My teenager fell asleep in the car on the way home from Tampa, her head at an awkward angle against the seatbelt, her mouth slightly open. At a red light, I reached back for a stadium blanket and threw it over her, hoping its warmth would extend her nap. She had had a full week of school dance and studio dance, homework and tests, and two auditions. The coming week would be the same. It was our fourth trip to Tampa in a month for ballet. But when your child has a grace and a gift and a dream, you do whatever you can within reason and wallet to support them and help them reach their goal.
When she was in elementary school, she was too anxious to go on stage. Even though she knew every step, she needed me there. Her kind ballet teachers graciously made an exception and let me chaperone her class and stand in the wings while they did their group performance, sequins glittering to a Disney tune. Now I am no longer allowed in the wings; if she’s lucky, only her teacher is allowed. But most times she stands with the stage crew, other dancers, and professional photographers, or alone, before she goes on.
I sit in the audience now, waiting for the music to swell with a familiar note, the one that’s her cue to start. Usually, I watch her through tears, if I can see at all, stunned my body was able to grow this ethereal creature on the stage, puzzled as to how our DNA somehow rearranged itself to pour such grace and beauty into our child. I cannot fathom that the bobbling toddler who danced to Barney and the Wiggles, her face covered with lipstick and her hair bow askew, has grown into what is before me.
I don’t mind the long drives to Tampa, to Atlanta, or sitting in the car while we wait for practices or auditions to start. They are precious hours I still have with her. Times to talk, to tease out some information about school and friends and feelings from her. In the next four years, she will be gone from us — to dance, or to college, or both. There are big decisions coming, and I have to remind myself, they are not mine to make. I can give advice, advise, suggest, and prod, but in the end, she will bear the consequences and results of which choices she makes. She wants to be a professional ballerina. If her dream comes true, she will probably work her body to the bone for what may be really low pay with extraordinary competition always at her heels. Is this what I want for her, I ask myself. If it makes her happy, yes. Yes, I do.
It is hard to not get caught up in “Dance Mom” fever. Of seeing her successes as an extension of me (they are definitely not); of loving her for what she can do, and not who she is. She is my daughter, and “win” or “lose,” that is all, in the end, who she is. A loving and patient big sister, and caring and appreciative child who mostly has good manners, is kind to others, is quick to dismiss drama, works hard in school, and has a quirky and wonderful sense of humor. Her work ethic and dedication to ballet are astonishing for a 14-year-old. Whatever she does do in life, I hope she works as hard for and is as dedicated to; it will serve her well.
When the rejections come, the awards lists don’t contain her name, the “thanks for trying, but…” emails arrive, I hold her if she cries. I remind her she’s in this for the long game, not for a paper to pin on her bulletin board. I show her videos of when she was little, toddling about, laughing with the dog, and reading Where the Wild Things Are. I remind her that we love her for who she is and that will never change, no matter where she ends up. More and more she will need to pursue this dream away from me — for weeks in the summer, eventually whole years in faraway cities. We will love her from afar, and I won’t be able to hold her when she cries.
I can no longer even watch from the wings. But I will be there, in the audience, eyes filling with tears as I watch her fly across the stage, for as long as she continues to dream.