My six-year-old is painfully shy. She prefers to avoid eye contact at all costs and believes a smile is earned, not owed. Even here at home, she’s a stage 5 clinger, requiring constant physical contact. Part of me loves it because awwwww, my baby! But I also recognize how having me at her beck and call can hold her back.
She is a capable little human unless I’m within arm’s length, in which case she morphs into a puddle of “But I caaaaaaan’t!!” When in new or uncomfortable situations, I am her crutch. So when she asked to take a dance class, you can imagine my surprise. After establishing the obvious–other people would actually see her dancing, namely her teacher–she still agreed to commit to lessons.
Three weeks in and she was regularly returning home happily tip-tapping, showing off her new skills for her brother and sister. It was a thing of beauty to watch her willingly step (pirouette?) outside of her comfort zone.
With Halloween approaching, her dance teacher informed the class they would be participating in a parade. Because the younger dancers like my daughter had only recently learned the routine, the plan was to have them throw candy rather than perform in the parade. Until…
Those little ladies picked up the routine quicker than expected! One evening at lessons, the teacher excitedly announced their hard work had paid off: they would dance instead of throw candy! Oh, those tiny dancers were thrilled!!! Except for one…
My six-year-old had a full-blown meltdown. Through sobs, she insisted she would NOT dance in that parade. She was told she would throw candy and that is what she intended to do. My husband ignored the big emotions and tried rationalizing: “We’re paying for dance lessons, not candy-throwing lessons.”
Here’s something everyone but my husband knows: six-year-olds don’t really give a shit about family finances.
I tried empathizing with her:
Me: Baby, I know anything new can be scary.
Her: I AM NOT DANCING.
Me: But you’re a brave girl and such a good dancer! Even your teacher says so!
Her: NOT DANCING.
Me: Sometimes, that feeling we have in our tummies is just the energy we need to perform. Your brother and sister feel like that before they–
Her: THEN LET MY BROTHER AND SISTER DANCE.
After that, we approached the parade with very low expectations, and a simple request that she chuck a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup my way if possible.
The day of, my daughter took her place in line and reminded me no less than thirty-six times she would be participating in exactly no dancing. Her teacher said I could stay nearby during the parade if I thought it would help. I said no, thank you and ran away as fast as I could.
Because my shy, apprehensive daughter is very capable when I’m not there to prop her up.
I stood along the parade route with the rest of our family and we waited. Flashes of color and a cacophony of drums, sirens, and shouting whirred by. My son threw himself in front of a firetruck for the only Reese’s. I swelled with pride. He then stuffed said Reese’s into his mouth and gave me a sly smile. I plotted my revenge.
Finally, we heard the music that had become familiar to us. The music we had been listening to on repeat at home where our youngest family member unabashedly swayed her hips and bobbed her head. As the dance company neared, I warned my older kids not to make a big deal, fearing it would make our tiny dancer nervous. As children do, they blatantly ignored me. The second they laid eyes on their baby sister, they couldn’t control themselves. They screamed their hearts out, and rightfully so because
We couldn’t believe it! When she spotted us, her face exploded into an awkward smile that I felt in my bones. I burst into tears because I knew how very insurmountable that moment felt for her. Her smile said, “I’m terrified, but I’m okay!”
Capable. That’s my girl.
I later learned her sweet teacher had simply asked, “Can you please try to dance?” My kid begrudgingly agreed and probably wanted to cry. But she didn’t. I am 100% certain that would not have been the case had I been beside her.
No parent likes to watch their child suffer or struggle, but we all know life is not without challenge. Life is not custom-tailored to suit us. I remind myself of this every time I’m tempted to complain about something my kids are missing out on because of the pandemic. Instead of feeling bad about what they are going without, I try to focus on the things they are gaining: adaptability, patience, flexibility. It’s hard now, but I know they’ll be stronger and more prepared for tomorrow.
When I high-tailed it away from my daughter, leaving her to wait with her dance class, I felt the same way she did. Uncertain. Scared. Anxious. It wasn’t until the parade ended and our nerves dissipated that we both appreciated the value in opening ourselves up to the unpredictable. Often, it’s these experiences that turn into favorite memories and show us just how capable we are. With a little bit of grit and a lot of candy, my daughter learned what the rest of us already knew: We can do hard things.
And my son is about to learn he who steals my Reese’s gets underwear for Christmas.