This is a piece from Working Mother Magazine that I wrote recently. We just signed a contract to dance another year. I signed the check with a a sigh.
It’s no coincidence that our dance studio is in the same shopping center as the supermarket. They know how much a working mom loves the chance to multitask! That’s what I was thinking a decade ago when my 4-year-old twins, Emily and Heather, first skipped off to the studio door, pink flouncy tutus bouncing behind them, leaving me one glorious hour to grab groceries and run errands. Little did I know my Saturday morning routine was the first step to becoming a dance mom, and not the kind who can rock a hair bun.
Five years later, the girls asked to try out for the competition team, which meant all-day Saturday rehearsals. My mind went straight to open afternoons, catching up at home and having quality time with my husband and their big sister, Melody. There would also be three weekend competitions away from home, every winter. OK, I thought, I can do that. I handled making lesson plans (I teach music) and grocery lists away from home well enough, but what I could not handle was being a dance mom—an animadversion of a NASCAR pit crew who has five minutes to fetch, fix and feed little girls between dances and not lose her cool over a hairdo change.
And yet, soon I had to contour makeup, track costume pieces and remember which jewelry went with which routine. My kids complained that it hurt when I combed out an up do, and screeched if I made ponytails too tight. I lost lipstick and earrings in a cavernous makeup case called a Caboodle, and suffered their bad attitudes and meltdowns—but that wasn’t the worst part.
After three years of trudging through dance competitions, a tidal wave of drama struck when their group of dancers hit the preteen years. Encouraging words between team members became gossipy whispers and blatant snubs. There were parties and sleepovers that didn’t include my kids, and the emotional work was exhausting. But when I got a text from Emily that said, “All the girls in my class planned a Secret Santa behind my back, and they just exchanged gifts right in front of me,” my heart broke, we’re done,” I said.
But they wanted to stay. And I had to support them. It was difficult encouraging them to remain on the team when I disliked it so much. And just when things seemed to hit bottom, some of my now-former mom buddies became cliquey and competitive too. When the whole group, minus me, showed up in a Facebook photo after a night out together, I felt left out and disheartened. But then, strangely, I became grateful. Because all of a sudden I knew exactly how my kids felt—unimportant and forgotten—and I realized how much they needed me. “There are other teams, other ways we could spend our weekends, “I told them. No, they said. They wouldn’t be pushed out.“OK, then I’m in too,” I replied.
I dreaded the next competition, and I thought about using the buried-in-work excuse to keep my face in my laptop. But my twins, now 12, continued to practice the choreography that put them next to the very girls who caused them pain. They were showing me something: Put your differences aside and get the job done. Do real teamwork. Show up.
And that’s what I did. I pretended to like it, hoping I would grow into the part. I found like-minded moms I now enjoy at dance competitions, and I pay less attention to the rest. I take my playlist and earbuds, and head out for a walk when I can. Six years into dance competition, I’m happy to say the girls and I rarely argue at events, probably because they now manage their own Caboodles. I still hate being a dance mom—but you’d never guess.