tripping the life unbalanced

Monday, January 22, 2007

let down

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.


  • Oh, this made me cry. Poor Alice, and poor you. How hard for everyone. I sincerely hope she does give it another try. You did a great job.

    By Blogger chichimama, at 9:58 p.m.  

  • I am boo-hoo-ing here too. I...I can't even type something. Waaaah!

    By Blogger Marla, at 10:19 p.m.  

  • *** ASSVICE ALERT ***
    Feel free to delete it

    I run a rainbow unit (baby girl scouts) in the UK and they are aged 5, we find when they are clingy its often best for mum to leave (easier said than done) and then we get on with all the fun stuff or if mum can't do that, we get mum involved with the activities, but helping other children than their own.
    best find yourself a tu tu maybe?

    By Blogger Nicola, at 7:11 a.m.  

  • Awwwwww/// that's a heartbreaker. I've been through the exact same situation. Exact.Same. And it's the worst.

    I hope it works out for you guys. In our case we went back for a second try the following week (after "talking it up" for days). and perhaps a third, but she still wouldn't join the others. I tried leaving her there, but her sad cries echoed through the halls and reached my ears all the way in the parent's lounge.


    It took us a couple years to try again. And that time she did it.

    By Anonymous andrea from the fishbowl, at 8:15 a.m.  

  • Oh Kate - that was so hard to read, I can't imagine what it must have been to live through. Poor Alice - I hope she finds the courage to try again.

    By Blogger DaniGirl, at 12:47 p.m.  

  • Shit Kate. That made me choke right up. That was the most beautifully written thing I have read in awhile, and oh it aches. My bigirl is a bad 'starter', very insecure, even at age 9, starting something is very full of anguish for her. But it does get better, there will be good days and bad days. She sounds like such a super smart little one, so sensitive and aware of her own self....
    We went to lots of theose rec opportunities, and sometimes the teacher would let me join in. It helped. Sometimes I would get very I hate to say it, angry at her shyness and she would pick up on it and it seemed to only exacerbate the I just learned that it did not matter, these were not her defining moments and TRIED to let it go.
    Oh...this one is going to resonate for days.

    By Blogger crazymumma, at 10:45 p.m.  

  • Poor Alice (and mommy too!)

    I hope Alice will enjoy her beloved dance, in class, one day soon!

    By Anonymous Miche, at 10:02 a.m.  

  • Oh, my heart goes out to both of you.

    By Blogger tomama, at 11:03 p.m.  

  • Ugh, you made me tear up as well. I felt for you way back when you were transitioning Alice into her big girl bed. Things change so fast don't they? And then we see them regress once in awhile to a little baby again. It's all part of it I guess. You did the best thing though. I love that you got down and looked into her eyes. You are a good mama!

    By Blogger Stefanie, at 12:31 a.m.  

  • Hey Kate, just thought I would remind you that we are all waiting to hear what is going on with you and Alice. I have checked your site every day to see the continued saga. You must be very busy or sick to not be on for a month!! Come on, some of us live for this stuff - I want to be ready for being a Grammy - so what works for you might work for me. 20 odd years is a long time to remember how I did it!! Take care. love Jeanette love to Matt

    By Anonymous, at 5:42 p.m.  

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