For weeks, she tried on her new leotard again and again, ran around the house in pink tights, and completed wild twirls in ballet slippers. And each and every day my four-year-old daughter asked, “Is ballerina class tonight?”
I should have realized that all of this anticipation would surely lead to disappointment, but I was too busy wrapped up in my daughter’s smiles and excitement.
On the morning of her first class, I was folding laundry downstairs when she pranced into the room wearing her ballet outfit. “I’m ready!” she exclaimed in her sing-songy voice. I smiled. We still had five more hours until the start of her class.
After a day of endless waiting, we finally arrived at the school where the class was to be held. As she climbed out of the car, she looked up at me and furrowed her brow. “I don’t think this is where ballerina class is, Mom.”
I watched a line of girls in tutus skip after their parents through a side door into the elementary cafeteria. I reassured her, “This is the right spot. Let’s go dance!”
We headed in, and she surveyed the room skeptically. It was a small, plain cafeteria with tables shoved to the sides and a large green mat in the middle of the floor. “This doesn’t look like ballerina class,” she mumbled as she put on her ballet slippers.
I smiled. “It is! Look at all of the girls getting ready. And there’s your teacher.” I gestured to the middle-aged woman sitting on the floor flipping through some papers. She was in baggy sweatpants and a polo shirt.
“She doesn’t look like a ballerina,” she argued.
I shushed her and pointed to some of the other girls sitting on the mat. “Go ahead. Join the other girls. This is going to be fun!”
My daughter slowly walked to the mat and sat with the other girls as I whipped out my camera with the other moms. I proudly watched as she followed the teacher’s instructions and stretched her arms and legs. However, a moment later she turned to me and glared. “This isn’t ballerina class!” she insisted loudly. I smiled but felt the tension creep into my body. This was not going to be good.
“It’s just warm-ups. You need to get your muscles ready,” I reassured from my seat at one of the cafeteria tables as I heard a few of the other moms chuckle.
Moments later, while the teacher was leading the little girls around the room as they all tried to kick their butts with their slippered feet, my daughter stopped in front of me and grabbed my leg angrily. “Mom,” she barked. “This is NOT ballerina class.”
Again I tried to reassure her, but I could sense her frustration escalating. Moments later, she started to break down. Unfortunately, this is our new norm lately. Whenever she is frustrated, or overwhelmed, she just can’t seem to calm herself down. There is stomping and whining, which quickly escalates to body contortions and tears.
I managed to get her back to the mat with the other girls, but she returned again and again to my seat. I tried to be encouraging, but that made her cling to me. I tried to ignore her, but that made her louder. I tried to scold her, but that made her cry harder (and me feel awful).
I spent the remaining thirty minutes angrily gesturing for her to go back to the mat with the other girls as I watched her scrunch up her face and cry; I also spent the remaining thirty minutes wondering if I was teaching her a valuable lesson or simply torturing her.
When the class was finally over, I was disappointed, frustrated, and angry. I hadn’t expected her to be a star ballerina by any means, but I had truly thought that it was going to be one of those magical moments of pure childhood happiness. After all, she had been begging to do this for months.
During the ride home, I lectured. I told her that she did not try her best, and I was disappointed that she didn’t listen to her teacher. She was unfazed, so I nagged and scolded more. I only accomplished making myself more upset.
It wasn’t until late at night, when I couldn’t sleep and my frustration and anger had subsided, that I realized the root of the problem. Because of my own disappointment in her actions, I had not recognized that she had been just as disappointed in the class.
My daughter had imagined a scene from a television show or book when I told her she would be going to ballet class. She had most likely pictured a beautiful sunlit studio, not a dark cafeteria with posters of the food pyramid on the walls. In her mind, a tall, thin, beautiful ballerina would lead the girls as they flawlessly jumped and twirled across the stage. Instead, she had a slightly overweight (but very kind and patient!), tired woman trying to control a class of twelve preschoolers with silly games.
I’m sure she also envisioned glitter… lots of glitter.
Her expectations had not been met, and I should have been able to see this earlier, but I had been blinded by my own disappointment. I had been aiming for the fairytale, as well. I wanted the version where my girl smiled, danced, and laughed her way through class. Instead, she gave up and turned into a whiny mess.
I was also disappointed in myself. Only after the fact did I realize that I had not done a good job of preparing her for what to expect. She is only four. Of course she has unrealistic expectations! Her only frame of reference is Angelina Ballerina and some other book we read where a cat named Mia performs in a ridiculous snow ballet.
Sure, it would have been ideal if my child had not given up and had persevered despite her disappointment, but I can’t expect that to just magically happen. She has to learn to do this.
So, we will return. We will try again. I guarantee there will be more tears – hers? mine? It’s anybody’s guess. But, the important thing is that we will be there. She will stretch, point her toes, bend her knees, and hopefully start to realize that there is beauty in these small steps.
If you haven’t already, hop on over to my facebook page, One Mile Smile, and tell me what activities have been a bust for your kids. Future posts of mine may include: “My Son Likes to Throw Soccer Balls at Parents in the Crowd” and “Watching My Son Wrestle Makes Me Cry.”