Ever started ballet this week. Real ballet. She’s been in “creative movement” classes for years, but you know, real ballet is serious. It’s intense. No more of this fluffy pink tutu garbage. Real ballerinas wear black.
So, I dropped off my giddy girl in her black leotard and the blush colored tights with the seams on the back of the leg and the holes on the bottom of the foot, and I took my toddler to the toddler play room so she could fall off things and eat dust bunnies while we waited for Big Sissy. Everything was fine, and after the hour passed, I went to go pick up my ballerina.
I handed the teacher’s assistant my pick-up pass and smiled, excited to hear all about the pliés and tendus, but instead of being greeted by the perky girl I dropped off, I was pummeled by the flying body of my five-year-old, her little face contorted. She actually knocked me to the ground and I could feel her shaking and crying as quietly as a person can cry. She wrapped her arms around my neck so tight that it hurt, and whispered, her voice trembling, “Please take me home, Mommy.”
I’m crying again, just remembering the moment. It was horrible.
I had no idea what had happened yet. I knew that whatever it was may very well have been her fault. But, as I held my long, lean baby with her perfect little ballet bun still wound up so tight, I wanted to walk into that ballet studio, give that kind, doing-her-job, upstanding ballet teacher the most aggressive glare I could muster and summon real life fire from my lungs.
“WHAT DID YOU DO TO MY BABY!!!!!!!?????”
(pile of ash)
As it turned out, Ever’s teacher was lovely (even Ever said she was very sweet), and Ever tried her very best to do everything right. But, she’s never been in such a structured environment before, so when she had a question for the teacher, she simply said “Teacher?” at a time when she wasn’t supposed to speak.
At the end of class, she didn’t get a sticker on the chart because she talked when she wasn’t supposed to.
She was trying, and she wasn’t good enough.
You know the expression about the apple and the tree?
I went home with sore arms every day of 1st grade. See, my teacher, Ms. Jackson, told us on the first day of school that when we were at our desks, we were supposed to keep our hands neatly folded. Taking that command fully to heart, I made sure that not only were my hands always folded when I was at my desk, but they were so folded with such intensity that I went home feeling like I’d spent the day doing a tiny six-year-old-style tricep workout.
One day, I did exactly what my Ever-baby did. I was trying to do what I was supposed to do, I had a question, and I said “Ms. Jackson?” before I was called on. “No talking,” my teacher said, sending me to the front of the room to get a “pink slip.” Pink slips meant you did something bad.
I held in tears and tried to ignore the lump in my throat and knots in my stomach as I sat, for the next eight hours, like a military soldier, waiting for my mom to pick me up. I cried myself to sleep that night. No amount of hugs or consoling from my parents would pull me out of it. They literally had to take me to the guidance counselor, sweet Mrs. Corbett, the next day, to get me to go back into my classroom.
Mrs. Corbett smiled, and spoke to me gently and unhurried as I hyperventilated and jiggled my leg. She said, “Scarlet…Sweetie…you know, you don’t have to be perfect.”
For people who are wired like Ever and I, life is nearly unlivable outside of the Gospel.
I lived in panic and sin and guilt and striving for so long.
I tried to be perfect. But, it didn’t work. Jesus is what worked.
Being a parent is such a heartbreaking and weighty thing. I want to somehow infuse the wisdom I’ve gained from all my mistakes into these little, not-yet-fully-formed brains, so they don’t have to feel the pain I’ve felt. But, I can’t do that.
Ever and Brooklyn and Joy will all have their unique stories. They will all try their best at times, and they will all fail in ways so much worse than not earning a sticker at ballet. They will all hurt and I can’t prevent it.
But, I can hug them hard after ballet class. I can love them, whether or not they get all the stickers. And I can pray Jesus will capture their hearts and cover their sins and leave their fears in a pile of ash.
*Ever gave me permission to share this story.