I am in the car on a Saturday morning driving my daughter to ballet class. “Mom, I don’t think I’m going to follow my dream.”
“What do you mean, you don’t think you’re going to follow your dream?”
“To be a famous ballerina, I don’t think I’m going to follow it. I don’t think I’ll ever be a famous ballerina.”
I’m stuck. She’s right. She’s tall, tall enough to never make the cutoff for the chorus at the American Ballet Theatre, and she’s awkward, and she lacks discipline and focus and just about any other attribute that comes in handy for a ballet dancer. And then there’s her DNA. The only 6-year-old ballerina I ever observed who was less of a dancer than my kid was my other kid, her older sister, and the best thing that ever happened to her sister’s ballet career was becoming a hockey player instead.
But we’ve continued with the charade of “becoming a famous ballerina” for a few years now, going to lessons and recitals in the high school auditorium, buying costumes and tutus and reading books. Books about Barbie ballerinas, pony ballerinas, ballerinas with big dreams, big ears (because that ballerina happened to be a mouse) and big feet. They all make it to the big time, the mouse, the Barbies, even the book with the big-footed ballerina — they all follow their dreams.
There is a part of me that wants to get down on my knees in front of my daughter and tell her she can follow her dream, she can be a famous ballerina; whatever it takes, our family will be there for her, supporting her and cheering for her. She can be whatever she wants to be. But it seems she’s already figured out that isn’t always true.
Instead I tell her that maybe she doesn’t have to be famous, she can still dance and be a ballerina and not be famous. My words are a consolation prize. I tell her she could be a teacher and teach little girls how to dance. My daughter pauses and thinks about it and responds that maybe that would be okay. After dosing her with realism, I feel like I’ve done something wrong.
I don’t know how to dance this dance — the one where we balance our children’s dreams with what they are capable of achieving.
Last week my daughter told me she was over princesses and I didn’t need to buy Cinderella plates for her birthday party. My sister tells a version of Cinderella where, instead of the smallest foot in the kingdom, Cinderella has the biggest foot in the kingdom because she’s so tall. I love that version of the big-footed Cinderella, and whenever I tell the story that way, all the cousins squeal, that isn’t right and that’s not how the story goes. And the cousins are right, if you go watch the ABT perform Cinderella, she doesn’t have the biggest feet in the kingdom.
Maybe I need to figure out how to teach my ballerina that as long as she is willing to write her own endings, life can still be a fairy tale. She doesn’t have to get over princesses or give up on being a famous. We can all follow our dreams and live happily ever after in a messy house with a smelly dog and a front room that needs curtains, even if we have big feet.