Perhaps naively, there was one thing about a full-time vocational Ballet School that I had not anticipated - the constant competition. I might have realised that this is inevitable for children engaging in a training which is both vocational and practical. There are ongoing assessments, and selections throughout the year. Various projects require that some children are selected while others are not. Opportunities arise for the dancers to work with both professional and student choreographers. I imagine that selection is based on ability, performance skills and most importantly casting - does the face fit? Or whatever the dancers' equivalent might be.
At the beginning, I secretly wanted him to be selected for everything possible and worried if he wasn't. There are stories of American parents needing to be restrained from abusing the coaches and children at weekly sports events. I was in danger of becoming the ballet-parent equivalent - screaming if the shapes weren't defined enough, the limbs extended enough, or if my child wasn't picked for the team. A restraining order loomed. I probably shouldn't joke. These parents exist. I've met them. And, to be honest, they have a point. We live in the twenty-first century in which 'parity of student experience' is the mantra. If their child is being given that opportunity, then why isn't mine? This is certainly valid in some contexts, but - excuse me sounding like a fusty old Tory- life just doesn't work like that.
Then after two terms, my attitude changed. It had to. Aspiration was exhausting me. I celebrated his successes, but my focus shifted for the occasions when he wasn't selected for something, or was disappointed. Instead of raging against the machine and dissecting the reasons why; I changed my approach. I had been treating the decisions of strangers as if they were moral judgments; potential salvation or damnation as dished out by people I hardly knew and whose criteria was a mystery. As a parent, something different is required of me - to support him when he is disappointed, and reassure him that he is still loved. This requires some discipline. The ferocious raging parent consumed by ambition for my child needs to be forced to shut-up; anyway, it is the result of a misguided and damaged ego. Instead, I tell him the truth. Disappointment might feel painful, and the world is harsh and unjust, but the earth still turns, and our love for him is constant. And, if tomorrow he doesn't wake up feeling a little better, then he will next week, or next month. The world is harsh and unjust, but we'll try and have some fun along the way, and perhaps somehow make a difference. And when the disappointment seems more cavernous than a bottomless void ... well, that's why ice-cream was invented.
This is another gift that ballet school has given us. Perhaps eleven is young to be dealing with this constant conveyor belt of pre-packed disenchantment, but managing and containing this experience is undoubtedly one of the most important skills for any of us to learn; with or without the ice cream.