The invitation stares at me from my kitchen counter. It’s cream-colored card stock with daintily-embossed silver letters. The flourishing lines in the letter W, for We cordially invite you, are as slender and graceful as the twirling ballerina image wrapped in tiny pink lace.
“My Claire has been practicing for her ballet recital for the last six months. She’s really excited about it. Honestly, I’ll be glad when it’s over. I’ve been in the studio with her four evenings a week for rehearsals,” my friend had said with an exhale that sounded more like a song. “We hope you can come.”
She didn’t walk away from my front door. She shifted her weight to one side with a hand perched on her hip. I ran my fingers over the shining words lifted from the page like braille. My mind groped, as a rock climber searches a handhold, for a suitable response. I saw her fingers thrum the pocket of her pants. My rationality, like an unpredictable rock, suddenly crumbled into sand. My own thoughts betrayed me:
You’re kidding right? Claire is four years old! She spends four nights a week at rehearsals? Who has that much focus at four? And this invitation, it cost more than my last grocery run.
I blinked and shook my head to clear my floundering thoughts. “Thank you. Yes. We would love to go,” I stammered.
And that should have been the end of it. An event added to the calendar on my phone. Though, inside of me it seemed as if I’d disturbed some troll under a bridge. “Who dares to cross my bridge?” she’d bellowed in her long-slumbered voice and dead-fish, dirty-sock breath. Where did the defensive monster come from? My young children have been exposed to a variety of sports and activities. Is it okay with me that they haven’t shown the same kind of passion and dedication for any one activity like little Claire? May I cross the bridge even if they’re not anxiously awaiting a curtain call to share their talents with the world?
One year ago, immersed in preschool and newness, my two kids would come home all squeals, bouncing, and babbles. Mom-you-are-not-going-to-believe-what-Becca-and-Chase-did-this-weekend! I heard all about their friends’ soccer games, piano recitals, swim classes, and karate belts. Perhaps I’d misunderstood their enthusiasm. Their comments made me think they were ready and wanting to join in the fun.
As a family, we voted to start with soccer. For eight weeks, they ran away from the ball, picked dandelions in the field, and scored very enthusiastic goals into their own net. On the up side, they were both respectful to the coaches and were mostly engaged and willing participants. There was no kicking and screaming when I announced it was time to leave home and go to practice. However, no sparks were kindled. No Mia Hamms, no David Beckhams. Just simple and hearty no thank yous when I asked if they wanted to continue.
The same happened with swim lessons. They both excelled in their swimming skills and advanced quickly to higher levels of instruction. Eventually, however, they were distracted by who could blow more kisses and make sillier monster faces at me through the observation window. Time to wrap up swim lessons. They’d learned to swim. That was the point. No Katie Ledeckys, no Michael Phelpses.
For my daughter’s sixth birthday she asked for horseback riding lessons. I adore horses, so I was thrilled with the idea. Her enthusiasm was intense, especially for the sparkly riding boots decorated with Frozen characters. Her natural affinity with the horses and riding skill were evident. Keeping her little brother busy during her lessons and safely out of the manure piles became my challenge. After a few months of weekly riding lessons, I began to notice my daughter watching me play with little brother. There she sat, straddling a giant animal, her head turned almost backwards, while her teacher repeated the same instructions to my fence post of a child. Clearly my cue we were done with riding lessons.
My son did the same with t-ball. He began to find more excuses to extend his water breaks longer and longer when he noticed his sister and I on the sidelines playing with stuffed animals or building grass sculptures.
I called it quits when my daughter completed six lessons in Irish dance.
She had seen a video clip of four very young children Irish dancing on the show Hot Shots with Steve Harvey and thought she was destined to try. Families were kept out of the room for every class until the last one. My son and I sat down with the other parents to watch the final class performance. I wasn’t surprised by what I saw. There was my daughter, off in a corner, twirling in her own style, arms flailing in her new-age Celtic interpretation while the rest of the class performed at least something that looked akin to Irish dance steps.
Although she didn’t learn one bit of Irish anything, I was proud of her. She wanted to try something new, and she followed through without complaint. She was exposed to a type of dance and the process through which a person would go about learning any new activity, step-by-step. She was clearly having fun. She was happy. That was the point.
My two children are nothing like little Claire, the ballerina with so much focus, love, and desire for more day after day ballet instruction and practice. I am okay with that. I believe the world will have plenty of time to gain from their individual gifts and talents, whatever they may be. But right now, enough with the lessons. I want to embrace their incredible worlds of imagination and immense creativity. I want to help them build a habitat for the extended pill bug family they’ve collected. I want to ride bikes with them around the block, climb high in the trees, and play Old Maid until they finally let me win.
The invitation on the counter is serving as a reminder that I look forward to taking my kids to see Claire’s dance recital. What a positive opportunity for them to encourage and cheer for their friend. She deserves it; She’s worked hard. But for me it’s not about Claire or her performance. It’s about getting rid of my foul-mouthed troll. And for my kids, it’s a chance to see what hard work and dedication look like and the fun and challenge it can be.
I wonder what they’ll say when it’s over, but believe me, I won’t misunderstand this time. Is it okay that I am not raising any child prodigies in dance, sports, or art, or the next scheduled guests on Hot Shots? It’s more than okay. I’ll let the focus and passion blossom later, if it’s meant to be; but I’ll leave it up to them.
Today, I will wrap them both in my arms and embrace them in the beautiful, perfect, blessed place that we are in right now.
Carrie Kempisty is a military spouse and a stay-at-home mother of two littles. She has a passion for writing, running, reading, and playing outside with her family. Her website is www.CarrieKempisty.com