A little over ten years ago, my daughter auditioned for Nashville Ballet's Nutcracker. She was nearly eight at the time and was cast as the black lamb. After her casting, the list of practices and performances was given to us. After looking at it, I went to talk to her.
"Anna," I began, "I've been looking at the Nutcracker schedule. You know how we were planning to go to Disney World this year before Christmas?"
"Yes?" she replied.
"Well, it looks like the Nutcracker won't be over in time for us to go before Christmas."
A short pause ensued, during which I was about to suggest she wait a year and audition for the Nutcracker next year. Until she said, "Well... could I stay here while you go to Disney World? Do you think Uncle Joel and Aunt Alanna will be here? Could I just stay with them?"
"Um, no," I replied. "We're not going without you. I'll change the trip."
And I did change the trip. It was the first momentous occasion that our family worked around ballet, but not the last. For a decade, we planned vacations, missed major events and run much of our family calendar around ballet. Until August 30, 2017. That was the day Anna walked out of the studio and didn't go back in. It was the day I deleted dozens of recurring events in our family calendar. It was a day of freedom and choosing self-worth and also a day of loss. Crazy how those things go together, isn't it?
The last three months have been quiet and it has been a joy to have Anna at home more than she's been for all of high school. She's played with the dog, finished her homework before dinner, been present for nearly every family dinner and even had time to watch a TV show with me on a weeknight or two. It may make August all the harder when she heads off for college, but I have been soaking up the time with her like a sponge.
And she has unfurled. All of the tension and stress and much of the anxiety have simply melted away. She laughs more. She cries less. Her moods are more even. She is happier.
Last night was opening night of her former company's Nutcracker. And we weren't there. And she didn't dance. We talked that morning before school. I asked how she was feeling. We were both a little sad. There's a sense that we were robbed of saying good-bye to the process because she left before her senior year ended. I never got to give her flowers on stage, not even when she danced Odette. She didn't get to have one final dressing room selfie with her friends. We won't have senior pictures that show her dancing.
But she got to leave on her own terms. She got to choose that her last Nutcracker would be one as Snow Queen. She chose to not spend fall of her senior year doing something that would have been laced with sadness. She chose to see who she is when she's not dancing. She chose herself. And if that's not a powerful thing for a seventeen year old girl to do, I don't know what is.
I still have anger and sadness over the truth of what the ballet world is and what it was to my daughter. I regret entrusting her to adults who don't see children as children, but as resources to be used for their own betterment. I regret that I didn't see them for who they were before they hurt her. I hate that the only way to heal and become whole is to experience pain.
I long for the day when Jesus will come back and make everything right. I want him to come and take that small place in our souls that is untouched by anything we have done or has been done to us - that pure kernel he put there at our creation - and bring it to full flower. Because only he can do that without pain. Our only way to find who we are is to go through the removal of all the layers encircling (and protecting?) that kernel. It is worth it to lose the layers, but it's not painless.
So I am sad that I didn't get to see Anna dance in one last Nutcracker. But I am also relieved. And I am immensely proud of her wisdom and strength and courage. On opening night, you couldn't have paid me to go near the theater. But Anna drove over there after school and her friends snuck her backstage so that she could give them good luck notes of encouragement. She has a bravery and resilience that is powerful to behold. May it always be so.