My eight-year-old daughter’s ballet teacher recently encouraged her, along with four other classmates, to audition for a professional ballet production. As she has only been attending ballet classes for about a year, I thought that the audition would be an experience in itself, never mind the result.
A few days before the much-awaited date, we were told that the kids would be asked to perform cartwheels. It’s a skill that my ballerina hasn’t acquired yet. I was such a proud mama, then, when she said that she still wanted to try.
YouTube came in handy when she set about learning how to do a basic cartwheel decently. She practiced and practiced that even our 16-month old started saying “Weee!” (for cartwheel) while raising her arms and then flopping right down!
Joy and heartbreak
For one glorious week after the audition, my little girl was in ballet heaven. She got two small roles in the show along with her friends and was definitely feeling good about herself.
But then, she forgot to do one basic thing, and that was to practice.
On the first day of rehearsals, she came home crying, brokenhearted. She was taken out of the harder role (but still retained the other one) and was blaming herself for a poorly executed cartwheel.
As she sobbed in my arms, I was mentally flipping through the different parenting articles I’ve read that could help me help her. For the life of me, I couldn’t think of one. I just did what I’ve always done since she was a baby and needed comfort – I hugged her.
I was struck then that the articles I’ve read about failure and developing resilience in children, while inspiring and enlightening, do not mention the heartache that parents feel for their children when faced with such character-building situations. This was my daughter’s first major disappointment and I was caught unaware by my feelings. I was hurting too.
Still my baby
I guess it’s true what they say – no matter how old our children get, they will always be our babies. I wanted so badly for the director to change his mind and give my tween another chance, to make things all right for her.
As she struggled with her disappointment, I couldn’t help but feel miserable with her too. Her longing look at the other girls in the costume of her lost role pierced my heart.
I knew, though, that the experience of failure and rejection would be good for her, that it would be a learning experience for her. So I clung on to that belief and cheered her on. Slowly, slowly, her smile came back and she eventually declared that she would audition again next year. Whew!
Deep in my heart, though, I was still disappointed and hurting for my little girl. I guess sometimes, it’s the parents who need to get over their children’s heartaches.
Getting over it
Knowing that I couldn’t – and shouldn’t – do anything to change the situation made me redirect my attention and energy away from what I was feeling. It wasn’t about me.
Oh it would have been so easy to say, “Well that’s what you get for not practicing!” But the best thing I did was to shut my mouth (and listen and empathize) and give my child the space that she needed to come to terms with her emotions. I wanted her to shine through her own efforts, not because I paved the way for her!
And though I knew that this taste of failure would make any child a stronger person, I had to constantly
remind convince myself that it really was a learning opportunity for this child – my child.
While comforting her, I cast my thoughts into the future. I envisioned her as a strong and capable adult able to overcome life’s big and small bumps, and was calmed down.
While quietly using that very handy positive discipline and parenting tool – hugging – I was also being comforted.