Last weekend we had such an incredible experience with watching our oldest daughter perform as Clara with the Northeast Ballet Company at Proctors in the Nutcracker. Truly, one of the best moments of my life, I am so damn proud of that girl. And every since that night, I told myself "Jenny, you want to keep things positive, so don't mention the woman who yelled at you at the show" but the thing is, I just can't.
Nor should I, really. Because unfortunately, as much as you can find your village, your tribe, don't forget there are also village idiots out there, at all times, just waiting to jump in and ruin that vibe. Especially when you are a parent. There will always be someone telling you "YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG". Allow me to explain...
My family and some extended family all bought tickets for the Nutcracker, where my oldest daughter was performing as Clara. She was only Clara in the Saturday night show, her co-Clara was going to be Clara in the Sunday afternoon show, so it was our only chance to see her onstage in that role. At the last minute a few of our family members couldn't come because of ear infections, so we had a few extra seats. The one year old, Welles, was at home with a sitter because we knew she wouldn't sit through a show. But Talley, we thought she was ready, at three, to watch the big show.
Talley was so excited to see her Grandpa who lives a few hours away, and at the last minute right before the show started she decided she and I should go sit with him in the open seats (which were, admittedly, better than the ones we had, they were like RIGHT in front and center of the stage). I was excited to be a little closer, and already on the verge of happy tears to see all the hard work of these kids finally come to fruition.
The lights go down, the curtain rises, and there she is, my Clara. Only, Talley then decides at this moment she in fact did not want to sit there anymore, and wanted instead to sit with her dad, who was on the other side of the theater. She's three, she changes her mind, kind of goes with the program. We were minutes, mere minutes into this performance, and I know this because not only have I watched this show from the audience five times but I have also watched it in rehearsals countless times so I could, in fact, point out just what minute we were at.
Talley was whispering to me "I want to go sit with Papa", whispering, and not just a three year old stage whisper type deal, she was ACTUALLY whispering. I pleaded with her, "Let's just sit here" I bribed her with some candy, I tried everything I could, all the while keeping my voice, and hers, at a whisper while trying to keep my eyes on the stage where my oldest daughter was dancing.
Talley decides nope, she is going to stand up in the aisle, right directly next to her seat, not in front of anyone (not that it matters because she is 3 and therefore a shrimp whom anyone could see over). A woman behind me starts to huff and puff as I gently and very quietly plead with Talley to please sit down, my last ditch effort, because I know that once you leave during the peformance, they don't let you back in, so not only would Talley not get to sit with her dad, we would have to watch Act 1, where most of the Clara dancing takes place, from behind the glass doors. Again, we were still under ten minutes into the show, and the woman behind me leans forward and says, rather loudly, "You need to leave, you are being really rude".
Surprised, and flustered by the whole thing, I lean over to her and say "She's three years old, give me a break" before I immediately leave my seat and walk Talley out of the theater so as to not disturb anyone.
Now, let me explain a little further. This is Tallis we are talking about here. If any of you know us or have read this blog regularly, Talley is a three year old like no other. I mean she can throw it down like a CHAMP, I have dragged this child kicking and screaming out of stores many a time so I KNOW when a kid is being rude thankyouverymuch. And the crazy thing is, on a scale of one to ten on the toddler richter scale, she was seriously being a 2, MAYBE. A 3 tops. She was, in fact, behaving like a completely "normal" three year old would.
We stood there, watching from behind the glass doors, tears streaming down my face because I was so proud of my daughter but also kind of shocked by the interaction with the stranger behind me, and I tried really, really hard to not let it get to me. No I did not want my child to disturb anyone, but I also felt it was not necessary to yell at me and my three year old, who was just standing in the aisle, whispering.
Did I let it go?
I did not, you guys.
Instead I threw propriety right under the bus and the very second they opened the doors for intermission I walked, nay, stalked down the aisle to my now empty seat, holding Talley's hand. I found the woman, and her mother, and a man in his 20s or 30s who was presumably her son, and I stood there and told her, "I was not being rude, I apologize if her whispering disturbed you, but this is a family show and she has a ticket and has every right to be here."
The woman crossed her arms over her chest and said "You are a horrible parent for bringing that child here."
OH YES SHE DID.
I was dumbstruck (to put it mildly), and while Talley hopped onto the seat next to my father I asked the woman, "I'm a horrible parent? How so?". The woman responded by telling me "You shouldn't bring a kid her age to the ballet, especially if she acts like that."
"Acts like that? SHE'S THREE." I use all caps here because I was living in ALL CAPS at this point.
"I don't see any other kids here acting like she was", the woman sniffed, gesturing around the theater. Now her mother got into it as well, telling me I must be a horrible mother "to have a child like that", pointing at Talley, who was two feet away from her, now obliviously giggling with my dad who was doing an amazing job of letting his daughter yell back at a stranger without interfering. Also, it was all happening so fast, I mean even I was surprised I was yelling at a stranger in the middle of the theater.
Anger really wasn't the exact emotion I experienced at this point, it was more like a burning hot rage mixed with the intense anxiety I always get when I watch my daughter perform. It was not a good combo, let me tell you. I kind of wanted to tell her "You think whispering and standing in the aisle is bad? Last week she removed her boots, hat and shoes in the aisle at Target and told me LOUDLY to leave her there because Target was her new home, but yeah, THIS IS BAD." But I didn't share this with her. It took all my reserve to not freak out.
Now, let me put in another aside here. I discipline this child. I do. We are not a "let kids be kids" in every single situation type of family. I want them to be respectful and polite, and I make a concerted effort to instill that in them at every turn. And you know what? They need to experience life in order to know how to react and behave in new and different situations. As a mother of five, I feel like I am even more under the microscope because people will immediately jump to the "you can't handle all these kids" if one of them acts out, but the thing is, that night, it was just me and Talley in those seats, all my other kids were sitting elsewhere (or were onstage or at home with a babysitter).
Like an idiot, I told the woman she owed me an apology for saying I was a horrible mother. Why did I even say this? I have no idea. I was just so confused, and upset, and basically experiencing every negative emotion at once. She wasn't going to apologize (ah duh) and continued instead to tell me I was a "horrible" parent that needs to "take care of that child" who was a "real brat".
My father was now standing at this point, asking the woman in a quiet voice to please stop pointing at his granddaughter, and my parting words to her were "I hope you enjoy the rest of the show, that dancer, Clara, the main character? That's my other daughter who we came to see, that's why I brought my three year old, so she could see her big sister dance. I hope she does a good job for you guys."
And we walked out for intermission. I was, well, I was pissed. Extremely, extremely pissed. I was angry for letting this woman get to me, I was angry that I responded, and I was just upset that it had felt like the beginning, or even the entire, show, was now ruined because of the whole debacle. My husband calmed me down, took Talley back with him to our other seats, and I pulled myself together. I went back though, to the seat next to my father. I didn't turn around, I didn't acknowledge them in any way, the show started and I watched the rest of it without issue. When it was over, after purposely staying put in my seat to give them enough time to vacate the theater, I finally stood up to leave.
They were still there. Waiting for me, apparently, because everyone else had started to leave or had already left. "Miss, miss!" The young man/son (?) was calling to me, and then began shoving my shoulder aggresively from behind. I just shrugged and turned around to face the stage again, while my father said something along the lines of "That's enough, please go", but before they finally left the guy put his face right up to my back and said "Real mature, you're a real asshole lady".
And then they left, and I never saw them again, and I hopefully never will. The chances of them reading this blog are probably close to zero, so why even write it? To be honest, I wasn't going to. I thought I put it behind me, I mean, people are weird, let's face it. But it stayed with me because yes, I did need to speak my mind. My child was being fine, it wasn't a big deal (other people in the audience by me backed this up after the show, strangers whom I didn't even know but had witnessed the interaction). But I felt embarassed, in a way, that I had even responded. I felt kind of ashamed for "making a scene" (yes it was during intermission and I'm sure no one even really noticed).
But at the time I thought to myself, screw this, as I stood there watching the show from outside, I thought, I'm going speak my damn mind right now, because this is bullsh*t. So I did. And I don't need to apologize for it. I told them how I felt in a dignified, restrained way (i.e. I didn't curse or name call), and I wanted to because I am so tired of feeling like as women, as mothers, we need to be "NICE" all the time. Or be apologetic for things we don't need to apologize for. Even though I DID apologize for any disturbance my child may have caused them, I didn't need to. She was three, I handled it, it was a family show, and that's it. I wasn't in the wrong. In my rage clouded brain I wanted to remember the story with me standing up for myself, not stewing about it for weeks afterward wishing I had said something (yes I realize I am kind of still semi "stewing" right now but bear with me).
I don't want my daughters to be apologizers. I don't want them to be nice makers.
I certainly don't want them to appease someone over something that isn't their fault, or something that they need not apologize for. I want them to stand up for themselves, and I want them to stand up to someone who is going to try and push them around. I want them to be kind and giving and generous and gentle people, but I don't want them to be "nice" because they feel like they should be. And basically if someone is going to call you an asshole at the Nutcracker because you brought your three year old, you don't have to be nice.
Would Talley remember any of it? No, she's three, she probably will have zero memory of mommy arguing with a stranger at the ballet. My daughter on stage had zero idea it was happening, and I didn't tell her about it afterward either.
Mostly I wanted to write about it to excise this from my brain, to try to separate this ugly interaction from what was otherwise such a beautiful experience. I also wanted to point out to all of you that yes, you are 100% going to encounter people who want to tell you you are doing it wrong as a parent, or that you are doing a bad job, or that you should be doing it differently, and I want to tell you, trust yourself. Do it the way you feel is right. And hopefully for every adult out there who will tell you that you're an asshole for bringing a child to the ballet, there is another one to tell you to do your thing, mama. Do your thing.