Every Monday morning I look forward to hanging out with one of my best friends while our daughters attend a class together. We started with gymnastics, and that was great– except a spirited Noodle would run around the gymnasium barely keeping herself from falling into giant pits of foam pieces or stumbling over balance beams. She loved it, but mostly for the chance to run around like a maniac and ignore everything the instructor said.
Thank goodness for patient teachers.
Soon our daughters began to talk about tutus and ballerinas. Noodle loves reading Angelina Ballerina and twirling like her favorite dancing mouse. Perhaps a dance class would provide the structure she needed to follow directions and help her succeed? My friend scouted out a class, and while it’s a hike for me to get there (an hour with Monday morning traffic, on a good day) we signed up.
Pink leotard (with a skirt), tights, and ballet shoes were purchased. Fees paid. By Monday morning, Noodle was in such an excited tizzy she couldn’t contain herself. The entire drive down, she kept repeating, “I go to dance class, mommy? I dance in the class? I do a twirl?”
Of course we were late, darn traffic. The parking lot is a mile long, so you can imagine how I looked– holding Noodle, her skirt flying, pushing Ben one-handed in the stroller, possibly balancing a cup of coffee in my “free” hand (hey, it was 9 AM and I needed it!)– and running through a parking lot of cars cursing the architect who planned this crazy-long parking area/entrance.
Then we had to use the elevator, thanks to the stroller. Insert Jeopardy music here as I attempted to catch my breath and wait for the elevator to rise up one floor in 5 minutes.
Doors open, we dash in, and repeat the running/pushing/carrying thing until we get to the classroom. Stripped off Noodle’s coat, changed her into her ballet slippers, and pushed her into the room.
From the window, I watched my little ballerina ignore everything the teacher said and instead stand watching herself in the mirror for the entire class– smiling, posing, and twirling. She was in heaven.
Okay. It was her first class, and we joined it in the middle of the year after most of the other girls had been dancing together for months. We didn’t have a ‘gentle landing’ to get her ready for it. Perhaps she missed the part where she figures out she’s supposed to listen to the teacher. There’s always next week, right?
The following week was the observation day, where parents got to sit in and watch the class. I watched my daughter once again ignore the teacher, run around the room, dance alone in the mirror, hop when the other girls were twirling, twirling while the others were doing pliés. At one point she hopped to the middle of the room and put on her own dance show. My thoughts ran from being mortified to laughing uncontrollably. I *may* have taken a cell phone video and put it on my personal Facebook page, where it got quite a good reaction from my fellow Noodle fans.
“It’s only her second class,” I told myself.
“She’s incredibly happy here and full of joy,” I continued to rationalize in my head.
“Your daughter is so cute!” the other mothers told me.
“Thanks! It’s only her second class and she’s incredibly happy and full of joy!” I responded with a smile plastered on my face.
Class #3 was over a holiday, so daddy joined us to observe the fun. When the other girls lined up to practice a move, Noodle ran down the line three times tapping each little ballerina on the belly.
Class #4 was also on a day daddy could join us. Noodle enjoyed the ribbon dancing so much she ran around like a Tasmanian Devil and refused to put her ribbon away.
The week before each class, we talked about being a good listener and what listening looks like. We played “Mirror Mirror” to get her in the habit of following directions and practiced common ballet moves that I looked up online so she’d know what the words meant. “This is so FUN, mommy!” she’d say as we practiced. “Again, again!”
Finally, by class #5 I watched through the window as all the girls lined up and danced in a circle following each other. My tiny dancer, a good head shorter than the others thanks to her years of feeding issues, ran the opposite direction– smiling, laughing, but going the wrong way. She stood when they sat. She sat when they stood. At one point, she danced around the Christmas tree that stood alone in the corner, several weeks past Christmas. Apparently the tree didn’t follow rules, either.
It was too much. Tears appeared out of nowhere, invading the corners of my eyes. They burned there until one dripped down my cheek. My heart felt like it was being squeezed, and it hurt. We are so blessed– SO BLESSED– that she has come this far. According to the doctors she should be a vegetable. She was never supposed to walk, let alone run or think or wear a tutu. But sometimes the ‘being different’ is like an invisible weight. From the outside she looks normal, but inside harbors something that makes her different. Why can’t she listen? Why can’t she understand directions? Why won’t she do what she’s so obviously supposed to be doing? What part of the trauma of her early years gave her ADD, was it something I did???
Even in hindsight, tears still fall recalling that moment. It’s hard to watch your kids be different, even in a household that encourages individuality. Sometimes being different means more than just “she’s having fun” and encroaches into will she be able to learn in school or remember the rules when it comes to driving a car or hold down a job territory. As the tears stung my eyes, my loving friend hugged me and it felt okay. This friend who has known Noodle since she was in the NICU and loved her every step of the way, no matter what the outcome would be, made it okay. Somehow, that hug made me feel better and before the other moms noticed I swiped away the tears and took my last few sniffles.
That week I gave up playing Mirror, Mirror and faux ballet practice at home. For class #6, I let her walk into the room with a simple ‘have fun!’ instead of ‘listen to the teacher! watch what the other girls are doing, and do the same thing!’ She scurried in and joined the girls sitting in the circle.
She also sat in the circle.
When I tortured myself by peeking in the window a few minutes later, she was in line with the girls happily following the dots on the floor. A few minutes after that? Dancing with the ribbons, and while she was the last to do so she still placed hers in the box. Then she cleaned up a few straggling ribbons and joined the others at the ballet bar…. where she danced the moves the teacher was modeling with the other girls, beaming when she caught a glimpse of my face in the window. When it came time to jump, she jumped. Plié time? Pliéd. Oh, it’s time for a pirouetté? Let me show you how it’s done.
I’m sure in between my peeks in the window she didn’t do a thing she was supposed to, but you know what? That’s okay, too. She showed me she could listen and follow directions while still being happy, and still being her.
As class was dismissed, she accepted the lollipop from her teacher and handed it right to her brother because he wanted it. My heart swelled. She is such a beautiful person, whether she knows how to plié or not.
God, how did I get so lucky?
I’m sure class #7 will be full of surprises, Noodle-isms, and plenty of moves only my Tiny Dancer could make. The heavy heart over her special learning challenges will probably always be there. But just for one day, it felt amazing to watch her spread her tiny wings and think that maybe things will be okay.
The truth is, you can follow all the rules in the world– and all the people in the world, for that matter– and still be miserable. You probably will be miserable, actually.
For my baby? I’ll choose happiness. Happiness beats just about everything else in my book.