Better not Bitter

Ballet Boy did it.

After years of hard work, sweat, injuries, and sometimes tears, he has made it to the big league. Houston Ballet Academy has invited him to stay year round in their very select training program. Not only was he accepted into their elite program; he received a half-tuition merit scholarship. There will only be about 20 boys in the levels 7 and 8 of the academy program he has been accepted into.

And yet, today I got a frustrated text from him after a hard morning at the Houston Ballet summer intensive. Other kids could do more turns. Freakishly well. He was feeling mediocre even though he was executing his pirouettes with clean, decent technique. Today he felt like others were getting applauded for their abilities, whether done well or not, and he was not standing out.

My first reaction was almost “suck it up, buttercup.” But a 15 year old needs a little affirmation that it burns when you’re really trying and not getting noticed. We all like a little positive reinforcement, and usually this is not a whiny kid, so I listened.competition

His teacher from his home studio nailed it: he’s now in a place where EVERYbody is good. Really good. And the teachers are going to spend more time telling you what is not working than what is working. More than ever, Ballet Boy needs to focus on his own work, not others.

We’ve all been there. It might not necessarily be in a sporting event. It might be that we are waiting for someone to notice that we have lost weight, or made a kick ass presentation at work. In my experience,  it’s hard not to feel the burn in a running race when I get passed by a ten year old. Or a 70 year old. I do know that when I was 40, I couldn’t run one mile. Now I can run 3, and I have run 10k and a half-marathon. I don’t know what my body will let me do in the future, but I will never give up on its potential.

I am not the elite. I am kind of happy with my mediocre abilities to set small goals and plow through them. But I do know a few things about negativity and how that can poison progress.

What words of wisdom did I impart as a parent? Never compare yourself to others, only to where you were yesterday. Push yourself even beyond where you think you can go. Be patient, good technique will someday pay off. You may not feel the progress now, but in the long run someone will notice it. But don’t wait for that. Keep at it.

Finally, the only one that will tell you every day how wonderful you are and how amazing you will be is your mom. That’s what I am here for, and I will continue to say it. I will think of you every time I walk by your empty room and wish that I could hear you singing Broadway tunes at the top of your voice. I will think of it as I drive by the big Nolte Dance Academy sign on the Coralville strip and miss dropping you off there. I will think of it as I wait for another text or small message on my phone, letting me know that you are doing ok, even on a hard day. I will think of it every minute, every day and every holiday that I have to spend away from you to make this happen. Sometimes through a curtain of tears, but often with a smile on my face as I think of your infectious energy and humor.

Ballet Boy in Houston, TX
Ballet Boy in Houston, TX

You are truly impressive, Ballet Boy. Now get out there and work your booty off.


One Reply to “Better not Bitter”

  1. This blog post is spot-on and gives great advice! You really nailed the role of a parent here.

    My son is one of those 20 elite students training full-time at Houston Ballet, and it’s intense. The level of talent among my son’s (and now YOUR son’s) dance-mates is even higher in the year-round program than it is in the summer. The tiniest minutiae– the lift of the fingers, the tilt of the head, the gaze of the eyes– are completely scrutinized, and every dancer feels that *everyone* else in the class is doing it better than they are. It really can get discouraging.

    But, fortunately, the boys at H.B. are all best friends. Sure, they are each other’s greatest competition, but they are also each other’s great support. They bond in the studios and in the wings of the stage as they walk among their heroes (the H.B. professionals, a.k.a. rock stars of the ballet world).

    Suddenly, after weeks and weeks of hearing a teacher’s criticism, their teacher finally nods in their direction and says “That’s it. You’ve got it.” When those words are said, all the guys in the class stop what they’re doing and applaud for them with that weird finger-flicking type of applause that is the norm among ballet boys. At that moment, the blood/sweat/tears are 100% worth it. And that evening, moms like us get to hear the pride in their voices when they call us and tell us about their day 🙂

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