I was going to be a prima ballerina. At least in my mind I was. I danced all the time. I danced in my dreams. I walked on my toes. When my dad played his guitar I donned a leotard and tutu and danced for my living room audience.

Me as a little girl dancing in our Detroit living room. The fireplace hearth made for an excellent stage.

I read books about ballerinas, watched every movie and show I could that had dancing in it, and at one point had a calendar full of pointe shoes.

But ballet is expensive and I was the daughter of a church worker and a stay-at-home mom. The dance classes alone would have bankrupted my family. And so I passed from childhood to adolescence to young adulthood with an unfulfilled dream, a dream that wasn’t helped when a friend, who was a dancer, told me during my senior year of high school that I had perfect arches for toe shoes.

That settled it. Forget the fact that I had strong but short and thick legs and a less-than-lithe frame, my perfectly formed arches had been wasted on years of piano and short athletic careers in basketball, softball, and track. I decided then and there that if I ever had a daughter, I would make sure that she got to take dance lessons for as long as she wanted.

Enter my tall, beautiful, not-quite-graceful, little girl. I knew from years of reading fictional stories about dancing that if she was going to be a dancer, we needed to start early, so when she was four I decided to try ballet at the YMCA close to our house. While she enjoyed the once-a-week classes, she didn’t fall in love with it as I had hoped. When we gave her the choice of playing basketball or taking dance again after Christmas break, she chose basketball. To this day I’m not quite sure why we even gave her a choice. She was four and had no idea what she was really interested in, but we were trying to be good Xennial parents and wanted to make sure our kids had a variety of experiences.

It was a disaster. First they gave all of the kids colored bracelets to help them identify which kid on the other team they were supposed to guard. She thought that meant that she was supposed to become their best friend and kept trying to hold her opponent’s hand. Then, she would get bored with the action on the court and wander away from the action so that she could dance around on her toes. By the time the season was over, I had signed her up for another creative dance class close to our house and decided that was where we were going to expend her physical energy.

The next year I signed her up for ballet through the dance studio that was hosted out of our church. When one of the after school programs at her school offered a weekly hip-hop class, I signed her up for that one as well. I figured if she had to wait after school for me to be done at my work, she might as well be doing something active. She loved both her “beautiful” dance and her “cool” dance (her words, not ours), but by the performance dates for both studios, it was clear to us that dancing, no matter how much she loved it, was not one of her natural gifts.

With our lives in total disarray during the first couple months after we moved to Houston, I wasn’t signing our kids up for any extra activities. We didn’t have a house yet and we didn’t know where anything was located. In fact, we were barely surviving the day to day as we juggled work, school, and life in a 30-foot travel trailer designed for weekend camping, not for living.

The following fall I once again asked our daughter if she wanted to take dance, but it appeared that any desire she had to take dance classes had dissipated. I was disappointed, but I had also discovered something during the year that she was taking two different dance classes. I was not “dance mom” material. I wasn’t girly enough to hang out with the other dance moms, crafty enough to help with costumes, or patient enough to twist my daughter’s thick yet fine long hair into a tight, perfectly formed bun for every dance rehearsal.

The following spring, as I was asking our son if he wanted to play soccer, our daughter jumped right on it.

“I want to play.”

“Really?” I tried to keep the surprise out of my voice because I never wanted to give my daughter the impression that she couldn’t do anything her brother couldn’t do, but I couldn’t help remembering back to our experience with basketball three years before. I wasn’t sure I was ready for a repeat performance.

But we weren’t going to tell our son he could play soccer and tell our daughter “no” for no reason other than sports had been a miserable failure when she was in preschool. So we signed both kids up for spring soccer and much to our surprise, she not only loved playing the game that had terrified me in Freshman P.E. (I hated people kicking at my shins), but her favorite position was goalie. Our daughter, who screamed every time I discovered a tiny knot in her long hair, enjoyed having soccer balls kicked at her.

Will wonders never cease.

And now she has discovered a new love: basketball. When we told her two months ago that she didn’t have a choice, she needed to branch out beyond just soccer because nine years old was far too young to commit to a single sport, she nearly revolted. But we signed her up anyway. Then over Christmas break she discovered that she didn’t need anyone to play with if she wanted to shoot baskets. If she wanted to practice goal keeping she needed a partner to shoot balls in her direction, but shooting hoops was something she could do without additional assistance.

And this morning we got to see her first game in five years, and while she didn’t make any baskets, she dribbled, defended, and passed the ball all while being actively invested in the game. Although, she still spends far too much time on her toes.

I have finally admitted that the toe shoe dreams were about me, not my daughter.

Even though I am almost 40, the dreams of toe shoes and tulle remain, often sending me onto my toes spinning and dancing when the music and mood strikes. The reality of the lost dream sometimes hits at the most inopportune moments, like the time I was spinning and dancing in our kitchen, knocked the glass globe off of the ceiling fan, and sent it crashing into a shattered mess on the kitchen tile. I had to sheepishly explain to my husband why his grown, adult wife and the mother of his two children was spinning around the kitchen breaking ceiling fans. We still haven’t replaced the glass globe.

And while the dream of my little girl achieving my dreams may continue to go unfulfilled, is it just one of many dreams that I have for my daughter. I also wanted her to love sports, and she has picked two sports that we enjoy watching her play. She loves Harry Potter nearly as much as I do (although I don’t know that I’ll ever understand her obsession with Sirius Black) and I treasure the moments that we have shared reading many different books together even though she has been able to read on her own for years. We still share a common love of music and dance and drama, as evidenced by our occasional moments breaking out into singing along to the Wicked Broadway cast recording. And someday, when I decide that I can cough up the money to buy the tickets, I will buy The Nutcracker tickets that she has begged for the last three Decembers, because while she’s past the years of dance lessons, she still appreciates the beauty of the art form.

Sometimes as parents it’s hard to let go of our dreams and let our kids pursue their own, but like so many of my parenting peers, I’m learning.

But that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop spinning on my own toes.

12 Replies to “Death of Toe Shoe Dreams”

  1. Keep spinning on your toes!! Children are individuals and may not always like the things we want or think they will. You gave her the opportunity to try it, and who knows, she may possibly still want to try again down the road. 🙂

    1. What matters most to me is that I gave her a chance to try it 🙂 And who knows, maybe part of turning 40 will be making the decision to take an adult dance class.

  2. There ya go! Turning 41 has had me questioning pretty much everything that I’m doing and trying figure out what I’m supposed to do. That’s lots of fun!

  3. Sweet read. I can relate to having certain expectations and my kids totally showing me they’re their own person. Like you, I wanted to do after school activities when I was a kid but my parents couldn’t afford them. My kids have tried different ones but prefer plenty of down time 🤷🏼‍♀️

  4. I am not a parent yet, but I work with kids. I see a lot of tiger moms here in China trying to forge their kids’ lives into something against their will. I see many unhappy children as a result. I am sure you’ve figured it out yourself, it is best to let them choose their own path.

Thoughtful and nuanced responses welcome!