I’ve blogged before about how much Sam loves ballet. And about my bipolar disorder. And about how, at its worst, bipolar robs me of the activities I love. Can you already see where this is going? Back at the end of September, Sam suddenly wanted to quit ballet. He went from one week loving it to the next week screaming and fighting over having to get dressed and dance.
It was that fast.
And he was adamant. “I don’t like ballet. I can’t do that. I hate ballet. I want to go home. I don’t want it to be my ballet day.” I suspected, though there was no way to be sure, that his disorder(s) had stolen away his love. And it broke my heart.
It wasn’t just ballet, either. He stopped working puzzles and playing video games. He only wanted us to read to him at bedtime, and even his trains got minimal mileage. He could barely even sit still to watch DVDs. His emotions had been going down the toilet since late May, but he was approaching a nasty kind of rock bottom. At age four. Giving up on puzzles and books bugged the hell out of me. But the ballet was the worst, because it put me in an absolute quandary.
I’m not the sort to force a kid to keep up with an activity whose time has passed. Sure, as the kids age, I’m going to make them stay in to finish out any commitments they have made. But honestly, right now Sam is four, and even a typically developing four year old changes interests as fast as he can flush the toilet. There was no reason to keep him doing something he had ceased to enjoy.
Except I didn’t think he had really ceased to enjoy it. I thought he had become so defiant that he even had to defy himself. He contradicted everyone about everything. There was one whole week that I derived bleak amusement from asking him, “Are you Sam?” just so I could hear him shout, “No! I’m not Sam. I’m SAM!” And he wasn’t being funny at all.
At school, at his new school, he tried all kinds of attention getting tactics. One day, at snack, he waited for his teacher to look at him, then dumped all his crackers on the floor. She’s pretty cool. She said, “You have a mess to clean up,” in a neutral voice. So he waited until she looked his way again, then stomped the crackers and ground them in with his heel. If he was trying to get a rise out of her, it didn’t work, because all she said was, “Now you really have a mess to clean up.”
So it was no real surprise that our attempts to get him to ballet on time and dressed were colossal disasters as soon as he decided he was done with the activity. Once he got in class, he was sort of OK, but ultimately, we had to start keeping him out because we worried too much about how he might act out.
But then, in direct contrast, at home, he would beg me to hunt up a particular Youtube video of Aaron Copeland’s Rodeo featuring the Colorado ballet. Or else various combinations of “The Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy” and the Russian Dancers from The Nutcracker. He had options on obscure alt rock, well known classic rock, and everything in between. He could have picked The Stones, The Beatles, The Sweet, Beyoncé, or The Travelling Wilburys. But he chose to watch ballet. He would look while the dancers jumped and spun, and we would ask him, “Can you do that?”
Though his answer was sometimes a defiant, snarling, “No”, it was far more often a yearning, “Not yet.” And the hell of it was that the real answer is “Yes”. He actually does do powerful four year old versions of nearly everything those dancers put out there. He can do that wicked cool thing where the danseurs jump up straight legged and touch their toes. He can gallop sideways. And when he thought we weren’t watching him, he was still doing those things in secret.
Nearly as soon as I pulled him out, I realized that was the wrong decision, and I worked him back into attending class again. First, I let him just sit and watch for the whole session. Proof that he was still engaged? He sat still the whole time. He didn’t act out at all. More proof? Well, I’ll tell you in a minute. But he wasn’t willing to get up and dance, so we still had a way to go. Then, I made him get dressed, but still let him sit and watch. Finally, two weeks ago, I told him he had to dance.
And he did. With only minor moaning. Part of the reason was that he had started medication and he was finally improving. But part of it was that he had backed himself into a corner with all of the “I can’t”, “I won’t” garbage. After saying he hated it, he needed to be pushed to continue so he could save face.
There was a hiccup last week when I arrived late because Caroline had a doctor’s appointment, and I was the one who had all the dance clothes. Sam refused to dance that week because he sees the world rather rigidly still. One must wear one’s ballet clothes if one is to dance. One cannot plié in one’s civvies.
But. Two nights ago was ‘observation night’, when parents can come in and watch the class face to face, rather than on the closed-circuit cameras that broadcast to the waiting area. Sam was so excited. All the way from school to ballet, he asked me, “Is it my ballet day? Are you going to watch me dance today? I can’t wait!”
There are only three kids in his class. The little girl on the right was totally excited and showing off too much for family. The girl on the left was a little shy, but possessed of incredible grace. She could perform even some pretty complicated maneuvers.
And Sam? Here’s the proof that he was totally engaged even when he wouldn’t set a toe on the floor. Every time the class performed a step, the teacher asked “what does that mean?”. “What’s a tondu?” “How about pas de chat?” “What about sauté de chat?” Which kid do you think answered her every single time?
Uh huh. That one.
French is the language of ballet, and most of these were steps learned in his struggling weeks. Not only could he perform them with reasonable grace and four year old accuracy, but he knew the translations. If his mind had been closed when he was resisting the class, he would not have learned those words, would not have been able to complete the moves so easily. In short, on Tuesday, I learned I guessed right. His emotions were robbing him of his loves.
And also, he may just be getting some of his groove back.
The story continues here