The space that had seemed enormous quickly filled with eager pre-teen bodies clad in leotards, most of the giggling girls with their feet bare except for the tape across the balls of their feet. Ponytails bounced and swayed, clusters of two and three formed on the hardwood floor. I peered through the picture window, jaw tight, eyes locked on my eldest daughter - the shortest by at least 8 inches. Probably the youngest, too. She sat criss-cross-applesauce on the floor, facing the mirrored wall, spine straight, wide eyes following the young-twenty-something instructor in her long shorts and t-shirt.
I made silent plans to praise her for her courage - taking this class full of strangers, following the teacher's directions explicitly, not wavering. I stayed for the first ten minutes and then headed to the grocery store next door to get ingredients for dinner. She was so brave - didn't falter when I waved good-bye - trusting that I'd be back before class ended.
The sunshine outside was too bright. As I went through the double doors to the fluorescent produce section, sensory overload set in. Pushing the cart was all I could do as I struggled to gather my thoughts. Which direction should I go? Where to start? I was sure to forget some vital component of tonight's dinner and we'd have to get by. I wanted to put a healthy, tasty dinner on the table for the first day of school. Focus, girl! Maybe if I hit every aisle methodically I would remember everything I needed. Checking the clock on my cell phone, I quickened my pace. Finish before the class ends or she'll be scared.
The ride home began with sobs from her car seat. The teacher had flashed me two thumbs up at the end of class - letting me know that she was terrific - she fit in and did all the steps. She was flexible and agile enough for level 3 jazz class. I was so pleased!
"I don't want to do the class, Mommy!" she sputtered. "It's too hard! I'm so much younger than everyone else and she goes too fast - I can't follow the steps."
NO! Please don't quit! My chest was screaming. You won't play any team sports, anything competitive. You quit gymnastics last year and you were the best at the gym - it kills me! I was so embarrassed. Shameful. What? Why am I ashamed?
"Sweetheart, give yourself a break. It was your first class. Most of these girls have been dancing at this studio for years, now. Being the youngest in the class means that you're even better than they were at your age. The teacher gave me the thumbs-up sign - she thinks you're great and you can handle this class. You'll do great - just give yourself a few weeks to get the routines," my words came out like an auctioneer. She wasn't going to get any time to object.
"It's too late, anyway, Mommy. I'm tired. I hate not getting home until 6:30 after a full day of school. I don't want to do it."
"Now you're just making excuses. I don't want you to quit just because it's hard. I think you'll have fun and when I watched you, you were really getting it. Besides, it's only one night a week that you'll be late."
"Nuh-uh. Choir is Tuesday nights and it goes until 6, too. Mommy, I don't want to be out late two nights in a row."
Now I was angry. She was going to fight me all the way on this one. Find any excuse to give it up. She always quits when something is challenging. How am I ever going to teach her to hang in there and work at something?
"Fine. But don't think you're going to just drop it. Pick something else instead - something that will give your body exercise. Something athletic. But you're running out of options. You quit gymnastics. You've ruled out team sports. You won't do swim team because they have races. What else is there?" My tone was nasty - condescending. I hated myself for it, but justified it by rationalizing that everything I was saying was true.
"I don't know, Mommy. I don't want you to be disappointed. I know you wanted me to do jazz."
That arrow hit the soft spot. Now I really hated the words I'd spat out.
"No, honey. I want you to find something that you enjoy. I don't want you to choose because you think I want you to do it. If you're not having fun, it's not worth it." Worth. It. "But I'm not going to waste our time or money paying for something over and over again if you're just going to quit." Ugh. There I go again.
Her cheeks are glistening with tears. She knows I'm disappointed and angry. I glance at her over and over again in the rearview mirror. God, why do I do this to her? I love her. Why do I feel as though she has to use all of her talents right now? Why do I feel so ashamed and embarrassed when she chooses not to finish something? Why is it that the thought of telling my friends and co-workers that she gave up again slays me? Why do I use the words 'quit' and 'give up.' Why am I sending her this message that she has choices, but there's pressure to choose the thing I want her to choose? What kind of freedom is that? Why can't I believe that she truly doesn't like it instead of instantly thinking that she's being lazy or a wimp? Why can't I separate my ego from hers?
I love this child. The depth of my pride and affection when I look at her is endless. It is my own self-loathing that gets mixed up in this sludge when I see her as a strong, capable eight year old girl - one that I wish I could have been. It is my fearful eight year old that believed she would fail everything that is dying to teach her to survive, not give up. Instead, I'm teaching her that she has to continue on even if she hates it, if only to show some invisible army of judges that she CAN. I am so sorry, my precious girls. Both of you deserve better. I promise to try.