There is a local dance studio that has a toddler class for kids who are walkers through age three. I was chomping at the bit to get the twins in it and clearly remember wondering if Ryan was ever going to start walking so we could go.
For the last few years we've gone once per week to twirl ribbons, march with instruments, and dance our little hearts out. Sometime in October when class wrapped up, Reese started crying "more yousic? more dancing?" and with that she was invited to move up to the 3 year old class. At 32 months old, she was the youngest in the class, but it didn't intimidate her one bit. I swear that kid got all of my sass and none of my insecurity. I couldn't be happier about that. Each week she puts on her little pink tights and her black leotard. We have to have her hair in tiny buns (no loose ponytails allowed) and she asks for a special "hebband" of flowers. Always flowers. She doesn't flinch when the whole room is dancing one way and she is moving, happily, in the opposite direction. She is unfettered by corrections from the teachers. Her releves are perfection, but her balance in a curtsy is still indicative of her age.
Each winter our performing arts center puts on a Nutcracker Tea for little girls. It is an abbreviated version of the Nutcracker Suite with time for tea and sandwiches and cookies. And you eat with ballerinas. It is sweetness overload as the very little ones stare in awe at the ballerinas among them -- most of them just young girls themselves -- in full costume walking around the room and socializing while waiting to perform. With Reese so enamored with her ballet and tap class, I thought this was the perfect year to take her to the Tea.
The little girls who attend the Tea all dress in their prettiest holiday dresses. I had no idea, and Reese was in tiny moccasins and skinny jeans. She still held my hand and sat on my lap. She didn't notice my faux pas, she wasn't embarrassed that I didn't know the drill. Her eyes were wild with happiness.
When it's time for the dancers to perform, all of the children go and sit up at the stage. The littlest ones, like Reese, have their mommies with them. Reese sat on my lap through the whole performance and she shouted, announcing to the whole room that the ballerinas were dancing! they were in costume! they were smiling! they had beautiful costumes! they danced beautifully!
Every color of every costume was announced. Every dance was celebrated vigorously. Every ballerina was the most magnificent of the bunch.
When I heard that the Nutcracker was also being performed at a local theater I bought tickets for Reese and myself. I thought, we'll see how this goes and maybe we'll make it through intermission. I talked up the ballet all week, and on the day of I made sure to tell Reese that we were going on a special date. That she was going to dress like a princess and see ballerinas. I could hardly get her to nap because she was so excited. That night, we got dressed and she twirled around my bathroom in her princess "classroom" (costume) waiting for me to get ready and telling me that I was a beautiful princess too.
We pulled into a parking lot near the theater and the air outside was frigid cold with terrible wind. And my date walked ever so slowly admiring all of the Christmas lights, trees, flowers, and the glowing marquee lights on all of the buildings downtown. I kept trying to hurry up, while being reminded to slow down and take it all in. Finally a few blocks later, she grew cold enough and asked me to carry her. I held her in close with one arm under her tiny tushy, covered in black tights and red bloomers. My baby, who is something between an infant and a little girl, pulled me in close and told me my earrings were pretty.
When we got into the theater she decided to walk, it was crowded and people weren't looking down. We came up to the will call and I took off her coat. The ticket woman said, "well aren't you beautiful" and Reese replied, "yes, I am, because I am a princess". With each usher that greeted us, she took every compliment with a smile and a thank you.
Our seats were perfect. First row in the balcony with a wide aisle in front of us so that Reese could stand if sitting became too tedious. She told everyone that would listen that she was there to see the ballerinas and the nutcracker. The lights went down and the ballet started. Again, my sweet girl pointed out every ballerina and every costume telling me how beautiful everyone was. After each dance she exploded with applause. When Clara's dream began, a real horse and buggy came out on the stage to bring her to the forest and in the so-quiet-you-can-hear-a-pin-drop theater, my child screamed out "HORSEY! Nnnnnnnnnneeeeeeeeighhhhhh!" and I swear the whole theater erupted with laughter. And with that we made it to intermission.
I bought Reese those orange crackers with the peanut butter inside, and of course she wouldn't eat the peanut butter. So I sat eating peanut butter out of crackers and then handing them to her. The dances in the Land of Sweets began and my child could not contain herself. She kept saying "oh mommy, hank you. I luff you." I was on the receiving end of so many delicious hugs. She clapped with the music and burst out with applause, shouting "Beautiful!" and even "BRAVO!" at one point. Bravo? Who is this kid? Where did she learn this? By the time Mother Ginger danced with her children, Reese was out of her seat and dancing in the aisle along with the ballerinas on stage.
Not only did we make it through the whole show, but when it was over she asked and signed, because when she really wants something she uses both words and sign language for emphasis (Thank you, Baby Signing Times.), to watch it again.
It has been a few weeks since we have gone to the ballet, and all of our Christmas decorations are down, including the nutcrackers that would trigger her talking about our trip to the theater. Just last week she told me that she wants to wear a special "classroom" and dance in the Nutcracker on the stage. She slays me.
By far, that evening has been one of my best experiences of motherhood. What a gift, to slow down and take in the all of the tiny, amazing things about a city during the holidays, while holding my daughter who's dressed like a princess. I wish I could bottle it up and drop myself back into that moment on days when I need a little extra love.