This morning was Adeline’s first ballet class. We arrived early because I wasn’t sure what to expect. We walked through the door and were met with an adorable array of pastel pink and purple tutus, dresses, and various other chiffony, feathery, girly goodness. I was promptly ushered through the process of purchasing tights, a tutu ensemble, and ballet slippers – all of which added up to almost as much as we paid for the class. Soon all the other little girls had arrived and we lined up to enter the studio.
The class was short and there wasn’t much ballet involved. But good lord. It was a.dor.able. Seven little girls, all right around Addie’s age (between 18 and 36 months), dressed in tights and tutus, running around, spinning, hopping, you name it. All my feminist, there’s-more-to-life-than-being-cute, rhetoric diminished to nothingness in the face of so much freaking cute.
After much stretching and plieing and spinning, we had free movement. I chased Addie into a corner of the room, both of us giggling with delight, and out of the corner of my eye I saw a little bathroom. In an instant I was transported back nearly 30 years.
Little Sara – probably about three years old (maybe four?). Standing in the second row, third from the right. I see myself in the mirror at the front of the room, my face framed by those of the two little girls in front of me. Just like Addie, I wear a little ballet outfit, complete with leotard, tights, and ballet slippers.
I like ballet – I’m good at it. When the teacher shows us a movement I can pick it up quickly. My body moves naturally and easily in the way that I want it to. I see some of the other girls struggle to follow the teacher. They seem to concentrate so hard – too hard, I think.
I’m not particularly friends with any of the other girls in the class. Not that I can remember, anyway. But I have fun here. My social awareness is just starting to blossom. I care what these girls think of me. I want them to think I’m graceful and beautiful. I want them to like me.
We all scurry over to the edge of the room and line up for our little jumps across the floor. When we’re done, we line up in front of the mirrors again. I study myself. Then I start to feel it. I have to go pee. I think I can hold it until the end of class. It shouldn’t be too long now. Besides, I have these tights and leotard on – it would be so hard to get out of them and then back into them. I’ll just hold it.
We do some more movements in front of the mirror. We’re practicing for our upcoming recital. I’m so excited to go on stage and to show Mommy and Daddy how good I’ve gotten. I’m excited about the little costumes that we’ll get to wear. I’m distracted for awhile, thinking of all this. I forget that I have to pee.
Then, suddenly, the feeling is much more urgent. I know that my Mommy is in the building somewhere, waiting for me. But I don’t know how to get her attention. I try to think about how much longer class will be. I’m not sure now if I can hold it. Finally I decide I need to go. I try to get the teacher’s attention, but I don’t want to call too much attention to myself. I don’t want the other girls to know that I have to pee and that I can’t hold it. I look at the teacher’s face in the mirror: she’s looking to the other side of the room, then just past me. I can’t catch her eye.
I start to get nervous and anxious; what if I can’t get her attention in time? What if I do, but I can’t make it to the bathroom? What if I make it to the bathroom, but I can’t get my tutu and leotard and tights off in time? What if I pee my pants?? My heart is racing and I’m about to cry – the anxiety is taking over. And then I feel it: warm first, then wet. Running down my legs, seeping through my tights. I look down and see it pooling on the floor by my feet.
I want to escape. I want to pretend it never happened. I try to think of a way to get out unnoticed. Maybe no one will see and I can just sneak out at the end of class. Maybe I can just forget this ever happened.
“Eeeewwww!” The squeal comes from behind me. It’s too late. I’m mortified.
That’s where the memory ends. I don’t remember what happened after that. Probably the teacher helped me and my mom helped me and it wasn’t that big of a deal. Yet, for years I thought of that moment when people mentioned most embarrassing moments (which, for some reason, seems to be a common question when you’re a teenager). I never actually mentioned that moment, though. I was too ashamed. I came up with some other story to tell. I wasn’t going to admit to something so traumatic. Mercifully, the “most embarrassing moment” questions ended with adulthood and I let that memory slip into the dark and musty corners of my mind.
Today, in a moment full of glee and joy with my daughter, that moment came back. I felt, for the first time, no shame. I felt nothing, really. Maybe a little pity for that tiny version of me. And a dose of humor as well. If anything, the strongest emotion I felt was the hope that nothing like that ever happens to Adeline.
As a three-year-old that moment felt life-altering. As an older child and teenager that moment felt too shameful to mention. As an adult that moment was buried in a place where I wouldn’t have to face it. As a mother, that moment has lost it’s power. I know potty training is a process. I know three-year-olds lack complete control and that’s totally normal. And I know, more than anything, that the monsters of my past are insignificant in the face of the beauty of my present.
I wish I could protect Adeline from embarrassing moments. But I know that’s impossible. I know that those moments will happen and they will be mortifying. I can only give her confidence and try to make her believe that none of it will matter in the end.