Last fall, something happened to Greysen that is a story worth telling. I usually don’t blog about occurrences this long after they happened, but the impact of this experience on my parenting is significant enough that I wanted to share.
This is Greysen’s third year performing in her dance academy’s production of “The Nutcracker.” Without fail, she auditions every year. She wears a large paper number pinned to her leotard, and for the last two years she has requested to be cast as a “party scene” dancer. There are very few girls her age chosen for these highly sought-after parts, but with the optimism of a five year old, she thought that this time it would happen.
This year, my friend – who was at the dance studio when the cast list was posted – texted me which parts Greysen had been chosen for. She was to be a “mouse”, “snowflake,” a “little Russian girl”, and a “gingerbread”. Of these parts, she was most overjoyed at the idea of being a gingerbread. Aside from wearing a giant bonnet (one of Greysen’s all time favorite real-life accessories), the Gingerbread girls come out from under Mother Ginger’s larger-than-life-sized skirt. It’s a fun part, and she started to act out the parts she already knew right away.
When she arrived to her first gingerbread rehearsal, my husband heard the instructor share her surprise at Greysen’s presence to a co-instructor. Why, she asked, was she there? The instructor said to her assistant that she hadn’t cast her in the part.
My husband, who has had some minor disagreements with the instructor in the past, did what he was told and waited in the waiting area while Greysen attended the full hour of rehearsal rather than confront the instructor. He later explained to me that if she wasn’t supposed to be there, despite the printed cast list and the emails we received notifying us of the rehearsal, that the instructor would let us know.
That night, Greysen beamed as she showed me what she had learned that day. Confused about what my husband had heard, I decided I would speak to the instructor when I saw her later that week.
The next day, the normally no-nonsense dance instructor called me and anxiously confessed that Greysen being cast in the Gingerbread part was a mistake. Anticipating how disappointed Greysen would be from being relieved from the scene, and probably how furious I would be as well, the instructor offered to make up for it by including her in the party scene! THE PARTY SCENE!!
At this point, I just want to illustrate what the Nutcracker means to my daughter. My daughter’s most requested Pandora station this summer was “The Nutcracker” station. This is a child who requests to hear Tzachovsky by name. This is a child who asks me to curl her hair like they do in the party scene on any random day. Being cast in the party scene would THRILL her. I mean, Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday – she would be so happy!
The instructor had cast three party scene dancers instead of the usual five girls her age this year, and there was an available costume. It was meant to be!!!
But was it?
I hesitated, and really considered it.
Greysen hadn’t been cast in the part initially. She would LOVE the part and, as her mama, opportunities to see her happy are what I live for – but did she earn it? She was offered the part to spare her disappointment, not because the instructors thought her the best fit for the part. She hadn’t earned it – it was a consolation.
Should I accept something she didn’t earn just to spare her feelings? I would rather her be happy than sad, but isn’t a little disappointment a part of life?
So, I thanked her instructor and declined it. After all, this was life happening to my daughter right now – I could choose the easy no-bumps-in-the-road kind of experience for her, or I could let her experience life and feel a little sad because there will be plenty of things along the way that she will not be able to control.
After we said our good-byes on the phone, however, I was agitated. Why should I be expected to deliver the disappointing news to my daughter? In addition to me not wanting to see her sad, I knew how she would likely react – intensely. So, I followed my instinct and avoided the topic by not telling her that day.
Over the next few days, I spoke to my friends and became very resolute that her instructor should tell her that she was no longer cast, and not I. I was so earnestly disappointed for her that I just didn’t want to be the bearer of bad news.
I was also questioning whether or not I should have accepted the consolation part. It certainly would have been so much easier for me to tell Greysen, “You’re no longer playing a gingerbread, but guess what?! Instead you get to play your dream part!”
She attended class and the instructor made no mention of anything, but I also realized there was not a great time to tell Greysen during class about this loss. I really should be the one to tell her, at a time and in a place where she could express disappointment away from curious eyes. I knew all along, but was putting it off.
A few more days passed, and we continued on with the million other things happening in our lives, until one evening after dinner. I realized Greysen and I were sitting alone at the table sharing a gingerbread cookie my friend had made for her, and I just said it.
I explained that the instructor had made a mistake and felt that she wasn’t ready to play that part. I acknowledged her feelings when she cried, and hugged her when shared her confusion. I reminded her about the other parts and reminded her that she could try out again next year for that particular part. After some more tears, she was okay.
By the next class, she was better than okay. Months later, she performed in the Nutcracker with all the joy and wonder that she approaches the rest of her life with, only this year she did it with more varied real-life experiences. She danced with the pride of someone who had earned the right to dance in each particular part. She made new friends, and laughed alongside old ones. Most importantly, she experienced a little heartache, but got through it. Resiliently.