About a month ago Hanley had an “off” day in ballet class. Which isn’t to say she had a day off from ballet class. She was physically there, but something in her brain was saying, Screw this. We’ve all been there, right? But I couldn’t let it slide by. The girl loves ballet and she’s always talking about dancing on a stage like the “real ballerinas.”
She ran out of class and while I was putting on her street shoes I said, “I have a problem with the Hanley I saw in ballet class today.”
“Oh,” Hanley said. She assumed her sad face, which is just what you think it is–a sad face, yes, but this is the sort of sad face normally worn by an orphan on the side of a deserted road in the middle of the Dust Bowl with no food or water whose kitten was just snatched by a vulture. She knows I’m immune to the sad face, but she does it anyway. Especially in public.
“The Hanley I saw in class today wasn’t listening to the teacher,” I continued. “She was playing with her hair, talking to the kids next to her, and she was barely dancing. That’s not the Hanley I know.” Here, I hugged her tightly, to remind her that I still love her, which she wasn’t expecting, and it made her giggle and momentarily ruined her sad face. “You know that you don’t have to take dance class if you decide you don’t want to, right?” She nodded. “But the Hanley I know loves to dance. The Hanley I know wants to make her teachers proud of her, always listens to them, and always does what they say. I’d like to see that Hanley in dance class from now on.”
“Okay,” Hanley said, already sounding like an exasperated teenager at four years old.
“I really want you to understand that when you’re in school, or at swim class, or at ballet class, your teachers are there to help you and your friends learn new things. But you can’t learn new things if you’re not paying attention, or if you’re talking to your friends. You have to pay attention and listen. If you don’t, you’re not respecting your teacher and you’re wasting your teacher’s time. And you’re wasting your parents’ money, because they’re paying for you to be there. I know these are heavy concepts to drop on you, but this is really important stuff that you have to comprehend now, so you don’t end up as a dog walking nanny. So tell me what you’ve picked up from our serious talk.”
“You have to listen in class to learn and when friends talk you say, ‘I’m trying to learn,’ and listen not to them but to the teacher, otherwise you don’t learn and that’s not good.”
“Fair enough. And I like that part about telling your friends that you’re trying to learn. That’s a good idea. But I’d say, ‘Please stop talking to me, because I’m trying to learn.’ That’s probably a more polite way of saying it.”
“Please, stop, I’m learning–what do I say?”
“Please, stop talking to me, because I’m trying to learn.”
“Please, stop talking to me, because I’m trying to learn!”
“You don’t have to yell, but very good. Am I angry with you?”
“That’s correct. Do I love you?”
“Yes. Can we go to the park?”
From then on, before I send her in to ballet or swim class I’ll hold her on my lap and say softly in her ear, “Are you going to have fun in ballet class?”
And she’ll say, “Yes.”
And I’ll ask, “Are you going to listen to your teacher?”
And she’ll answer, “Yes.”
“Are you going to pay attention?”
And then I try to trip her up. “Are you going to talk to your friends in class?”
“Y–I mean, no.”
“Good! Are you going to goof around with your friends in class?”
Then I try to make her laugh. “Are you going to feed cupcakes to squirrels in class?”
“NO! That’s silly!”
“Okay, go learn and have fun.” And then I watch her go into class and wonder what she’s going to be like when she grows up.
Hanley’s ballet recital was today. I told her she’s a real ballerina now.