Did I want to be a ballet mom? No. Am I one? Maybe a little.
When I found out I was having a girl, I swore she would never step foot in a ballet studio. She was not going to stand in front of a mirror; she was going to hit a ball. I wanted my girl to feel good about herself. I wanted her to be strong.
“If you hear me calling myself ‘fat’, make me stop,” I said to Joe. I was pregnant and Ronan, who was 2, would sing with me: “Mommy has a big fat bottom.” (I did. 😉 )
Until I found out I was having a girl. (I still had the bottom – just had to give up the song)
I got rid of my scale. I even told my mother to stop me if she heard me say: “I’m fat.”
“Are you trying to blame me for something?” she said.
Cut to: two years later.
“Mommy, when can I go to ballet?”
“Let’s go hit tennis balls.”
“When will I be on the stage?”
So I took her to a ballet class in someone’s garage.
“No mommy, real ballet, the one with the barre and the mirror,” she asked, when she was three.
I signed her up at a Russian ballet school nearby. She liked it, but when another mother suggested that I hairspray her bun for the recital, I thought – I’m out. Chemicals on my baby?! No thanks! The mere sight of that Aquanet put me over the edge – one sniff of its toxic holding power and I was 16 again. I had loved ballet and it had broken my heart.
We were out for almost a year — home free — when Tess’s BFF asked her to PLEEEASE do the Nutcracker with her, so back to the Russians we went. One rehearsal with the “pointe shoe girls” and Tess was hooked. She’d dance all the parts, waiting on the sidelines for her turn.
“Are you seeing that?” one mother said.
“No. I’m looking the other way.”
Then one of the teachers said to me in the dark hall after class: “She could be a ballet dancer.”
Was that a compliment or a curse? She was five. But I started to crack, started to watch when she pointed her foot, when she pliéd. I let myself back into a world I’d thought I’d forsaken for good. I took Tess to see American Ballet Theater and The Joffrey Ballet, where I’d danced. I dug out my old pointe shoes.
Now, Tess is 7 and we are in our third Nutcracker season.
(One stressed out father said: “The Nutcracker is aptly named.”)
I am a level leader, in charge of 12 little girls.
Tess has rehearsal all weekend, 2 dance classes a week – it’s intense.
Her teacher says, “She didn’t pay attention today. She started on the wrong leg. She didn’t point her feet.”
“Point your feet,” I say to Tess and think, good Lord, Lindsay, what has become of you? Not as bad as the mother I overheard talking about hiring someone to sit on her daughter’s knees. (“She has the wrong knees. Look (pointing). The right knees are the kind you can’t see.”) But I’m on the spectrum, checking in on Tess, finding her mesmerized by her own reflection, shooting her a pay–attention evil eye.
“If you’re not into it anymore, let’s not do it,” I say. “It’s too much money. It’s too much time. It’s too much work.”
“But I love it,” she says.
Then point your feet, I think. The last thing I want to spend $25 on is a lecture on tendus.
We tell Ronan to “Look alive in the outfield.” We tell him to “Attack the ball,” when he’s at bat. Joe makes him hit on his backyard machine, plays catch with him, throws him endless pop-flies. Is that different somehow then suggesting to Tess that she stretch? (“Believe me sister, it’s easier now when you’re young. Take it from me.”)
I don’t know why, but it is.
My mother wouldn’t come with me to auditions because she “hated those awful ballet mothers.” Now I sit with the other moms while our kids dance to Tchaikovksy – dum da da di dum dum dum dum dum—chatting: “I only drink tequila now.” “I lost another tennis match.” Last week I said to a mother whose daughter has been with Tess since that first show: “Tell me if I turn into one of those psycho ballet moms.” I had been upset with Tess because she was goofing off. Her teacher scolded her. She goofed off again.
“No more Nutcracker,” I said, “We’re out of here.”
“Lindsay,” my friend said, “That was a little bit psycho-ballet-mom.”
To that ballet mom from this ballet mom – thanks for putting me in front of the mirror.