It’s that time of year once again. That mad rush of after school extra curricular events is winding down; the months of hurried dinners, shuttling children from place to place, long arduous hours ticking by in echoing waiting rooms whilst the kids slice through water, kick balls, chase pucks, or whatever it is that your children do, are finally coming to an end.

While I am grateful that my kids have the opportunity to participate in these things, come this time of year I am so over it.

The frantic last-minute searches for missing equipment, unwashed jerseys, hair pins. The countless drives through rain, snow or blinding sunsets to get them there safely. The hurry-up-and-wait bane of my existence….

One by one, the extra curricular demands drop and, in some cases, such as ours, the year culminates into the madness of-recital time. I have more than a few of these dance recitals under my belt now. And I hate them.

During my own dance life many years ago, we had recitals, too, of course. One recital. A singular event held at the end of the year. We would costume-up for our class performance, our family would arrive to watch on the designated evening, and after an hour or an hour and a half, the show ended and all was well. This seems manageable in contrast to today’s recitals that have become week-long productions. Dress rehearsals, competitions, three days of performance (including two shows in one day!) and here’s the clincher: each performance is THREE HOURS LONG. Every child in the school – dozens of them – performing multiple dances, act after act, a never-ending parade of bad lighting, outrageous outfits and repetitive choreography, for THREE HOURS STRAIGHT!

This year, I bought a single ticket for myself at the back of the auditorium on closing night so I might close my weary eyes against the sequined glare without offending anyone. I arrived cloaked in feigned anticipation with flowers to present my girls after the show. I didn’t invite the grandparents (they can’t be expected to sit through a show that long) or bring my six-year-old (he won’t sit that long) and upon finding my seat, I steeled myself for a long night.

Emma, circa 2008, waiting on stage for her cue during dress rehearsal.
I was well into the first hour when my purposefulness began to weaken. I remember the precise moment, actually: a young girl in tap shoes had found her way to center stage. The performance itself began as expected. It was glittered and unimaginative. With hands upon her hips and a top hat pitched askew, her feet were flying to the rhythm of the music. What stood out for me was the absolute void of action from the waist up. It was mesmerizing; her utter lack of expression. I began to feel drawn in by it, as if I were in a David Lynch movie. It sounds absurd, but her blankness awoke me and I began to see what was really happening here.

These children, these babies and preteens and young teenagers; this was their moment. This was occasion for them to understand what it is to accomplish something. To feel the reward of working hard and the empowerment of facing ones fears. All those nights when I had to drive and sit and wait, they were passionately dancing their little hearts out in the studio. And all of that hard work so that they could get up on that stage, in front of assholes like me who have the audacity to judge them!

Working hard in the studio.
And sometimes, not working hard. This is Ava in timeout at the National Ballet in Toronto.
My perspective changed instantly. The young girl with the blank face spoke to me. She said, “I’m focused, I’m trying hard to remember my steps so I don’t mess up. I want to do well. I’ve worked so hard. Please like me.”

I was transported back to when I was a young dancer and the memories washed over me.

I remembered the mad scramble backstage of pulling on tights and costumes, pins flying out of buns, hairspray thick in the air. The excitement of lining my eyes with kohl, rouging my cheeks and applying bright red lipstick (when I was never allowed to do such a thing in real life) was intoxicating!

Tears and laughter. Butterflies and anticipation. Waiting in the wings for my cue. Catching a glimpse of the other dancers and their performances for the first time. Feeling important in my beautiful costume. Absorbing the thrill and magic of the theatre. Sensing the audience from under the heat of the blinding spot lights but not really seeing them. And, most importantly, knowing my family was out there somewhere, just for me.

I may not be centre stage anymore but I was suddenly acutely aware of the importance of my starring role as the proud mother, and that these nights of sitting in the audience to watch my children perform were fleeting. How many more? One, two? Three?

With my new-found perspective and under cover of the dark theatre I brushed away a rogue tear and sat tall with my eyes and heart wide open. This is special, and I am blessed.

Stage door.