Yesterday was Jack's first tap performance with his school. I was hesitant at first to let him do it, because he tends to be shy and not like to perform, even when it's just me asking him to sing the ABC's in front of a well-known relative. He seemed enthusiastic about it, though. He was excited about our seeing his "train dance," and he'd been showing us pieces of it at home. So, Saturday morning, we piled into the minivan and headed to the Mexican American Cultural Center for the show. When we got there, I was relieved to see the room was relatively small and well-lit and there wasn't really a stage - just an area of the room flanked by screens where the kids would do their dances and folding chairs set up for the audience. It seemed less intimidating than a giant auditorium with a stage and spotlights and whatnot. Jack was all smiles. I took him to where his fellow dancers were waiting in the second row of chairs in their matching overalls and train conductor hats. They were all bouncing on and off the chairs and looking so cute together. Jack sat with his classmates to wait their turn to dance. He periodically turned around to check we were still there, seated about four rows behind him, and smile at us. This is going well, I thought.
The boys had to wait about fifteen minutes until their turn to dance, and as the time passed, Jack began to look more and more worried. Jason, I and my parents all smiled encouragingly at him every time he turned around, though, and he made no move to leave his row. I went up to hug and reassure him a couple of times as well. By the time it was their turn to perform, Jack looked teary eyed. Jason was in place to video Jack's dance, which was all of about three minutes long. As the train music started, Jack began to cry in earnest, but, bless his heart, he was still doing his best to do all the steps and moves. He obviously knew them well. As the longest three minutes of my life went by, I almost went up and got him several times. I didn't though, because he was still trying so hard to do the dance, despite how upset he was. It broke my heart. By the time it was over, I had pushed my way to the front, near the dancers. As the music ended and everyone clapped, I called Jack into my arms, where he buried his head in my chest and snuggled his blankie. I felt horrible. How could I subject my child, whom I know to be shy, to such torture when he's not even three years old? I should have sat with him while he waited, despite the school's instructions that parents stay in the audience. I should have stayed closer to the stage area during the performance so Jack could see me better. I should have gone up and gotten him in the middle of the dance when it became obvious he was not going to calm down. Maybe I shouldn't have had him do the damned show in the first place.
Jack sat on my lap for the rest of the dances. The whole show was only twenty minutes long, and halfway through the dance right after his, he was practically standing on my lap to see the older kids doing a dance to "Singing in the Rain," with umbrellas. He seemed perfectly fine, as he asked, "Why they have umbrellas? It's not raining." We went out to lunch after the show and got Jack his favorite - a chocolate milkshake. He was happy and bouncy and talking our ears off like normal. He did not seem scarred by the morning's event in the least. We talked about the performance later, and Jack stated very calmly and matter-of-factly that he, "did not like all those mommas and daddies there." He said, "It was hard." I was glad he felt all right to talk about it, especially without getting upset about it again. For Jason and I it was another matter, though. As we talked later that evening, it turns out Jason felt much the same as I. He was mad at himself for not going to get Jack during the performance when he seemed so upset. Both of us still feel guilty about it, even though for Jack it's already ancient history. I know I may never want to watch the video Jason shot.
The kids do another show in May, and I can tell you, we're going to do that one a lot differently. First of all, I'm going to ask Jack if he wants to do it, point blank, instead of just gauging his level of enthusiasm. And, I think I might encourage him to just go and watch the show, instead of dancing in it. He loves tap and music so much. I don't want him to start hating it because he dreads having to perform it. It's not about the performance anyway; it's about learning to enjoy and appreciate the arts. I do want to encourage him to come out of his shell and to honor his commitments, but he's not even three yet. I don't want to do those things at the expense of his comfort and enjoyment of dance and the school experience. So, in May, should he decide to do the performance again, I want to be right there to bail him out, should he change his mind at any point. Even though I never want to be one of those moms who hovers over her child, not letting him make his own decisions and mistakes, I think in this case, maybe a little helicopter parenting is warranted.
It's just so damned hard to know what the right thing is sometimes. Yesterday, I thought I was giving Jack room to make his own decisions and experience his own life, when in the end, I think he needed a bit more guidance. He needed someone to tell him it was okay if he was nervous and decided not to do it. I think he felt like he had to go up there and dance, come hell or high water. And, while that may be an all right sentiment while trying to teach your older child to follow through with what he has promised to do, for a preschooler, you should cut him a little slack. I keep telling myself just to learn from this and stop beating myself up over what I could have done differently. No parent is perfect, and Jack will bounce back from just about any error we make. It seems guilt comes with the territory of being a parent, though. All I know is, I better get over it, because I have a good eighteen plus more years of parenting mistakes to make, and the guilt from those could crush a momma.