A Place to Dance
The author of this post is Jess, who can be found at Diary of a Mom. There she writes about life with her husband Luau* and their beautiful daughters – nine and-a-half year-old Katie*, an utterly fabulous typically a-typical ten-year-old, and eight-year-old, Brooke*, a loving, talented, hilarious second grader who has autism.
This was orginally posted here.
Luau’s Facebook Status today … 4 years ago I cried in a parking lot for 30 minutes because I had to pull my little one out of a ballet recital the day before the performance; 2 years later I had to pull her out of another ballet school because the school simply did not have to tools to accommodate her; today I cried because finally, FINALLY, someone get it, even better they get her! The little one is so excited for this; she did such a great job today. Thank you, THANK YOU, Boston Ballet. #NotTheOnlyCrierInTheFamilyToday
~ Diary’s Facebook status, Saturday afternoon
Four years ago, we tried. We made it all the way to the recital. The teacher was wonderful. The other parents were supportive. But it just wasn’t going to work. Running around the perimeter of the ballet studio during classes was one thing, but running around the stage in the middle of the auditorium during the very formal recital was another.
And for her. There were just too many moving parts for her. Waiting in a room with a hundred kids for hours on end while others performed. Standing on line – on line, Jesus, we’d barely just managed the *idea* of waiting on line – in a chaotic hallway in between shows, ballerinas running this way and that, teachers shouting directions at every angle. It was too much.
Luau made the decision. He was the one there. He had to. It nearly killed him.
He fussed over the video he’d made of the dress rehearsal. He made it every bit as special as the one he’d made for her big sister when she performed in her recital. And then he sat down and wept.
We never knew if she’d understood. We’d tried to explain. But how?
Two years ago, we tried again. A generous offer of support, accommodation at a local dance academy. It sounded too good to be true. Sadly, it was. She left there too.
She would ask, “When will I take my ballet class?” We had no answer. What the hell could we say?
A year ago, I spoke to the other parents in Brooke’s class on back to school night. I told them that she was autistic. That their kids might have some questions about her or her behavior. That I wanted them to feel free to come to me or Luau. That we didn’t have anything to hide. That we were proud of our girl.
One of the parents asked Luau if Brooke liked to dance. Luau nodded vaguely. “She does, but … “
“Boston Ballet has an adaptive dance program,” she said. “You might want to look into it.”
“Oh God, if only,” we said to one another on the way home that night. “But why will this be any different than the last? Or the one before that? Why would this one not fall apart too? Why would this not hurt like hell again?”
It was too much. We said we’d think about it.
Earlier this summer, she asked for a ballerina dress. We took her to the dance shop. We bought the pony – the leotard, the tutu, the tights. The nice lady who helped us asked if she was getting ready to start a class. I stuttered. “No, she loves to dress up like a ballerina at home.” It felt pathetic.
She asked for ballet outfits for her dolls. We clothed each and every one.
She’d dress up with her dolls and line them against her dresser. Together, they took a ballet class in her room. And it killed me.
“We’ll try it,” he said. We prayed that they knew what they were doing.
There was a lot of conversation ahead of time. They told Luau about their program for children with Down Syndrome and how they were seeking to create a similar program for autistic children. They told him that if we were to participate, we’d be asked to join periodic focus groups so that we could offer our input on how to make the program better. They told him that the first step would be a trial class, attended by a team who would assess Brooke in a number of areas and determine an appropriate placement. Among them would be the Occupational Therapist from Children’s Hospital who started the adaptive program ten years ago.
I don’t know that I’ve ever seen Brooke so outwardly excited. I do know that I haven’t heard her say the words, “I’m so excited” so many times in a row.
The night before the class, she asked me to lay out her ballet clothes. With trembling fingers, I laid out the delicate pink pieces one by one. The tights, the leotard, the tutu, the brand new petal pink slippers we’d bought the day before.
Please God, let this work for my girl, I prayed. She can shine, God. You know she can shine. Please let this be the place.
When we walked in, I knew.
It was the way they welcomed her. The way they interacted with her. The way when she asked the teacher if there was an H in her name, she answered by saying, “There is! Which makes my name look closed and balanced like this –” and she turned her body into the letter H. Or the way when Brooke launched into a knock-knock joke, She laughed heartily then offered up one of her own. This was going to be it.
It was the way the OT – a 45 year veteran of Children’s Hospital hugged me back when I stopped listening halfway through her explanation of why she started the program and said with tears in my eyes, “I’m sorry, but I really need to hug you.”
It was the way that they so obviously RESPECTED my girl. The way they CELEBRATED her. The way they told me what a wonderful dancer she was. How much potential she had. The way their eyes lit up talking about how she’d get to go see a dress rehearsal of the Nutcracker. How they WANTED her there.
Above all, it was in the way they connected with my girl.
And in so doing, made magic.
My girl danced.