A few weeks ago, my elder daughter attended her first dance class. She’s loved ballet and classical music for a long time, and I waited until she was 4 1/2 to enroll her for three main reasons. First, she’s reserved and doesn’t separate from me easily, so it took following her best buddy to class to motivate her to attend. Second, I can’t afford unlimited extracurricular activities, so I wanted her choice to be a real interest, because realistically, a lot of our exploration has to happen for free. Third, I worry about the pressure associated with professionalizing children’s activities, and my objectives of movement and musicality would not fit within a studio context determined to raise future pro ballerinas. I might just over think everything, but the decision-making process reflected the tension of choosing and letting go.

After the first lesson, my daughter was delighted, but before she’d go back for the second time, she wanted to make sure the teacher still knew more dances. I assured her that the entirety of ballet had not been exhausted in a single 45-minute class. It’s hard for me to know what happens in each class because I can’t see into the studio; my role is to entertain the toddler in the waiting room and well, wait. I rely on my daughter’s perception and interpretation, as well as a few at-home lessons, to reveal the content of each week’s session. She told me that she loves that I’m not in the room, and I understand that. It’s a necessary mark of her independence to separate from me, to form her own interests, even to keep some aspects of her life private from my gaze.

And yet in nearly the same breath, she told me she wished I were in the room. I believe that too, because while she adores her best friend, she reminds me that I’m still her favorite person, a fact that’s evident to those who are close to us. We understand each other in a way I’ve understood few people before in my life, and while my younger child is sometimes a mystery to me, my elder rarely is. I often wonder how that will play out in our relationship through the years—when what makes us so harmonious now may cause conflict later on, as she tires of hearing how she is like her mother and steps out on her own to pirouette alone.

Yet there’s still much I don’t know, can’t know, behind that studio door and down the years stretching ahead of us. The two of us need to keep learning how to be together and apart, to balance our needs for interdependence with our needs for autonomy, to relate as mother and daughter and also as individuals. Ballet class is just one step along our respective journeys where our paths diverge ever so slightly; who knows how they will wend together and separately as time passes? I trust that God knows the days of both our lives and I pray that each of us does justice to the time with which we’re entrusted. Yet there’s still much I don’t know, can’t know, behind that studio door and down the years stretching ahead of us.

I can only pray what I’ve always prayed: that God will guide her feet and guard her heart and surround her with worthy friends to lift her up when I’m not there; that God will instill passion and a calling within her; that she will possess a desire to love and obey God irrespective of her mother. From the moment our children are born, they cease being our children; or as the poet Khalil Gibran states in The Prophet, “your children are not your children….You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.” The work of the bow is to be stable, to guide, to provide direction and momentum—but not to fly. And so I pray that my tiny dancer finds her mark or her melody or her metaphor, because at some point, I can only wait outside the door.

1 Comment

  1. My “tiny dancer” took the path of rejecting the love of her mother. Years of separation have not lessened the anguish I daily experience, yet my oldest will always be my dancer. Thank you for the reminder that our children are a gift from our Heavenly Father – sometimes to hold, sometimes to hold on to the memories of yesterday’s pirouette.

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