28 July 2017

Like Mother, Like Daughter

I wanted to give Eleanor something this summer. Abigail gets equine therapy and Eleanor doesn't, and this year, she'd old enough to understand that. I don't want my kids to think Abigail is our favorite or that they have to be sick in order to get our attention, but we definitely can't afford riding lessons for two girls. So I searched and searched and searched until I found something 1. Affordable that 2. She would like and 3. Fit in our schedule. I settled on pre-ballet at a studio only 18 minutes from our house at a time when Grandma could babysit her two siblings. It was only $44 for 4 classes. I took Eleanor with me to help pick out her tights and leotard and skirt and shoes. She tried them all on and we watched a YouTube video someone's proud mother took of her daughter's pre-ballet class. For weeks Eleanor talked about how excited she was. "I'm gonna dance ballet, Mama!" When the fated day arrived, she asked eager, "Do you have my shoes, Mama? In your purse?" We arrived early and she excitedly watched all the other pre-ballerinas arrive. "Are those my friends, Mama?"

The instructor, a surprisingly young girl in her early 20s invited the girls into the classroom. And promptly shut the door. I was taken aback, standing there with my purse on my shoulder and my camera ready.
"Can't parents go in to watch?" No, it turns out, parents are too distracting for such a young age group. So I sat in the unairconditioned lobby while the tap dancers upstairs pounded deafeningly until the walls shook for 25 long minutes. The instructor opened the door to Eleanor's classroom. "Would parents like to watch for the last 5 minutes?" I jumped up and followed everyone in, nearly tripping on Eleanor who was seated on the welcome rug just inside the door.
"Eleanor, what are you doing? Did you dance?" I asked, bewildered.
"She just sat there. The entire time. I couldn't get her to acknowledge me at all." The instructor was a bit dazed. She'd never had a student completely shut down before. I stood Eleanor up and coaxed her to stand on the black line.

The tan rug on the right is the one Eleanor spent the entire class on.
Eleanor was angry when she left class. She was confused and upset and didn't have words to express herself. "I didn't listen to the teacher," she said heartbreakingly in her tiny, three-year-old voice.
"Where you too shy to dance? Was it a little scary?" Her eyes kind of lit up. "Like Vivienne from Sofia? Are you shy like Vivienne?"
"Yeah, I was a little too shy."

We spent the whole week practicing dance moves. She preformed for me the moves I saw the other kids doing during the last five minutes of the first class. We got to the studio 10 minutes early and toured the room. "Is this the black line you are supposed to stand on? What color are the walls?" I had her practice a few moves in the empty studio, making sure she saw herself being successful in the mirror. When the instructor arrived, Eleanor and I talked about what color her pony tail and painted nails were to try to make her seem more familiar.

I again sat in the unairconditioned lobby and prayed the walls would withstand the tap dancers at least until class ended. When the instructor opened the door after the second class (we didn't get to watch any other classes), Eleanor was angry again. The instructor told me Eleanor had danced very well during the first half of the class, but then for some unknown reason, had completely shut down after 15 minutes. She sat on the rug and ignored everyone. I chatted with the lady who runs the YMCA's tot watch, where I leave the kids when I work out. "She doesn't talk to me or any of the other kids, but she plays with her brother and sister." She even tested Eleanor out that day and gave me a detailed report when I picked them up. "If I ask her about herself, she ignores me. But if I talk about Theodore or Abigail, she'll perk right up."

Later that week, Eleanor sparked an idea. "Remember when I got ice cream, Mama? 'Cause I was really good in music class?" Aha! Once during Abigail's music therapy class (which my other two attend as well), Eleanor did a really, really good job listening to me and following the teacher's directions, even through some tempting moments. She did so great, I took her out for ice cream afterward.
"Oh, Eleanor! If you do a really good job in ballet and listen to your teacher, we can get ice cream!" We, again, practiced dance moves all week, arrived early to tour the classroom, and discussed the teacher's new glasses. I contemplated asking the teacher if I could sit in on the class, acting as an aide of sorts for Eleanor, but in the end, I opted to wait in the unairconditioned lobby where the tap dancers were the loudest they'd ever been, and wondered what moron put the pre-ballerinas downstairs and the teenage tap dancers upstairs.

And when the teacher opened the door? Eleanor had regressed. Back to pure rug-sitting.

"We're going to get ice cream, Mama?"

Girlfriend did not take the news that she couldn't get ice cream very well.

But the lesson hit home for her. That fourth and final week, Eleanor showed me all kinds of new moves she'd seen the other kids do that I didn't know about and emphasized everything with, "And I'm going to listen to the teacher so I can have ice cream!" She'd run around the house on her tip toes with her arms spread wide. "I'm doing airplane, Mama, cause I can listen to the teacher cause I can have ice cream!"

I had really high expectations for that last class, certain that she'd seen the classroom and teacher enough to overcome some of her shyness, bolstered completely by the promised ice cream. But then a sub walked in the door. I saw Eleanor sitting down as the new teacher closed the door.

After 30 loud, sweaty minutes in that stupid lobby, the door opened and an angry Eleanor glowered at me from the rug. As I took off her ballet slippers and handed her purple Frozen sandals, I decided to take pity on her shy soul.

She's even too shy to get her picture taken.

At least she made it through all four classes. I mean, she didn't have much of a choice seeing as I physically made her go, but in reality, she did make it through the entire summer semester. I'm one of those moms who think it's really important to follow through on commitments. I was allowed to bail on commitments as a kid, and I think it taught me some bad habits.

And I do understand what crippling anxiety is like. As a kid, I used to take a book with me to family holiday parties so I could hide in a cousin's room and ignore all social interactions. I do really appreciate that my parents let me bring a book everywhere. Merely being at a loud, crowded party took me significantly out of my comfort zone, I don't think I could have handled it if I had been pushed further.

During one loud, sweaty lobby sesh, it struck me that I was doing all this to make Eleanor feel special, but what she really loves, what makes her feel really special, is shopping with me. She would have been perfectly happy to merely accompany me to Meijer and grocery shop. My local Meijer has a Coke Freestyle machine and Eleanor is over the moon when we split a strawberry Powerade, sipping with free abandon through the aisles. She's so proud to take it in and out of the cart's wiry cup holder all by herself whenever she desires.

I think we both learned some lessons this summer, and although I don't carry around regret about the class, I wouldn't do it again if given the chance. I asked Eleanor over ice cream, "Is ballet scary or fun?"
She thought for a moment.
"Scary." Pause. "Cause I like it."
Hmmm. Okay. Not sure why she thinks "cause" is a conjunction, but I get the picture. Ballet took her way outside of her comfort zone. But she didn't hate it. At least there's that.

We're a lot alike, I guess!

1 comment:

Cindy said...

Such a successful summer! You learned a lot about your daughter and she learned a lot about herself. Pretty productive I'd say!