Octo Observations: Goosebumps Galore!

For any grandparent sitting in the audience of a “grandbaby’s” on-stage performance, an inordinate feeling of pride emerges. For years, my husband and I have been lucky enough to attend school musicals, drum concerts, graduations, squash matches, baseball games and ballet recitals. What a thrill to see grandchildren evolve, to watch their confidence grow and to know that as they pursue their passions, they are also preparing themselves for life in the real world…where excellence breeds success.

This past weekend we traveled to Washington, D.C. to see our second oldest granddaughter perform at The Kennedy Center. After many years of study at The School of American Ballet in New York City, she now is a professional ballerina, and a member of a top American ballet company. She was born to dance! Even as a little five-year old twirling with delight around her backyard on a pristine June day, she announced emphatically, “Grammy, I am happiest when I am dancing!” She was committed, heart and soul. The rest is history… with a bright future on the horizon. Kudos to her teachers, to her parents, to her younger sisters for helping her dream come true. Solid, supportive families are to be celebrated!

Most of all, Kudos to Lucy for her determination, diligence, hours and hours of practice, plus her willingness to sacrifice her life as a “normal” teenager to spend six days each week studying ballet. At age fifteen she was required to live in NYC and receive her high school education at the Professional Children’s School, created for aspiring actors, dancers, and musicians. For these students there is zero time to waste. Every weekday hour is filled with demands of school, or (in Lucy’s situation) ballet. Saturday afternoons, after a last class, students are permitted to go home for relaxation and brief family time… returning again to the city on Sunday evening or early Monday a.m.

Diligence, discipline and determination. That is the mantra for these children. And each year, competition increases.  In her nine years at SAB, Lucy witnessed friends drop out or be cut from the ballet program. Each year she had to prove herself worthy of a place in the school. Each year the competition became more rigorous. Even parents were discouraged from sharing their child’s progress. Ballet is all about perfection. And youngsters learn quickly to conform or to be asked to leave. 

Imagine being a parent of a child whose consuming dream is to achieve recognition in the performing arts….whose passion, in this case, is to become a professional ballerina. Her schedule eclipses that of the entire family. Parents must learn how to navigate those murky waters: to achieve balance while developing and nurturing a healthy, stable child. Many stories are told of parents who split up their own lives, so that one parent lives in the city with a child while the other manages children at home. A loving, flexible partnership bonded by a strong marriage is essential. And woe to those couples whose dedication is not as strong as that of their child! Hooray for siblings who also must adjust to an unusual climate.

The success of the young dancer is determined not only by inner drive and talent, but also by his/her ability to rise above constant criticism. No trophies for attendance or participation. Compliments are few and far between for young ballet students. We have all heard stories of rail-thin ballerinas whose fear of gaining weight becomes obsessive. Slowly teachers have softened and yielded to reality. Many dancers have learned to make healthy choices. They do not become anorexic or have eating disorders, but the temptation is real. Instead students are watched carefully for signs of trouble. Remember the movie, The Black Swan?Wow, that was a heartbreaking story of a gifted young girl caught up in a wickedly mean, competitive environment. And as a result, she died…an extreme reaction, thank heavens. But not out of the realm of possibility.

Decades ago, as a youngster I adored the violin. My older sister was a piano student. We were fortunate enough to be students at The Cleveland Institute of Music. Even as young as five, I began to study music theory. That was fun, but a little voice inside my head said, “I want to play the violin.” My parents acquiesced, and for all my growing-up years I learned and loved the violin. Did I voluntarily choose practicing instead of going outdoors to play with friends after school? No. I remember watching the clock, and when the requisite practice hour ended, I was out the door! But as years passed, we moved several times in our married life. Playing the violin opened doors to wonderful new experiences for me. Music was a lovely diversion. No way could I wallow in self-pity over another corporate move when my violin was tucked under my chin.

 As a teenager, although encouraged to try for Julliard, I knew I lacked the desire or drive to compete. I loved my violin but never believed I was good enough nor, more importantly, did I want to work that hard to survive in one of the country’s finest music schools. But I did learn discipline. I learned to focus, and I learned that unless I worked really hard, I might, God forbid, embarrass myself in a recital. Sometimes I did, but I survived and grew. My teacher was a treasure. She was encouraging, a gentle mentor who taught wisely. She gifted me with a sense of accomplishment and achievement, plus a life-long love for music.  She also taught me the meaning of focus, of attempting to play difficult music, and succeeding on a modest level.

Hence the vast difference between Lucy and her Grammy: Lucy’s consuming passion is a rare gift, unique, and the reason ballet is now her career. Our common bond is understanding discipline, rising above disappointments….and knowing the meaning of working hard, doing our best whatever our chosen interest may be. This kind of determination is what makes a person succeed in life, in relationships and achieving personal growth. A child does not need to be a Phi Beta Kappa, a professional anything. Rewards come in many forms. Learning from mistakes, shrugging them off, and trying harder to do better creates self-confidence.

Consider gifted students who flounder in school, rather than rise to the top of their classes. Why don’t they realize their potential? Why is it that someone can be accepted into one of the top Ivy League schools, yet flunk out? Who knows.  This is none of my business. Yet, I truly believe each child is born with a God-given talent. An essential aspect of good parenting is encouraging, supporting, guiding and yes, even pushing, a child to do his/her best, no matter whether it is in the classroom, baseball field, or wherever. Encourage, don’t hover. Offer opportunities to grow and to make wise choices. Pampering gives rise to “snowflakes,” but loving nurture generates happy, productive adults.

To say my husband and I get “goosebumps galore” while watching our young granddaughter perform exquisitely is an understatement. She, like her cousins and other young people we know, makes us very proud. Hence, a comforting Octo Observation to contemplate when our world situation looks glum:  if all blossoming adults embrace the timeless traits of diligence, discipline and determination, our future will be in good hands… and we grandparents can gratefully relax, gracefully step aside as the youth of today replaces our generation.

Top photo: Bigstock

Joy Nevin is the author of Joy of Retirement – Live, Love, and Learn. Click to buy on Amazon.