid2 she was proud she still posed for the group shot, and that she would have stood out either way. I could only agree, and secretly hope that in addition to the life lesson of onwards, kid2 always remembers picture perfect can be overrated.