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Letting My Daughter Quit: A Choose Your Own Adventure Story

Similar to the minutia of babyhood (i.e.: The ergo or the bjorn? Which kind of nipple? Is she sleeping enough/too much?) which now seem silly, having evened itself out naturally and inconsequential in the long run, the decisions of toddlerhood also feel heavy in the moment.
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First, there is the dance-gear.

Something is so satisfying about dressing your daughter up. Especially when she is too young to have a preference, and she is still mostly yours. Especially when her favorite color is still your favorite color; her interests are your own.

Mostly, this is because she can hardly speak, but it is also because she is a part of you. She is the best part of you, actually. Everything you want you want for her.

You feel obliged, as a parent, to give your daughter all the opportunities you had as a child, (if not more). You took ballet as a child; now, so should your daughter.

So here she is at the local ballet class in your neighborhood: all dressed up in a purple tutu, beautiful in the mirror as you take pictures on your phone of her reflection. She is the youngest one, but that makes it even cuter; her tiny ballet slippers still too big. She doesn't always understand what she should be doing, so the sweet, young instructor takes her hand.

Your friend's daughter is also in the class, more adept at dance than your daughter, and a little older, but new to the class, just the same. You realize your daughter, like you, is no ballerina, but graceful or coordinated or good-postured will do just fine.

In the middle of the first class, after the balance beam, and right before the teacher begins freeze dance, both daughters come running over to you and your friend to sit on your laps on the floor. When you urge them to go back to the class, they both begin to cry.

Their little chubby hands hold onto your own. Their eyes are wet and see you blurry and big. They beg you to hold them longer, and refuse to go back to the teacher, who begins to go on without them. What do you do?

Do you....


You watch as your friend holds your daughter, picking her up and mouthing so as not to disturb, "I'll call you later."

Later, after enduring a class in which your daughter runs back to you crying each time the teacher picks her up to follow the other girls, you stop by your friend's house.

"Why would I keep her in something she hates? She is only 2," your friend says as the two girls play, still in their ballet clothes, twirling around. "I don't want her first experience with something like dance to be a bad one, and I don't want to feel like I am making her do something she doesn't want to."

You sit on the couch and watch your two girls. Both seem happy, although you daughter's right eyelid look a bit heavy, the same way her father's get when he is tired.



You watch as your friend and her daughter leave, then pick up your own kid and follow quickly behind. Once you are out of the studio, you smile at each other, the girls instantly happy and out of your arms.

If A)
Your daughter continues in ballet class, and continues to dislike it. In her memory the classes are a scar on her otherwise happy childhood. She takes classes (like you did) that amount to little else but hours spent being mediocre at something: the recorder, piano, tap and jazz, jewelry making...

On the other hand, these things did not hurt you, necessarily. Perhaps they frustrated you at times, but when you did find what you were good at, you stuck with it. Would that still be the case if you hadn't been made to stick with the things you didn't like?

If B)
When you let her quit you send her a message: Even though she is 2, this is the first thing she seemed interested in and the first thing that you committed her to. You imprint this onto her, like a memory tattoo: you can try anything and not follow through -- there are no consequences to quitting.

"I wish you had kept me in ballet class. Now I won't get into (fill in small/trendy liberal arts school that all her friends are applying to) because I don't have enough extra-curriculars!" your future daughter says to you...

Similar to the minutia of babyhood (i.e.: The ergo or the bjorn? Which kind of nipple? Is she sleeping enough/too much?) which now seem silly, having evened itself out naturally and inconsequential in the long run, the decisions of toddlerhood also feel heavy in the moment.

When you call the ballet teacher to tell her your daughter will no longer be coming, and begin to confess your struggle with your decision, you can hear how stupid you sound, like the first time mothers you hear now and are annoyed by, like you are the only one to have ever had a child. You can hear in the teacher's tone how many times she has heard this. You try to see the larger picture when you hang up. You put your daughter's ballet shoes into her dress up box for "dramatic play."


Six months later, there is music playing at the University swimming pool where you have signed her up for her first class since ballet. The music is top 40-like, and blasts within the large and humid room. You cannot stop sweating as you watch your daughter in her pink bikini and matching goggles being twirled around in the water by her cute, young instructor with his accent and foreign name.

You are not sweating because of the instructor, however, or because of the heat, but rather because your daughter is trying to stop herself from crying while waving to you.

You can hear her call you before she listens to the instructor, first blowing bubbles, then jumping into his arms.

The woman sitting next to you comments, "Wow. Your daughter is very resilient," and you feel proud, even though she is still biting her lip and calling "Mama!"

You imagine something -- a light perhaps -- shining into the glass ceiling of the pool onto your daughter, giving you some kind of sign that what you are doing is right, that you should continue to resist jumping into the water and taking her out, holding her tightly and getting her ice cream.

"Look," you mouth to her, still on the bench, pointing to her instructor who is motioning for her to listen to him explain the strokes. Your daughter loves the water, but she is fearless and has made you worry. You want to equip her with the skills she needs to swim on her own.

So you have more at stake with this class. You look at your watch and count the minutes that have passed in which you have not gotten her out of the water, into her towel and into your arms. You are proud of yourself. Resilient.

Slowly she stops turning to you, and slowly she stops crying. Soon she is kick-kick-kicking, holding onto a board. Soon she is reaching beneath the water to get the batons she has thrown.

After the lesson, when she is dry again, and you are driving home, you go over all that she has learned. She is happy with herself, and seems enthused.

"So, we'll go again next week!?" you say, hardly a question.

"No!" she says.

Do you...?