Tag Archives: growing up

In Praise of BalletBoy


I just want to sing BalletBoy’s praises for a little bit. A couple of weeks ago, I talked about how Mushroom’s anxiety is tricky for all of us. He’s smart and insightful and intellectually curious, but he gets in his own way so often that it’s hard to see the forest for the trees and there are things I wish I could have him really working on that he can’t and amazing projects he’d like to do that he stops himself from finishing because of his perfectionism.

On the other hand, BalletBoy has really been blooming academically and it’s really exciting to be on the cusp of seeing him head into seventh grade next year and knowing that I get to plan for this kid who is suddenly, miraculously ready for a challenge.

We’ve really taken a pretty relaxed path for BalletBoy’s schooling overall. He’s on grade level for math. We don’t have a long list of required books. He does just a few serious pieces of writing every school year.

However, in the last several months, I’ve been so impressed by how he can suddenly sit down and work independently on schoolwork happily and competently. He doesn’t need me sitting there at his side any more. His reading has taken off. A couple of years ago, I dismayed about getting both my boys to read higher level nonfiction, but we worked on it and last week, I was able to hand BalletBoy a copy of Collapse by Jared Diamond (of Guns, Germs, and Steel fame) and have him read a lengthy section on his own. He used sticky notes to write notes all over the margins that included good summary notes, insightful questions, and connections to other readings he had done on the topic. He will read nearly anything I put before him (if it’s for school – he’s a picky reader in his own time). When I give him an open-ended assignment, like to write about an historical character, he takes the initiative to do some research on his own then cheerfully writes something pretty decent, typed, of course. He has deep questions about philosophy and history and science.

When I taught middle school, there was often a miraculous jump that kids experienced from sixth to seventh grade. They left for the summer looking and acting like little kids and suddenly came back ready to be so grown-up and insightful. BalletBoy is still so little in so many ways. He and Mushroom and their friends still enjoy imaginary games and cartoons and middle grade novels instead of more grown up YA books. However, in other ways, I see that he has suddenly grown up a little academically and is ready for more.

Sometimes Mushroom sucks all the air out of the room, which means that, when given the same assignment, BalletBoy finishes it fast and reasonably well while Mushroom demands that he keep working until it’s downright amazing. I’m trying to start calling BalletBoy on his “good enough” work a little more and push him a little more, give him a little of the oxygen in the room, so to speak. We’re slowly dividing up everything the boys do so that within the next few months, they probably won’t be studying any of the same things with any of the same materials. I think it’s going to benefit BalletBoy greatly.

For one thing, I’m looking forward to really making him dive in with more reading, at a higher level. I’m looking forward to seeing him define his own path for study and seeing where it goes. I’m especially excited to have a student who’s just ready for more. He still can get frustrated or stuck or try to get away with doing only a little. However, he’s ready for more.

He’s also ready for more ballet. He moves to four days a week next year and will probably add an extra fifth class as well. BalletBoy’s determination and dedication, both to ballet and to other projects he starts up, take me by surprise routinely. He’ll find a contest he wants to enter and suddenly he’ll set aside any his free time and screens to work on it for days until he reaches some sense of satisfaction. Ballet is a project that never reaches completion. He’s honest with himself about his failings (he’d never say he was the best in his level) and his successes. While I don’t think of him as a serious kid, people at ballet often tell me they think of him as such a “serious young man” which is amusing but also, when I think about it, so true.

Basically, right now, it’s a delight to see BalletBoy growing up, turning into the person he’s going to be.

Same as It Ever Was

BalletBoy has a problem with change.  It’s not in a daily way.  He’s usually very good at rolling with the punches, having to change up our routine, or getting from one task to the next.  It’s the bigger changes that get him stuck.

He cannot cognitively understand that he has ever changed.  He knows that he’s taller, that he can write neater, that he is getting better at things.  But it’s all very abstract to him.  If he’s bad at something now, then he’s sure he has always been bad at it and always will be bad at it.  If he doesn’t like something, then he will never like it.  Because how could he ever be different than he is in that moment?

On the one hand, this is a sweet sort of thing.  He’s little and his conception of his world as so static feels very young to me.  And I have read that this is the way most younger children see the world.  It’s just something he’s holding on to for a bit longer.

On the other hand, it has recently caused an interesting array of problems and sadnesses.  Most often, it can really shut him down when he doesn’t understand something, especially something that requires progressive improvement like handwriting, artwork, reading, or writing.  He has trouble getting that just because he didn’t get it just right now doesn’t mean that he won’t in the future once he has practiced.

It has been especially hard lately when we’ve talked about ballet.  There is a pretty significant price jump and time commitment to continuing at a school with a pre-professional program next year.  The cost of classes will more than double for us if we choose to stay there.  I’ve been trying to encourage him to think about his desires about dance.  It’s so hard for a kid so young, but he’s not perfectly turned out or an amazing natural, so it really needs to be his choice to continue and to choose to work hard.  But to him, ballet is just a part of his identity, something that has never changed and never will change.  And he will never be any better than he is now.  At least, that’s how he sees it.

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It has also caused him a surprising amount of anxiety about growing up.  For one thing, during a talk awhile back about the birds and the bees – something we’re very open with the kids about whenever it comes up – I mentioned that while it’s appropriate that it all seems “yucky” now, eventually they’ll feel differently.  They’ll want to kiss someone and fall in love.  BalletBoy could not understand how that could be the case.  So we talked about how your body changes in puberty with hormones.  That was probably a mistake.  He’s not happy that any chemical change in his body could change the way he feels about the world. Even for things less dire than sex ed, in a conversation about how your taste buds change as you get older, he gave me a very suspicious, distrustful look.  It was clearly an unsettling thought that he might change his mind about something as basic as avocado.

A couple of weeks ago, he had a long, drawn out cry about the idea of growing up.  I can’t even remember what sparked it any more, but he just bawled about how he might one day not even want to play pretend with his brother.  I think, maybe, just maybe, it was signifying a small perspective shift.  I think maybe he’s becoming aware of change.


The boys turn eight this month and I keep having these moments where I see them and they look old.  They look like proper big kids suddenly.  They say things that make sense on a regular basis – and not just make sense to me, but make sense to the world at large.  They can count their own money.  They read proper books.  They write clever stories.  They come in my room in the morning and instead of whispering that they need to me to come fix something, they whisper that they’re going to the playground before school starts.  And that school is technically third grade.  Third grade!

I know they’re really still little.  But this time of the year just before the birthday, I always have a stretch where I feel like their growth has sneaked up on me.

That’s right, we hike with our baby dolls. Whacha gonna make of it?