Last night my six-year-old daughter had sneak week at her dance class. Basically, parents were invited to watch a class and sneak a “peek” at the recital dances that they’ll be performing in a few months.
I was excited because Lili usually does really well at performances. Her memory is good and she’s usually the loudest, smiley-est, and most energetic. (There was one Christmas pageant performance where she was part of a large angel chorus and was decidedly not feeling it, mostly because she found the costume “bland.”) My kid is never the one who cries or hides or stares blankly into space.
Last night, she was. It started with the warm up. Somehow the simple acts of doing butterflies and touching her toes had her in tears. She went through the exercises with a dripping face to rival any performance in Les Mis. Next, she executed her ballet dance technically well, but after each run, despite my encouraging smile and waves, looked at me forlornly and gave me a thumbs down for reasons I do not know.
By the time they got to their tap dance, she was in full on martyr meltdown. This dance, which she struggles with, she barely attempted. Instead she cried. And cried. And cried. Silent tears dripping down her face in the few moments she didn’t bury her head in her hands or turn her back on the room. I stopped watching her directly, thinking that might help. All it did was allow me to watch her cry in the mirror.
But what finally pushed me from annoyed to angry was when she was instructed to watch the other half of the class (who had just watched her group) perform the dance. Lili turned away from them and watched herself cry in the mirror in extreme close up. It was like a really sulky Norma Desmond (sadly, Lili is not one of those pretty criers–she has no future in soap operas).
All the other parents rushed to their kids after the class to tell them how great they were. We walked silently to the car. She knew I was disappointed. And she was right. I suppose I could have told her it didn’t matter, that she tried and we all have rough days.
But here’s the truth: she didn’t try. And while we do all have rough days, crying over it for that long (I suspect for attention seeking purposes) and taking the teacher’s time to deal with the drama does matter. Never mind that the teacher is a girl I used to dance with who was teaching the class injured–I felt bad for the kids who were working so hard and nailing the dance or at least trying.
On the way home Lili and I talked about if she should continue dance. My vote was no. Dance, I reminded her, is supposed to be fun. Sure it’s hard, but not everything is easy and hard things can be fun. There was more crying and I didn’t try to comfort her. Perhaps that makes me mean. Instead of telling her it was okay, I tried to talk to her about commitment and learning from rather than wallowing in mistakes.
A colleague and I were discussing the participation generation earlier today–children raised with the idea that everyone gets a trophy. Maybe it was that frame of mind that led me to be hard on her. I feel bad about it; I don’t want to be strict with my children. I want to be their champion and cheerleader. But every day I see what happens when students don’t have standards and deadlines. I find myself battling with young adults (and sometimes older adults) who lack discipline, responsibility, tenacity, and work ethic. I don’t want my children to end up that way.
And so I stop myself from rescuing them when I know they can rescue themselves. It’s hard and sometimes it makes me want to cry–no one wants to be the mean mommy. I always tell them I love them no matter what, but I demand they work hard and learn to pick themselves up. In my heart I think it’s the right thing to do. I just wish there were an easier way.