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Facing Fears

Two days ago, I picked up DJ from school, rushing him and little sister to the car so we could get home and change. “Why?” he asked. “Because tonight is your dance performance!” I said brightly, cringing inside as I awaited his response.  “Nooo…” he whimpered, lip quivering. “I don’t WANT to dance tonight mommy. I don’t like dance class.” So on I went, asking him a million questions about why he didn’t like it anymore, what happens in dance class, and if it was just the performing on stage that had him worried. He shrugged his shoulders, eyes pooling with tears.

Rewind to December (Christmas program), then rewind to November (Thanksgiving program)–his first two stage appearances that ended in abrupt meltdowns. The thanksgiving performance was with his dance class, while the Christmas performance was simply singing Christmas carols as he sat with his class and others onstage. Both times, he appeared overwhelmed and overstimulated at the audience, the lights, and just the very thought of all eyes being on him.  I hesitated signing him up for the spring semester, but I decided to let him try one more time. I figured if he was still terrified, we would not do it again.

[Such a difficult boundary to balance: How much do you push your child without crossing the line, while also realizing that sometimes (adults too) they need a push from you or someone else to take the next step?]

We rushed home, got changed, and on the way back to school I asked him if he would just try to do the dance with his friends, and, if he wasn’t happy, then he could come and sit by me. He agreed, but then said, “I don’t want to dance.” No compromising there, he just gave me lip service lol. As we walked into the building, I saw his dance teachers and realized we were the first ones there. They welcomed him to step onstage and tried to acclimate him to the environment. We told him how cool the lights were, how much fun he would have, and that all his friends would be arriving soon.

As his classmates walked in, he began playing and roughhousing as only 3-year-olds can. I felt hopeful that this would relax him enough to go through with the dance. But as their teacher gathered them up to remove their shoes, he ran back to me, sat down, and repeated that he did not want to do it. SO, I plunged into the deep depths of awesome parenting: BRIBERY. I promised him Baskin Robbins after the program. Any flavor he wanted. Or, candy from the store. “Just please at least try the routine? You’ve practiced it for a long time.” His eyes lit up, and he asked: “Okay. Can we go get the ice cream and candy NOW?” I shook my head. “Nope, gotta dance first.” He started to cry and refused again. By then, Dad walked in and tried to convince him to do the same. He was NOT having it. So we shrugged our shoulders, gave him hugs, and  accepted the fact that if he didn’t want to do it, we had to respect it. After all, if ice cream didn’t work, nothing would! At the last second, hubby leaned over and asked him: “Will you go up if Daddy stands close to the stage? I’ll be right there.” To my surprise, he nodded and slowly got up. He took his shoes off, hopped up on the stage, and took his place. After I picked up my jaw off of the floor, I scrambled to open the camera on my phone to record. I honestly thought he would change his mind any second, but he knelt down with the rest of his classmates as they waited for their cue. HOORAY FOR DAD!

See his stage debut below!

(Don’t worry, it won’t play sideways even though it looks that way.)

How cute was that???!

I watched the entire performance beaming with pride and tears rolling. The feeling I had as I watched him face one of his biggest fears was priceless. He was terrified, unsure, but the security he felt because Dad knelt nearby helped him to overcome it. He was still nervous but no longer fearful of the act, He took the first step and off he went! At the end, I squeezed him tight, savoring the moment, absorbing his joy and pride. I was clearly proud of him, but I was even more thrilled to see that he was proud of himself. If only I could bottle up this unfiltered, overwhelming glee and save it for a moment of insecurity (his or mine!).

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DJ rarely brought up the past performances, but when he did, he would simply say, “Mommy, I cried onstage.” We would assure him that it was fine, that there would always be a next time, or that he didn’t have to do it if he really didn’t want to. It was so easy to tell him that, but yet I usually don’t give myself the same grace. He is watching my actions, despite my words…so what a wonderful reminder to step out and do the scary things, while not beating myself up for doing it at my own pace. We deserve the same patience that we give our kids, and they need to see it action to fully implement it into their growing habits.

Oh, and we definitely went out to eat to celebrate. He chose to get candy from the store after dinner instead of ice cream, though 🙂

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I live for that smile!

What specific moment or achievement filled you with pride in your child or someone close to you? I’d love to hear about it!

6 thoughts on “Facing Fears”

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