I am haunted by the ghosts of the future.
Yesterday was Sophie’s first ballet recital, her stage debut. It was a long time coming.
When I got pregnant with Annabelle, as soon as we learned we were having a girl, I knew how I’d be spending my Saturday mornings: at the ballet studio.
My mother is a ballerina. No, really, she is. Well, not exactly, not anymore. She long ago hung up her own toe shoes, but on any given afternoon, you might find her down at the local Capezio store, helping young girls get fitted for their own. She runs one of the largest ballet schools in town.
Annabelle began ballet at 3. Yesterday was her fourth recital. She acted like the old pro she is, even performed in two different numbers. She wasn’t nervous. Sophie wasn’t, either. She doesn’t have it in her. I, on the other hand, was a wreck.
When Sophie was born, and we found out she had Down syndrome, one of the first things I remember saying to my mother was, “Well, she’ll just have to do modern dance instead of ballet!”
Of course I didn’t really want to limit her like that. And most important, when Sophie was old enough to express a desire — and, naturally, demanded she take ballet, just like her big sister — I wanted her to have the opportunity.
But it was awkward. My mom owns the studio; she doesn’t teach the younger kids, and she didn’t want to ask the other teachers for special favors. So we waited til Sophie was good and ready. She started ballet last fall at the ripe age of 5 — still an inch or two shorter than her 3 and 4 year old classmates.
It wasn’t the same as when Annabelle began ballet. Sophie needed an aide in class, and even then, would sometimes pop out of the classroom at inopportune moments. But as fall turned to winter and then spring, she was following along, doing the steps, loving ballet. Which is all any parent wants for her kid, that she loves what she’s doing, right?
If only it were just that simple.
By yesterday, the costumes had been chosen, the number (“Teddy Bear Picnic”) choreographed, the dancers asked to arrive hours before the show began, for final rehearsals. Roses were wrapped with baby’s breath for the parents to purchase. Ray bought a rose for each girl, and I chased Sophie around the high school auditorium as we waited for her class to take the stage.
I cried through the dress rehearsal — Sophie knew every step, she smiled and had a blast. I don’t expect that she’ll ever be a candidate for toe shoes (hey, I never was) but there she was, my little girl, up there with the other tiny dancers. For me, it was a symbol that we’ve come so far, that Sophie can do so much. See? I tell myself on days like that. Everything will be okay.
And then it happened. We were waiting for the show to begin. The auditorium was filling up, our friends and family had begun to arrive. I was chatting with my dear friend Trish, not really paying attention to Sophie, who was playing with Trish’s teenage daughter Abbie.
I looked over and noticed that Sophie was talking to a woman in a wheelchair. From behind I could tell that the woman was older, with rough skin and short gray hair, and when she turned to smile at me I saw she was missing a front tooth. She had Down syndrome. It was clear that the woman pushing the wheelchair was her mother, although afterward we agreed it was hard to tell which woman was older.
Both mother and daughter were very interested in Sophie. The daughter was sweet; it was clear she’s what we refer to in our house as “low functioning.” Nothing like Sophie, I assured myself, exchanging quick pleasantries.
As the mother rolled the daughter away, she turned to me and smiled. “Myra took dance class when she was that age, too!” she said. And then she was gone.
I turned and looked at Trish. I didn’t have to say a word; Trish has known me for 20 years.
“Amy, that is not your future,” she said.
“You know that keeps happening,” I said. “I know,” she replied.
I see the ghosts of the future. Usually on a great day — a day just like yesterday — a day when I least expect it. A day when I’ve tricked myself into thinking that Sophie’s just like any other kid, that I’m just like any other mom.
It’s cognitive dissonance. I know that. It’s not like I’d never seen another person with Down syndrome, before Sophie was born. It’s just that I’d never noticed. Now I do. And I don’t tend to run into high functioning, healthy adults with Down syndrome, even though I know they’re out there.
“Amy, that’s not your future. It’s not your future. It’s not your future.” Trish repeated it like a mantra. I blinked a few times, snapping myself out of it. It was time to get ready for the performance.
Sophie danced beautifully, screwing up no more and no less than her classmates. I caught most of it on video, which I’ll try to post later. For now, it’s time to start the day, since a little figure just appeared in the kitchen doorway.
“What are you doing, Mommy?” Sophie asked. “I’m writing stories,” I told her. “I like to write stories about you.”
“Read me your story!” Sophie demanded.
I’m embarrassed to, I wanted to say. Instead I changed the subject. “Hey, it’s my special day! It’s Mother’s Day!”
Huge grin. Sophie announced that she got me earrings. (Whoops, there went Ray’s suprise, I’m guessing.) “Come! Come and see them!”
So here I go, gladly. Frankly, I’d rather hang around in the present.