A Place Where He Can Sparkle

“Mommy, I want to do ballet,” my 5-year-old son requested, “in an all boys class.” The ballet request was not unconventional for my sparkly middle child, but I was surprised that he requested an all-boys class. He often played with girls and shared many of their common interests, so what would the gender of his classmates matter? Then I took him to his first class and I understood.

That first evening — after circling the parking lot three times trying to find the studio, vulturing for a parking space, then herding three kids across a busy parking lot — we arrived at dance class a bit discombobulated. My son’s excitement was untarnished by the bumbling entry. He skipped into class with the other graceful young boys and focused every ounce of his attention on the instructor. He twirled and jumped and leapt. His enthusiastic grace was unmistakable; he was safe to be wholly and entirely himself without reservation.

He knew what I had not. He was among his people.

This delicately proportioned, unicorn-loving, mermaid-adoring, hairdressing-enthralled, aspiring figure skater knew that in an all-boys dance class he would be among other boys just like him. The same sparkly attributes that set him in the fray in the outside world placed him firmly within the realm of acceptance here. What society condemned was celebrated here.

A month later my son came to me after class, “Mommy I want to do real ballet.” He’d noticed that his current class was more movement focused than ballet centric. He’d also realized that one of the boys had moved to the Ballet I class. “You’re welcome to talk to your teacher about that,” I said, “but if this is something you want, you need to do it.” He asked me to come with him. I obliged.

As we walked down the hall towards the studio, I looked down at him in amazement. There was NO WAY I would’ve had a wherewithal to do this as a child! Young me would have rather been heartbroken and miss out than approach an adult with such a request. My child astounded me.

His slight palm hugged mine with the gentle firmness of determination, not the sweaty, gripping anxiety I would’ve expressed. At the end of the hallway, he released my hand, walked through the glass door, and strolled directly to his teacher. Moments later the teacher and my son exited the classroom and made their way to the director. After a brief chat, it was settled: he was moving to Pre-Ballet. My son was a disco ball of glittering light.

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The next week we arrived at ballet not knowing if he’d be the only boy in class. He wasn’t. He was thrilled. He twirled. He pranced. He sparkled.

Not long after, it was the week of Halloween. All of the students wore their costumes to class. My son’s costume: rainbow flying unicorn, of course! Every time he wears one of his self-selected costumes we receive some sort of negative commentary, some sort of head tilt or side-eye, some sort of pushback of some degree. So I silently prepared myself for what we’ve been trained to see as the inevitable.

As I pinned the flowing rainbow wig in place, two older boys played in the lobby. “Cool wig!” one commented. A grandmother shuffled up the hallway lead by a pint-size “Elsa”. “I was told there’s a rainbow unicorn that I ‘just have to see.'” The grandmother said smiling. “He’s a rainbow flying unicorn, no less!” I replied, my chest gripping in preparatory fight-or-flight once I realized she might catch the gendered pronoun. “He’s lovely,” the grandmother cooed. And that was it. No cocked heads, no whispers, no stares, no judgment… his costume was finally just a costume!

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I felt a massive weight of protection lift from my chest. I had not realized until it was gone what a heavy, ingrained, bruising burden it was. I realized in that moment how my sparkly son must feel here too.

And so my son had lead me to exactly where he needed to be. To the people who would appreciate him exactly as he was without reservation. To a place where his quirks could twinkle and his gifts could shine. To a place where he could sparkle.

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Two Years to Where I am

I’m not sure whether it’s age or yoga or a random boon of awesome people or what exactly, but I actually look forward to the afterschool playground ritual this year. And I feel completely comfortable being myself. I clearly had to come from where I was to appreciate where I am. Because, let me tell you, just two years ago this — all of this — was not the case.

Yesterday it was raining. Sitting in the minivan at carpool pick-up, I looked out the windshield and immediately felt a rush of disappointment. I wanted to chat with fellow moms on the playground after school, dammit! Two years ago I would’ve felt a wave of guilty relief, but not now. After realizing that shift I began to wonder, was I more excited about afterschool playground time than my kids were?

Probably not. Nevertheless, this mindset, this enthusiasm, this comfort and outgoing confidence was a clear sign of how much I and my life had changed over the last two years.

Two years ago when my eldest started kindergarten at her current school I felt like the new kid on the block. Except I was a new 33-year-old “kid” with a curly mom bun and yoga pants wrangling a Barbie-carrying 3-year-old boy and a bumbling troublesome toddler through the carefully manicured schoolyard shrubbery. It was not a proud year.

It was not just challenging in that I was constantly telling a child not to lick, eat, sit on, or walk off of something, but I was also trying to find connections in this new school. I stressed myself over including others while trying to get to know fellow moms yet also presenting myself well.

Now, I’m no Pinterest style diva so in terms of presentation it wasn’t as if I was fastidiously curating my physical appearance beyond avoiding post-nursing nip-slip or swaths of knee-height toddler snot stains. I was, however, trying to ensure I came across as a generally kind fellow mom of basically sound mind (I was a mom of a 1-, 3-, and 5-year-old and was at a catholic school… these fellow carpool moms had a reasonable expectation for maternal “sound mind” given my parental state. They had kids… often quite a few of them. They knew.) Still, I worried.

Most every day I left carpool pick-up feeling defeated. I missed 3/4 of every conversation. I rarely completed more than two sentences. I was — in my mind — failing. How could I be so close yet so far away? How could I not manage to do what everyone else seemed entirely capable of doing?

The playground after school was even worse. That’s where moms and kids convened to socialize, network, and bond. Instead I was running around scaling playground equipment after my newly walking 1-year-old who had a developmentally appropriate yet anxiety-inducing affinity for self-endangerment. His goal every day was to attempt to defy gravity, but generally he just tested my reflexes and bladder control.

As I bounded across chain-link bridges and under climbing poles, I saw blurs of moms chatting in groups. I so wanted to be them. I ran by moms seated on benches. I envied them. I heard moms laughing in unison. I yearned to join in. But that wasn’t my life stage. I wasn’t there yet.

Two years later, I am. Two years later I can simultaneously herd my wild brood — now aged 3, 5, and 7 — in afternoon sun while rehashing the day with fellow school moms. I can laugh. I can chat. I can’t yet sit down, but that’s ok. It’s still medicinal. It’s fun. It’s so far from where I used to be.

And as much as I loved baby snuggles and newborn nursing, young toddler hugs and slobbery chubby-cheeked kisses, I enjoy where I am now. Some moments I — in reflective sentimentality — miss the cuddly, sweet, wholly messy, sleep-deprived years, I appreciate how far I’ve come — how far we’ve all come — and treasure the now. I had to be where I was, be who I was, and experience what did to fully appreciate who and where I am now.

Now I can be exactly who I am without worrying how I’m being perceived. I can stress less. I can envy less. I no longer compare. I still wrangle and chase and have not-so-proud moments but it’s less intense. It’s lighter. It’s exactly where I’m supposed to be.

I survived and now I savor.