my little ballerina…
You know what’s hard about having four kids?
Everything. The answer is everything is hard with four kids.
But I feel like the hardest part is that I cannot do a good job with all four at once. It’s impossible.
Lately, the littles have been taking up more than their share of my attention, which means the bigs have gone without it. I hate that they get the short end of the stick so often.
They understand, because they are awesome. But it’s still not fair to them.
Last night, however, I went (BY MYSELF) to go watch my firstborn do what she loves most: ballet. Normally, parents aren’t allowed to watch class but this is parent observation week- the one week all year we are permitted to sit in and see what they do.
I sat there in the studio, spell-bound by my hard-working daughter. I watched as she pushed herself two hours closer to achieving her dream of becoming a ballerina. Her legendary Russian teacher was soft-spoken and very strict; her thick accent was almost impossible to understand. She demanded total perfection in every movement and would stop the music to correct each dancer’s mistakes, making them repeat the move until it was exactly what she wanted. The room was silent other than the classical piano music. No one spoke.
None of us watching even dared to move.
I think I held my breath the entire two hours, afraid I would make noise and draw her disapproving gaze.
It struck me how disciplined, how rigorous, and how demanding Livi’s dream has become. No longer is dance about fun and friends for her, it is a daily grind in the truest form of the word: five days of her week are full of endless repetitions of perfected poses and school work. There is no down time or social time. Yet, she loves it. Lives for it.
It’s crazy how much clarity comes when I get to focus on one kid for two hours. It was like I saw her, really saw her, for the first time in years. My mind started to play this little movie of her life, putting memories together of some of the big moments that have gotten us here.
First, I watched 3-year-old Livi, who wore the same purple sparkly leotard every.single.day for 5 months, twirling everywhere she went. Everywhere. She was my little ballerina. I had to wash her leotard while she slept or she wouldn’t stop crying. Looking back, I should have known then that ballet would become something big in her life. She still wears a leotard most days of the week, but now only to class. Gone are the frills and sequins, traded long ago for a simple black shell and pink tights.
Second, I watched 5-year-old Livi, as she got off the bus, sobbing, because no one would let her sit down. She had stood in the aisle while everyone teased her. I remembered cuddling and praying with her about her broken heart. Kindergarten was a rough year; her soft heart couldn’t understand or handle the harshness of the outside world. I tried to explain that her soft heart was a gift, and that we had to protect that gift by being tough. Her job was to not let the words of others get to her heart and wound it. She could trust that God always loved her and that her family would always want to sit by her. She belonged even if it didn’t feel like it on the bus.
I coined a phrase: soft heart, tough girl and we even made up actions for it. I’ve said that phrase at least a million times over the years, and it’s helped. Now, watching her dance and take criticism with grace, I see the toughness that wasn’t there before.
Third, I watched 10-year-old Livi try over and over to do the splits on our basement carpet. Every night she tried her best to achieve a feat that seemed just out of her natural reach. She pushed until she finally got it, with the most determined look on her face. That same determination reflected itself in the studio mirrors as I watched her learn new choreography last night.
Fourth, I watched 14-year-old Livi join the school dance team… in an attempt to make friends at a new high school. Neither the dancing nor the girls seemed to be a good fit and the season was pretty miserable. She learned another good lesson that Fall about finding comfort and acceptance in Jesus when she felt alone and didn’t fit in. Now, I can see how it prepared her to take a road less traveled, as she is one of only five dancers dedicated enough to pursue level six at a prestigious ballet school.
Finally, I watched 16-year-old Livi travel last summer to Jackson, Mississippi for two weeks for a ballet intensive. She danced up to 8 hours a day and loved every minute of it. When I flew down to watch the performance at the end of camp, I couldn’t believe how grown up and professional she looked on stage. Her part was intense and it took my breath away to see her charisma.
My little movie ended and I managed to hold back the tears until I got into my car, but they flowed down my face all the way home. When did my 3-year-old dancer turn into this beautiful ballerina? When did she trade in the purple tutu for the simple black one? I can’t even remember how old she was when her little girl dream became the grown-up dream she decided to pursue.
Those two hours last night gave me a rare glimpse of God’s hand in her life. It was like he lifted the veil and I got to see how he’s using all of it: her gifts, her personality, her experiences and her heartaches to make her into someone unique. So often, the painful stuff I tried to shield her from was the stuff he used to mold her into the girl she needed to be to walk this path. Without the growth from those times, she wouldn’t be strong enough to do this.
God was preparing her all along, holding her in the shadow of his wings, accomplishing his purpose. And last night he let me see just a little piece of his work.
What a gift.
As I was laying in bed last night, replaying the movie, I remembered something I had read that morning in my devotions: Proverbs 16: specifically verses 1, 9, and 33.
“We can make our plans, but the Lord gives the right answer.”
“We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.”
“We may throw the dice, but the Lord determines how they fall.”
It’s so true.
His purposes for Livi’s life have and will continue to prevail. He is ordering her steps because we ask him to every day. Even on the days when my parenting isn’t great, and I don’t have what it takes to parent four kids, he is working in her life.
Perhaps even more special than the two hours I had with her last night was the reminder that God has Livi firmly in his grip, and he will use it all for his glory.
I can’t wait to see where he takes her.
PS After watching ballet for two hours, I was fooled into thinking I could go home and twirl and dance effortlessly across the kitchen floor like all the other dancers. I felt like my time observing in the studio empowered me to be graceful and lovely. Nope. Not so much. She definitely didn’t get her gracefulness from her mama…but it does seem like she got my determination.
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