Leaps and Bounds

By: Brandy Black

toddler ballerina

My daughter has been asking us to put her in ballet class for the last few months and we finally found one that accepts children as young as 3 years old.  She awoke this morning and not only picked out her outfit for the day, which is typical, but she actually got herself dressed from head-to-toe.  She proudly came into our room showing off her pink Angelina Ballerina tutu, striped socks, and black ballet shoes.  She was ready and couldn’t understand why we had to wait another 30 minutes to leave.

“Why can’t I go to ballet NOW?”

I wanted to take off those socks and put her in proper pink tights but, after having witnessed such independence, I didn’t have the heart to –so off we went to our new class.  The GPS and I didn’t agree and I took a wrong turn into a strip mall. As I was turning around with a few minutes to spare, Sophia screamed in the background.

“Are we lost?  Are we going to miss the class?  Mama you took the wrong turn!”

Hmm…I have no idea where she learned that!  I quickly calmed her as my wife does me when I go into panic mode and we raced into class.  Upon checking in, we discovered that when they said you can come on Saturday to sign up for your first trial class, they meant sign up on Saturday and take a trial class 2 weeks later!  Have you tried to explain something like this to a toddler who has been counting down the days?!  Sophia stood, ballet bag in hand, devastated.  She didn’t say anything.  The owner looked at her forlorn face and without comment came around from the inside of the office, reached out, shook my hand, and escorted me into the classroom to introduce us to Ms. Susi.  Ms. Susi graciously extended an invite to Sophia to join the class and all was right again.  I had to explain to Sophia that I couldn’t participate with her, that I would be waiting in the other room. I showed her the window from which I would watch, but when the time came to part, she couldn’t let go of me. She held me close to her and whispered

“Mama I need you.”

So I stayed.  I was one of those moms who, after being instructed to leave the room, didn’t.  I made an agreement with Sophia that for the first class I would sit in the back and watch but I couldn’t get up and do anything with her; I would ONLY watch.  Even still, Sophia wouldn’t leave my side to take her place on the white masking tape that marked her spot on the dance floor.  All the other girls began their toe taps and Sophia sat on my lap watching.  I wanted to push her to go out there –I knew how badly she wanted this but I also knew that she had to make the decision on her own.  We sat watching together.  After stretching, each girl lined up one-by-one on the left side of the room to do their next round of moves. I scootched Sophia over with me, in hopes that being a bit closer to the action would nudge her in the right direction.  She held tight.  Each girl spun in circles around the room in black leotards and pink tights, all those tiny matching ballerinas having a ball.  I looked down at Sophia and saw big tears welling up in her eyes.  She looked up at me, stoic.

“Are you ok?” I whispered.

She didn’t say anything but her lip began to quiver as she laid her head on my arm and continued to watch the girls.  I knew that she had reached that moment where she had to make a decision to let go of her fears, let go of her mama, and muster up the courage to go out and do the thing that she had been asking to do for months.  I could tell that she was disappointed in herself for not doing it.  I could feel all of her pain as if it were happening to me.  I held her tight and whispered in her ear,

“Remember in Angelina Ballerina (a cartoon about a mouse who loves to dance) when she goes to her first day of dance school and she’s scared and she starts crying and runs out of the room and then her mom comes and brings her lunch and tells her to go have fun and encourages her to dance with the other kids and then she does… remember? How much fun she has?”

Sophia didn’t say anything.  She wiggled out of my arms a bit and moved her butt to the edge of my lap, as if she were at the end of the pool ready to take the plunge.  She watched a bit longer and then whispered again

“I need tights mama.”

It was as if she were reading my mind.  I had been wondering if it occurred to her that she was the only one in a pink leotard without tights and I had been wanting to explain that they clearly have rules about what to wear but I didn’t want to bring it to her attention and make her feel insecure if she hadn’t even noted it.  This made me think about how quickly we all learn to step in line, follow the rules, avoid standing out, conform.  It broke my heart a bit that she was learning this, will learn this –another moment where my baby becomes a girl.

“We’ll put tights on you for the next class. It’s ok baby.”

She looked up at me.

“I want to go out there mama.”

“Ok baby, go. Have fun; I’ll be right here watching.”

She got up and took one step, turned around, I smiled, she took another step and then stopped.  She waited, staring at the other girls.  Ms. Susi quickly brought her over and now there she was a little pink angel in a sea of black leotards, eyes wide open, watching everyone carefully, trying to fit in, letting go of her fears.  I held back my tears of joy knowing that she would later be so proud of herself, so happy that she did it.

The girls sat in a circle stretching with the teacher, who asked each one to name her favorite color.  The first girl chose both pink and purple and every girl after chose one of those two colors. “Pink.” “Purple.” “Purple.” “Pink.” Sophia was last. I wondered if she would say her real favorite color, or if, to fit in, she would say pink or purple like the others.  When Ms. Susi finally asked Sophia, she proudly and confidently looked up and said…“RED.”

My little girl was still in there, not afraid to be herself.  Sophia spent the rest of the afternoon showing us what she did in ballet, talking about her next class and asking if she could wear her pink tutu again.  She let go, she conquered, she prevailed, and she is still my original, my one and only…Sophia!

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