Last month my husband and I helped our daughter pack up her flat in Melbourne as she prepares for her return to Perth. She has spent 4 years doing a Bachelor of Dance at the Victorian College of the Arts. I was horrified when my 17 year old asked if she could move across the country to study Dance, as it's not common practice in Australia. I look back over those 4 years now and see that she has grown to be an amazing young woman. And I have to admit that her growth has been mine too. As parents, we like to think that we teach our children so much. In truth, they teach us more. I would like to acknowledge some of the things my daughter has taught me:
Lesson no 1 - Believe in your dreams
Callen decided at the age of 4 that she would be a dancer. I know that many little girls decide to be ballerinas, but she really meant it. There was never any doubt in her mind that she wanted to pursue dance as a profession. Having made that commitment, there was no going back. She has honoured that dream for 17 years.
Lesson no 2 - Be kind to yourself and others
Callen was a maid from the Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz Ballet at the age of 8. She rushed out of a rehearsal one afternoon with a bag of beautiful emerald materials, sparkles & ribbons, and asked if we could make her beautiful costume together. I felt embarrassed to say that we would be missing out on this wonderful bonding experience because I can't sew, and she noticed my discomfort. So she took my hand, looked into my eyes, and said calmly: 'Don't worry mum, you have other gifts'. She has stopped me from beating myself up countless times since then.
Lesson no 3 - Pause
I was well trained by my daughter, who was well trained by her teachers. Apparently, in the dance world, 'On time = 10 minutes early'. Throughout my time as a mom's taxi, I was faithfully 'on time', and so we had many 10 minute periods to pause and ponder. Dancers do really scary things on stage, and they need to be be focused in order to do them. Pausing gives them that time to focus. Now I teach my clients to pause!
Lesson no 4 - Deal with dream-doubters
There were many times when people (including me) tried to dissuade her from this dream, but she perfected a stare that would silence dream-doubters from ten paces. People were often taken aback by her fierce determination. For example, the hallowed sports physician who told her that the bones in her big toes were crumbling, and suggested that she find another career, was told in no uncertain terms that she would continue as a contemporary dancer and refrain from dancing on point.
Lesson no 5 - Work your plan
Most people have no idea how much hard work it takes to be a dancer. Callen never missed a dance class or rehearsal unless she was unwell, and she gave up many social engagements in order to meet her training and performing commitments. At high school she danced 25 hrs per week, on top of TEE studies. She missed her Leavers celebrations to rehearse the Sugar Plum Fairy solo. As the workload increased at university, so did her work ethic.
Lesson no 6 - Push through the tough times
Injuries are always a concern for dancers, and Callen had to spend a semester at home rehabilitating an injured knee. When most of her friends were asleep, she would accompany me to the gym each morning at 6am, diligently completing each exercise the physio had prescribed until she was strong again. Through all of her tough times, we were able to support her from a distance only, meaning that she had to draw on every bit of strength she could muster, particularly in the final semester, when many students, Callen included, felt the urge to walk away. She stuck it out and finished her course. I know that I would not have had the strength to do it so tough without my family nearby.
Lesson no 7 - Have clear boundaries
By far the toughest lesson I learned was that I could not fly across the Nullarbor Desert like Supermum in a cape each time my daughter needed support. Believe me, I would have tele-ported myself there a million times if I had been given that choice. However, she was very clear about what I could or could not do to help her. And eventually I learned to support without panicking or rescuing - (well, most of the time).
Lesson no 8 - Celebrate
Dancers traditionally celebrate their opening night. I always marvelled at their ability to drag their exhausted bodies out for a celebratory drink, given what they had put themselves through at rehearsals. Not to mention the remaining performances. It seems to be a necessity - part of the process. And that's what coaches teach their clients!
The next chapter begins for this mother and daughter. Moving home after living independently for 4 years could be an enormous challenge. But I have no doubt that Callen will manage it very well - and she'll teach me to manage this new phase in our relationships with grace, as she has always done. I'm grateful for the lessons my daughter has taught me, and I look forward to learning many more.