The end of pas de chats.

Every day in Kindergarten, the kids are permitted to do a “share” – a version of show and tell in which they stand in front of the class and present a toy, a book, a piece of dryer lint scraped up from the floor, and talk about it a bit. Not every kid participates.

Thalia participates daily.

One day, as her teacher explained, she got up in front of the class.

“What is your share today, Thalia?” the teacher asked.”

“Today I am going to do ballet,” Thalia said and she proceeded to leap and jump and twirl for the class.

When her teacher told me the story I nearly died. Because when I was a kid, I did the exact same thing.

Thalia is a dancer. It’s in her blood. She would rather listen to Tchaikovsky than Laurie Berkner. If there’s no music, she hears it anyway. She drills her sister with Coupé Passé Coupé! She practices leaps in our long, narrow entrance hallway–or really, any space with those dimensions, whether we’re in the lobby of my father’s apartment building during a tree trimming party, or the busy main floor of Target. Thalia can’t not dance.

So I was surprised to hear her say that she doesn’t want to take ballet again next term at the local ballet school we adore so much.

“But…but…” I stammered. “Don’t you love Miss Patty? Don’t you love leaping?”

She shrugged. “I want to take tap dancing.”

And she proceeded to jump around spastically, flailing her arms and stomping her feet in a rough imitation of Savion Glover.

“And violin.”

Oh man.

We’ve come a looong way from early last year when could not afford lessons and I was 87% bitter about it. We’ve saved up some money to allow Thalia and Sage to explore one or two activities at a time–ballet, soccer, gymnastics. And the one Thalia has loved best is ballet.

And the one I have loved best is seeing her take ballet.

But now, dashed are my dreams of her cameo in the Nutcracker. Gone is my fantasy of having a child who’s a prodigy at something, something she can say she started doing when she was 3. Except maybe singing Fish Heads.

I wasn’t quite sure how to proceed. I felt myself pushing her, just a little bit. Bargaining with her even, to see if she might consider staying in the class. But then, I don’t want to be That Mom, the one who lives my own dashed dreams through my kid. Nate noticed it and called me on it. (Damn him.) And I pulled back.


(Damn him.)

It’s hard to know where to draw the line between encouraging our kids not to give up, and pushing them into something they don’t want to do. I had to remember the mother who told me that her barely four year-old son didn’t like violin lessons, but “how important” she thought she was. I wasn’t crazy about how that sounded. (To say nothing of his violin playing. Wokka wokka wokka.)

And then I remembered that I too stopped taking ballet when I was five–and switched to modern dance. The new trajectory was life-changing; I found myself though it. I found my heart and my soul and my self-esteem, and friends I still adore. I choreographed modern throughout high school, I won a small scholarship from it, and it’s something I continued doing straight through college.

I am going to try and let Thalia find her own path, hard as I admit it is. Although I am kind of hoping Thalia doesn’t keep tap dancing into college. We have hardwood floors.


41 thoughts on “The end of pas de chats.”

  1. You done good, kid.

    Other parents told me that my son would never make it in soccer if he didn't dedicate his entire life to it at age 7.

    A former college soccer player and now, coach, I could have pushed him. I could have gotten him personal training. I could have spent every weekend teaching him to kick and head and slide tackle in the backyard, but I didn't. I let him find it himself.

    You know what? He fell in love with soccer all on his own. He decided to spend hours kicking balls in the backyard — just him and a backstop.

    Then he tried out for an elite soccer team this month and made it.

    I'm glad I never pushed him. He still has the joy of soccer in his heart, as it should be.

    Nice post, Liz.

  2. I think it takes a very wise mama to step back and do what you did. Good on ya, Mama!

    We had the same issue crop up when my daughter, who once told me that Irish Dance was “her most favoritest thing ever that I have never done yet” decided – after FIVE CLASSES – that she was done. Dee-oh-en-eeeh DONE. There was just no changing her mind about it either.

    At first I thought something had happened in class, or that someone had said something to her, but neither case was true. She just…didn't want to do it anymore. Who can figure out why.

    I found myself in the same boat, imagining her NOT headlining in Riverdance 20 years from now, throwing away all her talent and passion for dancing to jigs out the window. And so I pushed (just a little). And I might have even bribed (just a teeny bit), all in the name of well-intentioned Mommy idiocy.

    It was a very silly thing to do, because as everybody in the universe (except me) already knows – it wasn't about ME and my dreams for her (really?!?). It is, as you so wisely pointed out, about my daughter finding her own path and passion in life.

    Sometimes being THAT Mom – you know, the one that lets their kid make their own way in life – is harder than being that OTHER Mom (the pushy one). But it's always, in my opinion, the right thing to do. I'm proud of you, Liz! And I bet, one day, your daughter will look back at this post and say that she was proud of you too.


  3. Q does ballet and tap – all within the same hour, and all so ridiculously cheap I won't even say.

    Makes up for how much the violin lessons are.

    I imagine Thalia is like Quinlan to me in that she'll probably be really good at a lot of things; I think it's great for them to try a variety of things, and do what THEY want to do.

    But she's hell bent on doing gymnastics next year (mostly because her brother takes a Little Gym class) and I told her that if she does, she'll need to drop something.

    I'll cry if it's ballet.

  4. As a mom of much older kids, I can say that you are doing the right thing letting them experiment. My oldest daughter tried ballet, soccer and found herself a year round swimmer. SHE LOVED IT!! It was her life so July second child followed her and was a better swimmer but hated it. She tried every sport, including boys Little League Baseball and wound up a Field Hockey Player who took art lessons. Finding what you love is a process that requires experimentation. There are VERY FEW prodigies. Mostly, you want your kids to find an outlet they love.

    Good for you for realizing this!

  5. You are a way better mother than me. Confession: All 3 of my girls asked to take dance (like their friends) and we couldn't. Partly because of the money (damn the economy) mostly, because I did NOT want to become “that mom!”

    At least, you allowed Thalia the chance and got some GREAT pictures to bribe her with, in her teenage years, too.

    Trust me, you're gonna need 'em 🙂

  6. I started ballet at age three, and I never looked back. I continued until I was 20, when my knees said “enough is enough.”

    My love of dance later extended to tap, modern, and jazz. But ballet was always first in my heart.

    I also taught ballet for about 6 years. In my experience both as a student and a teacher, I saw many students, even tenured ones, drift away from dance for a semester or two, only to drift back into it. Many kids need a chance to just explore something different.

    Of course, some of them leave and never look back. But I like to think that their time as a dancer has a positive effect on them, no matter how long they do it.

  7. “It's hard to know where to draw the line between encouraging our kids not to give up, and pushing them into something they don't want to do.”

    That's my life. I'm a serial “un-finisher”, and I admit to encouraging my kids to do stuff they balk at (not excessively)in the name of following through with something, anything, so they don't end up like me.

  8. Liz,

    I have always loved your blog, with your intelligent take on parenting, politics and careers. (I'm a lurker who hasn't commented until now.) This article really made me smile!

    My own children are teenagers now, and my oldest is a freshman in college with an athletic scholarship. I can say that for my children, the best thing we did was let them try many different activities and follow their lead in terms of which activities they have chosen to stick with. (And yes, my youngest went through a tap dance lesson phase where she “tapped” all around the house for weeks.)

    I also really enjoyed your link to all the things you did last year with Thalia when you couldn't afford dance lessons. I bet even now, you look back with fondness on the times you had with her and the memories you created.

    There are so many pressures on children and they grow up so quickly (believe me!), that I think it is really important to give them time to discover who they are and to enjoy that process with them, rather than to overschedule every minute.

    Thanks again for such a great blog!

  9. Thank you so much Sharon, that means the world.

    If only all lurkers came out like you did – you always bring so much to the conversation.

  10. Stories about ballet never fail to make me smile because they remind me of how Tacy found herself.

    She insisted on ballet. She looked adorable. She followed the steps.

    And then she got bored and started licking the studio mirror.

    She's not a ballerina, but she has discovered that she loves soccer, swimming, and triathlons – stuff I was discouraged from pursuing as a child in favor of more genteel and unique activities.

    Good on you and good on Nate for letting Thalia find herself.

  11. Oh, how I struggle with this. The good news is that Thalia has passion. Whether it's ballet or tap or flamenco.

    Finding that balance between encouraging and not pushing too hard is one of the biggest parenting challenges.

  12. It's always been a struggle of mine to remember not to live my life through my children's lives.

    But I'm still annoyed my daughter prefers volleyball to basketball and discus to long distance running.


  13. I think all kids are different.Maybe her passion will be tap or maybe she will try it & go leaping back to ballet.
    My 5 yo and 3 yo both take ballet and this year was my 5 yo's debut in the Nutcracker and it was amazing!But that being said she has been planning to audition since she was 3 and learned that she needed to be 5 to try out. She was a snowflake and I cried:( But it was her choice.I was just the chauffeur/chaperone/money tree:)

  14. That sounds just like us three years ago. My daughter wanted to quit ballet, and it crushed me. I danced until high school, when I gave it up to be a cheerleader. (No regrets!) Even though she was really good at it, I let her stop lessons. She then tried art and then piano and then finally horse riding. She has finally found her thing, her place, her passion. Looking back, I am so grateful that I let her make that choice.

    It all works out in the end, for all of us. I hope.

  15. 1. She's really still too small for serious ballet study. SAB starts at around 8. So there's time for her to come around.

    2. I quit ballet after about 2 years because they suggested I study over the summer and the idea of tights and leotards in July was too much to bear.

  16. We MUST have a date, Liz. I too was a ballet turned modern dancer. Until I was in the MFA program at Tisch and I tore up my left ankle…oops.

    My mom pushed the hell out of me to keep up my ballet classes when I was Thalia's age. I remember screaming and crying that I didn't want to go and her dropping me off all red-faced and tear-streaked. Though I see my mom's point about following through and not quitting, I don't think I could push my kids like that. I'd rather be guided by them and their interests. I think.

    She does look angelic in her leotard and tights though. What a little sylph.

  17. Just draw the line if she expresses interest in a pole-dancing class and you're good to go.

  18. It's good that you're letting her experiment and I hope when my little ones are a bit older, I'll be able to have a perspective that allows me to see whne they're needing to switch gears and when they're needing me to help them get through a plateau/rough spot/etc.
    Because that's really it, isn't it? And you can't always know perfectly where your child is on that line.

    On the other hand, as a professional musician on both piano and horn and having taught my fair share of beginners, it can take many years before a child knows/wants/loves learning an instrument. If I had a parent expressing interest in lessons for their child as an experiment for a few months, I would politely turn them away. Not only because I would get so attached for my students, but because the parents need to support that journey and the discipline that goes along with it and that can take a lot longer than a few months. It can run the gamut from kids who would love lessons and work at a fairly slow pace to some who would struggle with motivation to practice and everything in between. I don't by any means want to be negative about your post but I want to encourage all parents that are lucky enough to be able to support amazing activities like sports, music, dance, etc. outside of the classroom to recognize the commitment on everyone's part without pushing too hard. Just a heads up if you end up doing the violins lessons.

  19. You're doing good. Really. It's a hard one. Especially when you love it as much as they did.

    I'll tell you though, there is nothing cuter than tap. (although I warn you the songs they use are annoying as all get out.)

    Morgan does a tap/hip-hop class. She used to do ballet and she's progressed to this. She absolutely adores it.

  20. Okay I will be honest and say that both of my girls have expressed the desire for learning the violin and I've um…avoided it?

    Gah. Have you heard how that sounds the first oh two years of kids learning to play?

  21. I do applaud you for this. We're doing something fairly similar. But, we present swimming as a non-optional activity. Everyone over the age of 3 takes swimming lessons until they earn a green band (meaning that they are considered water safe/water smart). No ifs, no ands, no buts. We live in Florida. Knowing how to swim is a life-preserving skill, so it's treated like one.

    Otherwise, we let the kids experiment, try things, and see what fits. What we don't do is let them quit after one week. As an example, Ben is in an eight-week basketball league. He pretty much hated it after week 1 and wanted to quit. I pointed out that we had agreed, in advance, that he would do the whole eight weeks to give it a fair try and that he couldn't judge whether he liked it or not based on one practice/game. Week 8 is Saturday. He isn't in love with basketball, but he's very proud of himself for being on a team, playing with his team, and learning more about the game. He's already told us that he'd prefer not to play in the next season and we agreed.

    What's harder for me, and P will attest to it, is my 2 year old wanting dance and I'm already envisioning recitals and all the fun that goes with them ;). He convinced me to just let her dance to the Wiggles and with the Wii for now and see where she is in another year or two.

    I come from an anti-sports family. I was allowed to take dance, and did so until I was 13, but that was it. I'm trying, and hopefully succeeding at giving the kids the opportunity to try new things without feeling like they have to master all of them.

  22. I agree that it's tough to know when enough “encouragement” is enough. In the past, we've told our boys that if something is paid for and has a set number of classes/lessons/games/etc, then they have to honor their obligation. So if we pay $75 for 6 art classes and you hate it by lesson 3, you still are required to attend the rest of the lessons…but you don't ever have to sign up again. So far, that has worked pretty well….we're teaching them to finish what they started, but not pushing them into something they hate.

    You have the most adorable ballerina, by the way. So cute!

  23. We just saw my daughter's friend in a gorgeous version of The Nutcracker and I almost burst with a desire for MY girls to be on stage like that. It's so hard to not project our wants and wishes on our kids (I so wish I could have the grace of a dancer). And sometimes I am just boggled that my child may not love to do something, like curl up with a big fat book, like I loved to do as a child.

    I guess that is what makes them individuals. And maybe Thalia will find herself in tap. Or modern. Or some other path. And it will be ok.

  24. I think that is the best thing. To just let Thalia decide for herself what she wants her passion to be.

    I know myself I always wanted to be a ballerina but my boobies we're to big 🙁

  25. My 5-year-old would take 15 classes at once if I let her. She wants to do soccer, ballet, gymnastics, skating, art, swimming, woodworking, and on and on and on. I love that she's enthusiastic, but there's just not enough time, even leaving the expense aside. The result is that I do end up arbitrating the activities she's involved in.

    I try to avoid pushing her, or riding roughshod over her desires. But there's no way to do it all, and so my own opinions definitely play a part.

  26. Yep – we too went down this path – K used to do ballet when she was 3 -4 (loved it) 2 recitals – then wanted to take gymnastics – did it and about 7 mths into it made the team- and I told her she had to do it for a year – as she now discovered horseback riding – which is alot less cost than the team gymnastics – but like you – am kinda sad that all she learned (and she was good) will be forgotten–so the rule is – you have to do it for a year (she has not selected anything that only runs a matter on weeks yet..but I would like to see a team sport next…) I have to take a deep breath – and let her love the adventure of learning…
    Carol in FL – where it finally warmed up – yea

  27. My son and I laughed just this week about how I always let him do his thing, whatever that was. HOWEVER, he'd always have to ask me to pull back, because the minute he showed interest in something, I was already passed 3rd base on my way to home plate with my own ideas about how he could . . . go international or take it on Oprah or well, let's be prepared just in case you DO win a grammy or Pullitzer or or or! Okay, perhaps I wasn't that bad, but I wasn't far from it.

  28. My daughter is 4.5 and taking both ballet & hip-hop dance classes. While she has never said she doesn't WANT to take ballet, watching the sheer joy she experiences in hip-hop class versus the barely tolerating ballet, I think we are going to pull out of ballet for a while. My daughter is ultimately a people pleaser, she wants to make us happy so badly, she is willing to sacrifice her own joy and keep doing ballet. You should be happy that you have raised Thalia to be sure enough in herself to tell you she wants to do something else. And she is sure enough in you and your love for her that she will tell you what SHE wants, even if she can tell it's not what YOU want. That's good mommying.

  29. FIrst, I love the sentence, “Thalia can't not dance.” It made me smile. Second, I think ballet training is excellent beginning prep for a dancer, but that the culture around the profession makes me more than a little uncomfortable. So… I think maybe Thalia's move to tap and then perhaps to modern (or dare I suggest ballroom, like I loved in college?) may be better for her. It will definitely be better for her toes… : )

    And… good for you (and Nate, damn him) for allowing your daughter to find her own way. I'm already struggling with this and my older son is only 2.5. Clearly, I need the reminder, so thanks.

  30. My policy is that if we have signed up for a course, we finish it. No dropping out mid semester. But when the course is over they can switch to whatever they want (within reason). So far karate has been the main loser. But this opened the way for tennis, which they love.

    I hear your ballet dreams for Thalia. I have them for her, too! But if it is meant to be, she will find her way back. (I may yet find my way back at age 43!) I do hope for your sake, though, that tap doesn't last too long!


  31. We want to expose our kids to culture, music and sports and encourage them, prodding them just that wee bit to cross the threshold of shyness or self-doubt to participate fully, but not to go overboard and pressure and push them too hard. I have also backed off at what (I hope) is the appropriate moment when my daughters said they didn't want to continue.

    And, I can't tell you how many times I wanted to quit piano lessons as a child and my mother wouldn't let me stop. Now I'm really glad I didn't and I appreciate her relentlessness. I don't play it that much anymore, but having the experience and knowledge makes an impact on how I enjoy music as an adult.

    We're all in search of the best middle ground, I suppose, and it's probably different for each kid, for each family.

    Yet another thing to balance in this wild plate-spinning circus called motherhood, eh?

  32. I haven't read the comments, but this just resonated with me, but for the opposite reasons: I loved ballet and all dance too, until it was made very clear to me at age ten I wasn't going to be a dancer, because of my body type….I ended up a national level rower, tell you something?

    So when the option of dance classes, rather than swimming, came up – she chose the ballet class. DH goes with her – and I've been enjoying the results, but there is always that little nagging feeling of “oh no, what happens when….”

  33. I understand those complicated feelings!

    My five year old son has a knack for rhythm, and just about wore out the carpet imitating Riverdance. I took him to an Irish dance class, after days and days of excited anticipation, and he would dance a step in the studio (full of girls.) I was disappointed, but we went home and didn't go back (not totally disappointing, since the class was a long drive from home.) He turns six next year, making him eligible for the boys hip hop class down the street – that one, I think I'm going to push him to try, at least one class, because I think he'll really like it. We'll see . . .

  34. I do love this…but I am also genuinely curious to hear about times when you (or someone else?) told their child no, you can't quit. Gotta keep going. My mother was adamant about not pushing me into things, making sure I had lots of free time to paint and read and run around in the backyard, and don't get me wrong- I am so, so grateful. But? I also reached the point, sometime in either high school or college, where I realized I was too old to start anything and be particularly good at it, that I'd missed my window of opportunity, and I wished I'd been pushed harder, told to practice the piano more, stick with swimming longer, etc. Now that I have a 2yo of my own, well, obviously she's still too little to worry about this, but I'm just curious to know when people think it's time to push.

  35. @Crabby Apple Seed

    I tell my kids if we sign up for a class, we finish the term. Then if they want to try something else they're welcome to. I figure at 3 and 5, that seems reasonable; one semester is a significant percentage of their lives!

  36. It's a good thing that you're just allowing her to explore what she wants and not pushing her into something she doesn't want. She's still young and want to explore.:-)

  37. I know! So hard! I dread this, because I soooo wish my mom had pushed me a little harder to stick with SOMETHING/ANYTHING. But I too don't want to be that mom. I've decided to take it all one activity at a time. .

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