All of last year Alice couldn't wait to start ballet class. She would try on every little tutu dress/pink twirly skirt she could find and prance around our living room. She jumped and spun and told me she was one of the 12 dancing princesses. And I, still numb from the fact that this little person was indeed becoming very girly and was very much rejecting the jeans and black turtlenecks I laid out on her bed every morning, started to accept and perhaps even embrace the idea of Alice starting dance class. We signed her up at the local recreation centre, spent a week trying to track down all the necessary accessories (who would have guessed that locating a pair of pink size 11 ballet slippers in Toronto would be so hard?), watched patiently as she showed us her many dance moves in the week leading up to the first class, and gave ourselves a proud pat on the back for at least providing our daughter with some sort of extra-curricular activity. We were good parents.
(cough). You do know where this is going, don't you?
The day of the first class Alice and I stepped out into the bright Toronto winter day, one of the first days we were finally experiencing cold winter weather. We walked in the minus 20-with- the-windchill weather toward the recreation centre, Alice chattering away happily about what her class would be like. We arrived at the rec centre, cheeks cold and chapped from the wind, and ready to start a new journey. As we walked toward the room where the other preschoolers were, I thought about how much older Alice seemed these days.
(jesus Kate, enough with the preamble already).
As soon as we entered the class Alice became a different person. And I mean a different person. She gasped at the 7 other girls staring at her, turned around and hid her face against me. The ballet teacher was sweetly trying to convince her to join the group but she would have none of it. She refused to participate and started crying when it looked like I was leaving the room. I thought that maybe she was just a bit uncomfortable and that if I stayed a while in the room with her that sooner or later she would join in. But no. The whole class she stuck like glue to me, staring at the other children like they were monsters. I could not believe how scared she seemed. And they even did a fairy dance, which for Alice, should have been the end all. The fairy stuff, the princess shit - it truly is her crack. But yet she stayed on my lap, crying every time I tried to pry her off me. I tried every trick I knew to get her to join in, but she stood her ground.
I know, I know. Kids go through this all the time. They get shy and want their mommies - I get it. But really, REALLY, if you have ever met Alice in person you would know that she just has never exhibited much shyness in the past. This is the same kid at daycare who has never, since entering daycare at 11 months old, turned back and cried for me. Even after changing daycares and meeting many new kids over the years, Alice has never seemed like she had separation anxiety. And so I was surprised when she reacted this way.
The worst part, the very worst part, was after the class was over. I thanked the teacher for letting us sit in, and she tried to get Alice's attention to say goodbye. Again, it was like she was trying to pour acid all over Alice's face - she screamed and cried. And then I started to lose my patience.
I got angry and started thinking "well why the hell did we do this if you don't want to be here? Why did you make me come down here in the freezing cold just to be yelled at?" I'll admit it - it was a terrible reaction to have. I was impatient and not paying attention to my daughter's broken heart. I tried not to let her see my anger, but she could probably feel it.
As I got her dressed and we walked out of there, I realized that she was walking head down low and shuffling along sadly. I crouched down to look in her eyes and the saddest little girl looked up at me. She said in a very low voice "we should give those ballet slippers away because I'm never going to use them again." And my heart broke in two, right there in the freezing wind and in the middle of a bunch of other parents hustling by us to get their own kids to their cars. It hurt like nothing else has yet in my parenting experience with Alice. I've done illness and nightmares and even the beginning of terrible girl social hierarchies at daycare. And yet this was the absolute worst I have felt so far. She had wanted to dance so badly. She had waited for months to start this class. But she couldn't do it.
She had disappointed herself, and I was at a loss as what to do. How can you make that first disappointment go away? We all know that feeling - when you've waited and prepared for something that you really, truly believe is going to be your shining moment. And then at the last minute, things just don't go as planned and you feel like you've failed. That's what her little face was full of the whole walk home and I wanted to wrap a protective armor around her against hating herself.
Instead, I hugged her tightly and told her how great a second try can be. How sometimes new situations can be really scary and seem too difficult to deal with. And how mommies can also let themselves down when they want something really really badly.
I hope she believed me, I really do.