When I chose to homeschool, it wasn’t as popular or understood as it is now.
“How will she socialize?”
“Won’t she be different than everyone else?”
“You can do that?”
“What about college?” This one I got asked when she was in kindergarten.
There were more fear inspiring inquiries, but I pressed on, trying to listen to that inward guide telling me to put aside the voices and give her an education that was meant to be.
I countered the naysayers by seeking out groups where I ended up teaching gym classes, arranged field trips, and wrote a newsletter to create a bond between all of us who were supposedly insane for wanting to teach our kids from home. We had relatives, neighbors, and friends looking at us with skepticism as if we were corrupting the next generations.
I met families with multiple children and watched as mothers utilized fantastic parenting skills to have each child learn responsibility by assigning the older ones to help out with the younger. We all had a common goal to see our kids learn but also be able to grow into their true selves
I signed my oldest daughter up for an ice skating class that was described for those who were home-educated. When we arrived, she ended up being the only student.
“We usually have more sign up, but I am willing to work one-on-one with her.”
So instead of a group class, my daughter was given private lessons.
Her first attempts were brutal. She fell over and over. But the teacher would pick her up and have her try again. It looked like a mess from where I was watching. And painful.
At the end of the first session, she said,
“She is a great skater with a lot of natural ability.”
That was the exact opposite of what I saw, so I thought maybe she was being nice.
“Go and get her a new pair of skates. What she is wearing is the problem. They aren’t supportive enough. With the right ones, she will fly on the ice.”
She wrote down the name and address where I could find her some.
We drove to the location, and I was able to rent her a pair. At her next class, she laced up and did as the teacher had said. She stumbled only slightly and stayed upright. The boots gave her the ankle support she needed to keep her from meeting the ice face first.
“Did you see the difference? She will move up on skills very quickly.”
She did, and by spring, I enrolled her in a nightly class where the same teacher was in charge of a group. The application of various techniques came easy for her. As I watched over the years from the stands, I saw her perform moves I never thought possible.
The night I saw the instructor do a single axle and then looked at her to repeat it, I thought…no way! I wasn’t sure if I wanted to see her feet leave the ground. It was one of those moments where you want to close your eyes but can’t because then you will miss it.
She did it perfectly.
Every year she performed in a show, similar to a dance recital. And while she was taking the ice by storm, I had a four-year-old who suddenly started dancing across the room.
I decided to enroll her in a preschool dance class. They learned simple steps by walking on their tiptoes, pushing small grocery carts, and leaping over strategically placed carpet squares. After a few sessions, I was approached by her teacher and was asked if she could go professional. At four?
“She’s got something the others don’t. Just think about it.”
All the kids got stage fright at the dance recital but not her. It ended up they all crowded around her and followed her steps. The teacher was right about what she had told me.
I considered the offer until I saw the next group of girls perform. They were in their young teens, if not preteen, and danced in a way that to me was not how I wanted my daughter to in her future. The outfits were revealing and the music sexually explicit. I knew as I watched, this wasn’t going to be her world.
The following fall, I had her go to a dance school that emphasized modesty and worked diligently on skills. It seemed to be a holistic approach to the art versus students throwing their bodies at the audience.
She thrived with other home-educated kids. And just like her sister, taking the stage caused her to act calmer. I could never fathom having to dance or skate in front of an audience. But not those two. They suddenly lost all fear and became so immersed in what they were doing that it looked effortless.
“She is so mean!” My daughter said, getting into the car after class.
“Maggie. She sticks out her tongue at me and glares. She’s mean!”
I had never heard her talk about anyone like that before. The following week, I figured out why this child was not so pleasant.
I was in the waiting room and overheard Maggie’s mom berating her.
“You are so stupid, Maggie. Get your stuff and get into class.” I observed a highly aggressive mom who verbally took shots at her daughter. She never said a kind word to her. I tried to start a conversation with her to see if I could uncover an underlying problem to help, but she was just as abrupt with me as her daughter.
I spoke with the teacher in private to clue her in on what I had witnessed. Not to gossip, but to see if someone else could develop a solution.
Nothing seemed to be working.
Christmas was coming, and a note was sent home that the kids could bring small gifts for everyone. My daughter chose to do gift bags. One of the things that she was giving was pencils that were glitter encased. We got a twelve-pack since there were eleven girls. This meant she could have one too.
To a seven-year-old girl, anything that sparkles makes life better. There were various colors but only one gold and one silver.
“Which one is yours?” I asked.
“I really want the gold one, but I’m giving it to Maggie,” she said as she put items together.
“You are? Even though she has been so terrible to you?”
“Yes. Her mom isn’t good to her, so maybe if someone is nice, she will change.”
This was beyond even what some adults were capable of.
She handed out the bags and noticed going forward that it helped her interactions with Maggie somewhat. Sadly, you can’t always undo years of damage with only one act of kindness. In time, Maggie returned to her old ways, but my daughter would smile back at her instead of getting upset.
That spring, for the dance recital, one of the costumes was a red leotard that had a matching feather that I had to clip into her hair. Before the performance, I saw Maggie and her mom snarling at each other. While I peacefully worked on my daughter’s outfit, those two had an awkward barking session in the corner. I never saw them enjoy each other’s company.
As the class was in the middle of their routine, Maggie’s feather broke free and started floating above her head. The kids had been drilled with the idea that nothing should stop them. If the music quit, they were to keep going. If a wardrobe malfunction happened, they were to solider on.
And they did, except for Maggie. She got distracted and chased her red feather across the stage. She batted at it, which only created more of a draft, sending it up higher, out of her reach more.
I heard the laughter begin and ripple through the audience. To those who didn’t know the situation, it was funny. It made me feel sad because this was just one more thing for Maggie to feel like a failure.
The song ended, and it floated to the ground next to a stressed-out Maggie.
Backstage as we picked up to leave, I heard,
“Just go get in the car, Maggie!”
And I saw her dejectedly go down the hall with her mom racing ahead of her.
That’s the last time I saw them.
This was a moment where my young daughter learned that there would be times when you can’t save everyone from their problems. Even though she tried to be compassionate toward Maggie, it went seemingly unnoticed. She was spending more time in a hostile environment, so my daughter’s actions weren’t enough to offset that. It was only a temporary fix for a short time once a week. Then, Maggie would go back to what was familiar, and even though it was destructive, it probably felt safe, so she didn’t know there was better.
“You tried,” was all I could think of to say. “And God knows that.”
Sometimes you have to be okay with that kind of result.
I am hoping that this girl and her mom had a divine intervention somewhere along the way. What a terrible pattern to keep repeating in a family line.
My daughter’s small attempt to disrupt it could have been a catalyst for change. You never know what God can do later when you aren’t looking. In Luke 6:35 it says,
I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never—I promise—regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind. (NIV)
It’s like learning how to skate without the proper footwear; you fall and don’t want to get up, it hurts, but when you let God take over, you suddenly can glide along even with someone you are at odds with and they can be considered a frenemy.
It’s always good to apply the rule that is universal: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. With that, you will be golden.