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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Hard Work and Other Things

I've been peaky this week, Readers. Caught a little bug during a three day trip to NYC and have been just the slightest bit off since. But I'm on the upswing. So. Highlights of the week since last I wrote: 

Well, last I wrote was from NYC, actually. I finished up and posted from the mother-in-law's apartment. It was a rainy snowy day. I was in the city because it's audition season for ballet summer programs, and my ballet dancer had three auditions lined up. I accompanied her and waited around. This was actually fine with me. Each was at Lincoln Center, so there was plenty of coffee to drink and shops to look in. I squeezed into a pair of jeans a size smaller than I expected to, so naturally I bought them. And I had a lovely drink and appetizer at the bar of PJ Clarke's one evening with another mom whose daughter dreams of a professional dance career. That part was nice. 

However, to each audition I brought a nervous daughter and picked up a disappointed one. It's really hard to witness the ups and downs. These girls are so hard on themselves it's almost impossible to understand the appeal of this passion. Where is the payoff for all the hard work they do, if they are always disappointed? I shouldn't say always. Usually. Mostly. And the road to a company is so hard, too. And there are so many young ballerinas hoping to dance professionally, all working towards so few spots. They're like, they're like sperm, programmed to give their all, even though only one lucky one will make it.

As a parent, is this what I want for my child?

Don't answer that. (She says to herself.)

Let me focus for a moment on the positives. Number one, the child has a passion that gives shape to her world. People with passions are lucky. Number two, she is accustomed to disciplined, hard work, repetition, practice, and incremental progress. These habits are transferrable.

Yes, they are transferrable. (She says to herself, under her breath, not suggesting that they would ever need to transfer.)

The 15 year old's belief in the transformative power of hard work is unshakable. Hers is the epitome of the growth mindset. If youve been reading this blog, you know about Carol Dweck and the growth mindset and how its key to sustained success. This is good, right? Hard work does accomplish a lot. Unbelievable things, even, sometimes.

But this belief has a downside, because it creates an unrealistic sense of control over outcome. It means she thinks that if she finds the right teacher at the right ballet school and works as hard as she can, she will succeed; whereas, those are incomplete determinants of success. We know that success depends on factors outside our control. Genetic factors like inherent talent or flexibility or musicality or body proportions, to speak specifically of dancers, for example. It also depends on circumstances. On luck. On being the one the program is looking for.

So I can't help worrying what will happen when she realizes that hard work won't take her all the way. It'll get her close. If hard work were all it took, she'd succeed - no question. But those other factors. That random chance thing. Smack into that at the wrong time and you wind up with an existential crisis.

So there's that to worry about.

Along with her dancer's feet. Have you ever looked at a dancers feet? They are not lovely, Readers.

In addition to the audition tour with the 10th grader, here are some other things Ive been doing this week:

  • A drawing a day. Well, not exactly every day. A drawing a day was and is the goal, though. A friend suggested it. We share the pictures on Flickr. The 11 year old is drawing, too. So it's also a mom-daughter project.

  • Three book clubs. I know. Don't say it. Three is a lot. Especially since I have a knee-jerk reaction against being told what to read. In my defense, I will say that one of these book clubs is a mother-daughter book club in which we read YA books and always have homemade baked goods; another is really a monthly dinner with old friends during which we pick a book to discuss the next month because were all interested in a lot of the same books - which is one of the reasons we are friends. That leaves one more official book club where I'm getting to know the people, as opposed to already being friends with all of them, and since were not a community of leaning over the fence chatting, the book club is the official, sanctioned way for women to get together.

  • My shitty first draft.

  • Meditation. Sort of.

  • Yoga in the mornings. Sometimes just the barest of sun salutations.

  • Kegel exercises. If you don't know what those are, you can look it up. You should be doing them, too (if you are a woman).

  • Plucking chin hairs before they grow long enough to curl around themselves.

  • Therapy Dog visiting at the middle school.

  • Belonging to the Make-up Committee for the middle school musical (Seussical, Jr), which means face painting a cast of 75 students, one of whom is the 11 year old. She is a jungle animal.  

  • Wondering if the pain in my side is cancer or gas. Wondering if the intermittent pain in my eye is cancer or fatigue. Wondering if my fatigue is just fatigue, or cancer.

So thats an update on whats been occupying my time and my mind - a lot of different stuff, which always feels like too much and not enough simultaneously. Periods like these feel like muddle, and muddle seems like inefficiency, although sometimes it's fertilizer for creative growth. One can always hope.

Update: This just in. One of the NYC auditions panned out and the dancer has been accepted for the summer. The dream continues uncrushed for now.


  1. Dance is even scarier than music, I think--which is the passion and talent of one of my kids. Still I worry. Right now, he's almost shockingly precocious. In six years--when it's time to get into schools--will he be a dime a dozen? And what about his siblings: is it fair to them to, say, send their brother to a music camp when they're stuck at the Guilderland town camps? This is new territory for me . . .

    1. Thanks for your comment!
      Watching some kids get into college over the last couple of years, I would say that excellent musicians are not a dime a dozen. They are a type, and they are a type that can do very well in college placement.
      I hope the same is true for dance.
      As for camp equality, I say this. You may consider the music camp more valuable than the Guilderland town camps because they are more expensive and specialized; however, if the town camp suits your other children's needs, then it's all okay. That's my two cents.