I still remember when I told my oldest daughter that she was eligible to audition for the local production of The Nutcracker.
“The real one!” she exclaimed. “Like the one we see every year!”
She giggled with glee.
Every year after we attended the performance, a mother-daughter tradition, she would ask me when she could try out.
And each year I’d tell her that she would need to be at least 8 years old.
I suddenly felt like a new mom again—something a bit foreign to me as a mother of four.
So I certainly had that in the back of my mind when I moved her to the ballet school affiliated with the production. The jazz, tap and ballet combo at our small, local studio didn’t seem to provide her with the challenge she needed. And since my second daughter was begging to start as well, I could fit both girls in for their lessons on the same day, saving me a long drive twice a week with all of my four kids in the car.
And so she signed up, not a day too soon. Auditions were early the next day.
In the back of my mind, I knew her chances would be slim. Not because I don’t believe in my daughter and her dancing ability, but because I know how these things work. Indeed, she was one of the youngest students eligible and in the lowest level permitted to try out, and while she was probably just as good as the other girls in her age group and class, she had never actually taken a ballet class at the school. So while the other girls may have been used to the choreography and dance style of the instructors, she was not.
And I also knew that they use the same costumes every year. So her size mattered. The height requirements were clearly marked on her audition sheet. And I knew that though she seemed tall to me, she is slight in size compared with other girls her age, and might not be big enough to fit into the costumes.
I suddenly felt like a new mom again—something a bit foreign to me as a mother of four—but when you’re presented with a parenting situation that you’ve never been in, you regress back to those moments when you felt so helpless, so unsure of yourself.
Do I tell her that it’s going to be hard and that she might not make it?
So I did what I’d want my own parents to do, something they never did, and I prepared her with a bit optimism and realism, offering her the option of waiting to try out next year juxtaposed with the reminder that it can never hurt to try.
And she agreed, deciding that she had nothing to lose. I smiled proudly.
When we arrived at the studio, I gave her a few pointers as I pinned her number on, and told her just to do her very best.
Then a crying girl in a purple leotard just a little older than my daughter walked right past me and collapsed into her mother’s arms. Then I saw another. And another.
And I realized that they were telling the kids right after their audition. Not posting a list. Not emailing parents later as I had expected they would, considering how young the kids were.
I waited for an hour until finally I saw a few girls dressed like my daughter rushing out. Some crying. Others waving packets of papers, full of rehearsal schedules and costume fittings.
And then I saw her. Eyes red, trying so hard to hold in her tears until she couldn’t anymore.
I held her close to me in those first moments. Then quickly ushered her out the side door.
“It was so hard!” she cried to me, wiping her nose. “And I did my best but I just couldn’t get it, and …” She went on and on, her sobs heavy and loud.
I tried desperately to think of the right things to say, grasping at whatever I could, all of which were suddenly ridiculous clichés: “Well if your best isn’t good enough, then they didn’t need you anyway!” or “Hey, at least you tried.”
“There’s always next year,” I thought to myself, which would probably make me punch someone.
Do I tell her that it probably wasn’t her dancing but rather her size? Because maybe it was her dancing. And then I’m going to give her a size complex.
All I could formulate was “I know. I know, honey. I’m so sorry.”
It sounded so small compared to the size of her disappointment. But then I kept going and just told her how I felt. That I was so proud of her to try out even though she knew that it would be hard and that she might not get the part. That so many other girls would never have even gone if they were in her position. And that now she knows what to expect and she’ll have a whole year to learn new things and become even better.
She stopped crying a few minutes later and hasn’t talked about it since. And that’s how I hope it will always be.
Because what we have talked about is her courage and how that can apply to other things in her life. And about being disappointed when things don’t go the way we expected them to go and how we feel when that happens. And that trying something even though we might fail is the amazing, wonderful adventure of life.
I know there will be more Nutcracker auditions. And disappointments. So I’ve got to take the opportunity now to parent her through those so my own fear of failure, which has hindered me in so many ways, won’t be hers.