She had asked about dance last year, and even the year before. There were roadblocks before, and sometimes excuses. But, I couldn't sit idly by while time passed and she grew out of the dance phase. She has only one childhood.
Her friends in school were doing it, and she had asked about it again. So finally she got her wish when I signed her up for a month of summer dance camp. They do lyrical, jazz, tap, hip hop, and ballet from 9am - 2:00 pm every day. Her favorite is tap, but primarily because I think she likes the shoes and making noise.
After the first day, I could already tell she was unsure of herself. She sees that a lot of the other girls have already been there before, or that many have taken lessons before. But, she said she liked it and forged on. I kept saying that I just wanted her to have fun, to go out there and do her best.
Each day she'd show me a few steps that she learned, and we practiced singing "Under the Sea" from The Little Mermaid.
Later in the week, her nerves got the best of her. She was going to be performing in the weekly "talent" show. She hasn't always been one to put herself out there, to assert herself in a new group of people, or to march out in front. She started feeling anxiety like she does when something new happens, or when she's in unfamiliar waters. She's been like that a lot of her life. I've seen those nervous looks before and those anxious moments.
But, I keep encouraging her to try new things, to get her feet wet and dirty, and to take things in stride. She's a kid, and I believe that if kids aren't exposed to new things, they'll often wait until it comes to them. But, to me, life is about nourishment and experience, and very little of that just falls in your lap during the summer.
There are times when I think parents push their kids too much to do something. At the same time, there are parents who don't push enough. I'm not sure which one I am, but I'm afraid I'm the former.
I push her to try new things, to go see new things, and not be scared. I try to teach her that she should at least try something a few times before giving up. And, because she's my daughter, and she loves me, she pushes on. She will do it because she wants to make me happy. And I push her to have fun in new experiences, because I want her to be happy.
Some parents believe that kids should be kids. They need time to play and express themselves and just goof off. However, isn't camp part of being a kid? Each day she gets to express herself, play games, make new friends, and just goof off. At the same time, she's learning something. Not just dance, but poise, conquering fear, pride, and accomplishment.
When I was a child, I was pushed to try things every summer. Art camp, wildlife camp, camping camp, and even grandma camp (I spent almost every summer with my grandmother at the beaches in Texas). Even though there were times I didn't want to go, I went on and on. As I grew up, I took those experiences with me as life lessons. You learn about yourself during summer camp.
At the same time, I lived a life of minor disappointments. I asked for music lessons, and my parents didn't send me. My brother instead got guitar lessons. I asked for a good skateboard, and my parents gave me a cheap Toys r'Us version. My brother instead got a custom deck and wheels. I asked for many things, was told we could do many things, and was often disappointed.
It's part of childhood. There's no such thing as an easy childhood, or the perfect childhood, or the magical childhood. Just take a look at Disney movies, and you'll realize that children face disappointment in many different ways (I know - I shouldn't be praising Disney that much).
At the same time, as a divorced father, I know she's already faced disappointment. It is perhaps that disappointment for which I'm trying to compensate. It is perhaps the disappointments elsewhere she faces that I'm trying to soothe. But, shouldn't I overcompensate rather than not at all?
So for me, this summer has become something not just for her, but also for me. Perhaps it's a bit of me looking back on my own summers as a child. Perhaps it's me trying to be the salve for any disappointments she might have had.
So today she danced away. Her legs leaped across the floor, and tapped away a tune, and even hip hopped from side to side. Today, it was her feet that played on the strings of my heart. It wasn't just for her that I put her in dance camp or art camp; it was for me as a father. And maybe, just maybe, she knows that and will forgive me when she grows up for making her carry the burden of my happiness as a dad.