Saturday, December 28, 2013

Just Keep Going (or what I'm learning from my daughter's ballet journey)

So, I have five kids. Three boys. Two girls.

Four of them study ballet.

And, when I say study...I mean study. My oldest son and daughter spend countless hours trying to perfect technique, line, form. My youngest daughter and son are in it more for the fun, but they work hard too. My middle son...he reads science books and writes middle grades fiction.

Now, you may be wondering how I  am so.....blessed as to have four children who all enjoy classical ballet.

It all started with this one.

She has always been busy. Really busy. The kind of person who, if left to her own devices, will quickly attempt to take control of everyone and everything in her path. She is a leader. No doubt about that, and I admire her for it. She is strong, feisty, kind and helpful.

But, she is busy and I am not.

I like to think things through, plod along at my own pace. Which is not to say I don't move forward, but simply that I don't move forward at my Sassy-girl's break-neck speed.

When she was two, Sassy said she wanted to dance ballet.

But, she was busy, and I just couldn't imagine my busy girl enjoying something as slow as ballet.

When she was three, I signed her up for gymnastics. Along with being busy and eager, she was also very flexible, so she moved quickly from recreational gymnastics to pre-team. She liked it and she was good at it, but while other little girls in the gym threw double back handsprings and begged for second and third and fourth turns on the equipment, Sassy would dance to the music playing over the intercom.

When we  moved from the east coast to the Inland Northwest, Sassy was seven. She was still asking to dance. I gave her a choice - gymnastics or ballet.

She chose ballet.

I signed her up for a ballet class at a classical ballet school. No competition stuff. No shaking her butt or shimmying into tiny little mid-drift baring outfits. Just ballet. Walk into class, hair scraped into a tight bun, body encased in a leotard and pink convertible tights. Nothing exciting or busy about that. Just stand at the barre and do the same thing over and over again.

I figured she'd quit at the end of the year. I thought she'd take a couple of classes and beg to go back to the gym.

By the third or  fourth week, I was called into the office and told that Sassy would be moving up to the next level of ballet. Even more serious, this level contained girls a couple of years older than Sassy who had all been dancing for several years.

So, up she went. To the next level.

She was rather a mess.

Sure, her teacher said she had talent, but she was always slightly off...a little ahead, a little behind. She was too energetic. Too excited. Too everything.  I got called into the office several times to discuss this....problem. Finally, I told Sassy that if she wanted to play, I'd take her to the playground. If she wanted to dance, she'd better settle herself down and get to it.

And, I thought she'd quit.

But, she just kept going.

We are five and a half years and three more kids into this ballet thing.

This week, Sassy has some time off, but her brothers have rehearsal, so she heads into the dance studio with them and spends an hour running through her Fairy dance for Midsummer Night's Dream. Then, she works on the ever elusive arabesque en pointe, and I shoot picture after picture which she soundly rejects has horrible.

Except for this one.  Which she said was okay but not great.

And this one...which we both think is cute.

A friend saw the pictures and said Sassy was a natural.

Sassy laughed, because she knows something she didn't know when she was two and asked to be a ballet dancer. She knows that there is nothing natural about what she does. Every day, she spends a couple of hours turning out at the hips, standing on the tips of her toes, moving her body into positions that most people can't achieve. While she does have a natural sense of movement and certain spark that goes a long way in conveying theme and story, she does not have the flexi-feet that her some of her friends possess. Rather than a long delicate figure, she has a long strong build. Just look at the muscles in her shoulders and legs. Those aren't from lifting weight. They are from dancing.

Talent is great, but it takes a lot more than that to be a ballet dancer.

Especially when female dancers with talent and facility are a dime a dozen.

This is the year when my daughter has realized that there are a lot of very talented very beautiful girls out there, and I really thought it might be the year when she decided to give in and give up. Ballet, after all, is hard work.  Being a dedicated dancer means giving up time with friends. It means missing out on birthday parties and sleep overs. It means saying no when you really want to say yes. It means giving up a lot.

To be blunt, it also means being passed over for parts because your legs aren't as thin as someone elses or because your feet aren't as bendy. It means that when you are twelve and look like you are sixteen, you need to try to dance like you are sixteen or people will think you aren't trying.

Sassy has learned all of this, but she still keeps pushing.

In the face of everything, she still has a deep passion for dance. She loves it the way I love words. To her it is music and expression. It is feeling and emotion.

It is work she loves.

Even when she's tired and discouraged and wondering where it's all going to lead.

She still keeps going.

Joyfully even!

Which is why when I am tired, when the next book seems impossible to write, when the words won't flow and the ideas are all locked up inside, I think about what Sassy said to me this past summer. She'd had a tough day. A friend had been told wonderful things about her future as a dancer and Sassy had simply been told what she needed to work on. She cried. Which is something she almost never does.

I said, "Sassy, do you want to stop? Is it even worth it?"

She looked at me like I was crazy and said, "Of course it is."

"So, what do you want to do?" I asked.

"Mom," she said in all her twelve-year-old wisdom. "I'm just going to keep going the way I am. I'm going to keep working hard and I'm going to keep trying. Someday that's going to bring me to the place I'm supposed to be. And wherever that is, I'm going to be much happier there than I will be if I quit and end up nowhere."


She's a busy one, that girl.

But, she's a smart one, too, and I'm learning a lot from watching this journey she's on.

Monday, December 09, 2013

My Child is Not a Thing

She is also not (in no particular order) -

A piece of art.

An exotic creature.

A different species of human being.

A circus freak.

My child is a young girl with white hair and gorgeous blue eyes. She is clever, bright, hard working and sweet. She loves everyone she meets, but she loves me and her older sister the most.

For the most part, Ms. Cheeky is exactly like her peers. Being slightly biased, I would say she is a bit smarter than the average girl her age. A bit quicker. A bit kinder. A bit more accepting.

The last comes, I think, from years when she was not accepted. Years when she looked so different from her peers that all she could ever be was an outsider looking in.


Here in the States, that is not the case. Her white hair is very white, but most people assume she is a platinum blond. Her hair is deeply admired by teenagers and young adults who often stop and ask me how I managed to get it so white. As if I would bleach my 11-year-old's hair!

It is true that Cheeky's vision stinks. Corrected, it is 20/200. She has no depth perception. Somehow, she manages to dance, to knit, to read, to run, to play. Just like any other child, she enjoys being with her friends. Most of them don't realize how bad her eyes are. Most adults don't either. I don't usually bother mentioning it unless I know Cheeky is going to be playing outside. My daughter does not, after all, need pity. She just needs to be allowed to be herself.

We were at the dance studio a few weeks ago. The mother of one of the new students was sitting next to me. She asked which girl was mine, and I pointed Cheeky out. She commented on her beautiful hair and then mentioned casually that Cheeky holds books very close to her face when she reads. She asked if I'd thought about getting her vision rechecked, because it seemed her glasses weren't working.

I explained that my daughter was born with poor vision, that it couldn't be corrected to anything close to perfect.

"Tsks, tsk, tsk," the woman said. "Poor baby."

"Why," I asked, "is she a poor baby?"

"Well, because, she can't see well."

"But she can sing well, dance well, knit well. She is an A student reading above grade level even though she only learned English four years ago. She has friends and a family that loves her. There is nothing poor about that."

The woman looked at me for a moment and nodded solemnly.

I'm not sure she agreed with my assessment of things, and I'm not sure I care.

The fact is, there is nothing to be pitied about my daughter. She is amazing. Maybe she won't ever drive a car, but she won't be sitting on her butt feeling sorry for herself, either. She has everything she needs to be a happy successful human being.

Which brings me to back to the beginning.
A couple of weeks ago, a friend found this while she was researching contact lenses for her daughter (who was also born with albinism).

Yes. It is. My daughter. In oils. The painting is on display in an art show. If you think I'm pulling your leg, go here and take a look.

I've known for a while that the photo this oil painting was painted from had been taken from my blog and posted all over the Internet. If you do a google search of Asian Albinism, you'll usually see it in the photos. That's why I went private on my family blog. I got sick of the sickos who think my daughter is a thing.

Seriously, people. She's a child. Not a piece of art. If you want to paint her, ask. If you want to post her photo all over the Internet for every creepy troll to see, don't.

Because if she were your daughter, your sister, your niece, your friend you wouldn't.

At least, I hope you wouldn't.

But, maybe this world is a crazier place than I think it is!