A few months back, Mary's dance school started selling advance tickets to the June recital. She was excited. I was excited. It was Mary's first ever dance performance. The costumes were cute, and Mary's combination tap/ballet class had more than enough enthusiasm to cover their novice dancer status.
"So do you need any backstage help?" I casually asked the dance teacher. I knew the recital was going to be long. I had vague memories of my own brief foray into ballet, when I was about Mary's age, and listing in various classrooms of the local high school for what felt like hours. For some reason, it seemed like a good idea to relive that as a parent, and I became the "room mom" for her class of four little girls.
Recital day arrived and I brought Mary to the high school, all ready to go. My husband, mother, in laws, brother in law and brother in law's girlfriend would be following shortly with her sisters. As we pulled into the parking lot, I tossed a couple of odds and ends (hairbrush, extra elastics that were in the car) into an LL Bean tote. I noticed other mothers with similar bags and felt well prepared for my first rodeo.
We were greeted at the door.
"Oh, the little ones!" another volunteer said. "You guys are in the little gym!" When we reached the entrance, I realized I had made a mistake. A big, big mistake.
Twenty four acts in Act 1. Twenty two in Act 2. Each approximately two to three minutes long with an intermission. And I stared at the blank walls of a poorly ventilated room with nothing to offer but two grimy basketball hoops (and no balls) and some rolled up foam gym mats that had been current in 1972.
Around us, better prepared room mothers were opening their LL Bean totes to reveal bagged snacks, soft blankets to sit on, coloring books and crayons. There were camping chairs and coolers of drinks. I eyed our bare corner in dismay and watched as Mary's classmate slid headfirst down the rolled up mat like a seal. I had exactly one bottle of water, no snacks, and some extra blush and was staring down the barrel of at least three hours.
I hustled Mary into her costume as the other little girls arrived. Their mothers signed them in and departed in order to grab a seat. There existed 20 minutes until curtain, and I started doing Mary's minimal makeup, just some pink lipstick, blush and mascara.
Dear readers, there is a reason four year olds don't typically wear mascara. She twitched. She blinked. Instantly a line of little black dots appeared on her cheek. I wiped at them. That made it worse. I wet a cloth and wiped - even worse. She looked like a raccoon.
"Do you want a wipe?" asked Prepared Super Mommy from the comfort of blankets, coloring pages and Doritos.
"Thank you," I gushed. "Can you tell it's my first time?"
She smiled and said nothing. That was polite of her.
We made it through the first half hour incident free. The girls rolled down the mats and I gave up trying to stop them. Other mothers were in the same boat, going from "Don't do that, you'll get dirty!" to "Oh...just try not to get hurt, okay?!" in five seconds flat. I hustled four excited preschoolers to their first number. They froze in the lights, grinned, tap danced a little and were adorable.
And then we waited. For about two hours until our next number. I was scared, but the girls were great. Mary and one little friend adopted girls from another dance group as best friends and got in on the coloring book action. The other little girls raced back and forth, up and down the gym, stopping only to constantly ask "is it our turn yet?"
At one point, Mary came over.
"Those little girls are having a picnic," she said, pointing to Snack Pack Mom's area. "Can I join them?"
"Did they ask you to join them?"
"No, I have to ask them first."
"That's not exactly how it works," I said, channeling Emily Post for two seconds, and doling out the last of the graham crackers brought by one of the other girl's moms.
A little flower-dressed ballerina collided with my leg.
"Is it our turn yet?"
Intermission. Another girl's mom comes backstage.
"You were great!" she gushed. "I can't wait to see you in the next number!"
"We're not doing it," the girl said. Mom looked at me.
Life Lesson 1: Never listen to the ridiculous things your four year old says.
"Oh no, they're doing it," I said. "We're back here this long, we're dancing!"
Another leg collision.
"Is it our turn?!"
And finally it was. Mary ballet danced her little heart out. I won't say it was technically good. She's four. That's not the point. She waved offstage at no one. She forgot steps. But she grinned and grinned and when all the other little girls went off at the end of the number, mine grabbed an extra bow and a curtsey.
Now that's grace under pressure.
Next year, I bring coloring books.
And a flask.