Mother and daughter two-step to an Irish beat
All the world's a stage, and even though I swore it would never happen to me, I am now counted firmly in the ranks of "stage mothers."
When I used to work in the entertainment industry creating and repairing costumes, I worked with many child actors. So, when my daughter was born nine years ago, I resisted any and every effort from my colleagues to push her into show business.
Yes, she was pretty and yes, she was friendly - two of the hallmarks of children who are successful in baby advertising - but no child of mine was going to go through what I considered to be the considerable downsides: pressure, rejection, and general nastiness. (How do you think they get those babies to cry on cue anyway?)
But my daughter grew up around performers and was fascinated by them - both the professionals I worked alongside when she was very small or the countless teenagers I coached for acting competitions. She never showed any real interest in being an actress, though, and didn't seem driven toward singing on the Great White Way as my teenage students were.
She went through a stage where she wanted to be a pop diva, but that was definitely a fantasy, not a life plan.
And then ... she discovered Irish step dancing on the competitive level. After three years of dancing just for fun, she found out that there were many competitions in our area. So we interviewed coaches, chose a new school, and are learning the ropes of feis, where she competes against dancers of her own age and ability.
It is a fun thing for us to do together. We both enjoy the travel and all the people that we meet. Winning is fun, of course, but she is also learning to be a good sport about losing with grace, which is a fine thing. Dance, like sports, helps kids learn discipline, and she has gained quite a bit of self-confidence by practicing hard and being good at what she loves.
But then I heard it coming from my own lips ... the dreaded stage mother voice: "Katie, lift your leg just a tad higher in that second step.... Katie, you should smile more and try and look a little more relaxed.... Katie, stop running around with your friends and go line up, your group is on deck.... Katie, pay attention...."
Not as bad as some of the mothers I hear, but not a person I ever wanted to be.
It's a dilemma: I don't want to push her so hard that I take all the fun out of dancing, but if we are going to go to the trouble and expense of competing, part of me doesn't want her to lose over things I know she could fix. Where is the line between encouraging your child to do her best and turning into some parental shrew?
Thankfully, Katie and I have been able to talk things out and draw that line. I wanted her to have the benefit of my years of coaching competition entries. But she is at an age where she is beginning to assert her independence, and so tunes out when she thinks I'm nagging.
We made a deal: She would listen when I had something to say that could help her. And I would stop repeating myself. I also make sure she has some time to run around with her friends after her events are over, and she tries to focus on the events beforehand.
I find the line constantly moves, but hope that as long as we listen to each other, it will never become a huge bone of contention between us.
I also hope that she doesn't want to quit before she has given it her best shot. I have told her repeatedly that she doesn't have to compete in order to dance. I add that if she decides to give up the stress of the feis circuit, she can do so as soon as the events she has committed to are over.
It's another line drawn in sand - I don't want her to get the idea that she can give up on something whenever it gets hard, but I never want to drag her from event to event.
The other day, she was practicing her lifts as we were walking down the street. "Mom, does this look good?" she asked.
"Do you really want me to tell you?" I asked back.
"Well then," I ventured, "it seems to me you are leaning just a bit too far forward."
Katie tried again, holding her head back a bit more and standing up a little straighter with her arms tight to her sides - just like the best extra in "Riverdance."
"Like this?" she asked.
"That's perfect," I said.
"Thanks, Mom," she said as she lift-two-three-ed off into the afternoon.
Katie remembers to say thank you most of the time, but that one meant a lot to me.
Her two-year goal? The world finals in Northern Ireland. Will she make it? I don't know, but I do know that whether she does or doesn't, she will have as much of my encouragement and as little of my nagging as I can manage.
Maybe being a stage mother isn't such a bad thing after all.