Daddy’s Ballerina.

Daddy’s Ballerina.

The most uncomfortable seating in the world is designed exclusively for parents who are waiting upon their children at every school and childhood event ever invented. As I sit on the wooden slat park bench in the long hallway of classrooms at the YMCA, my lower back reminds me that I’m not 17 any more, as I long for a cushion and a couple of Ibuprofen.

It’s a Wednesday night, and I’m waiting outside our daughter Hannah’s classroom, where she’s been taking introductory ballet lessons for the past several months. Since her older sister got to take horse riding lessons earlier in the year, we asked if there was something special that she would like to learn. Ballet was the hands-down winner, and that meant a regular date for Daddy and his little ballerina.

I’m not the only parent here. There are 5 other “regulars” here with me, waiting in the busy hallway as our daughters learn to spin and twirl and dance on their toes. No, I’m not the only parent here, but I might as well be, because every single other parent and their other accompanying children are all completely disengaged with the beauty of what’s happening right in front of them. Instead, every single one of them is staring at their phone. Every one. There’s not a single parent besides myself even bothering to watch the beautiful little ballerinas on display through the windows in front of me. I don’t know why it especially bothers me, but tonight it’s all I can do to not stand up in front of them all and start to preach.

Listen, I get it. Amber and I have 3 little girls, 9, 6, and the youngest is only 4 months old now. We work together from our home office, which means every day it’s a constant game of “pass the baby” while one has some down time rendering a file so that the other can get some work done, or run an errand, or take the ever-elusive bathroom break. Our work relies on being able to work from outside the office just as much as in it, and sometimes that 10 minute window you may have while sitting and waiting for your child to finish some event or get out of school is the only 10 minutes you may get to even respond to an email. I totally understand. Together, our time is squeezed like an orange under a tank tread every single day. Our children take priority every time, even when it means missed work opportunities.

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But tonight, it’s just especially bothersome to me, because it’s the last night for our little ballerinas to be together in this class, then it’s off to the holiday season for everyone until the next open session begins anew in January. Call me a sentimental dad, but I don’t want to spend the time sitting on the most uncomfortable bench ever invented staring at my Facebook feed while the most beautiful 6 year-old ballerina is living out her dreams right in front of me. I want to savor every moment of watching my daughter loose herself in dance, learning about the art and the craft. This may be the only time this week that I get to really watch and study her. I want to get to know this little beauty that calls me Daddy, gives me a great big hug every morning and looks just like her beautiful mommy. You realize quickly, as your children grow, that they are very much their own person. I may have influence on who that person becomes, but they are who they are with or without me. I don’t want to miss a single second of it.

To my right sits the high-heeled, domineering mother who complains about everything when speaking of her children, her spouse, and her life in general. She hasn’t taken her eyes off of her phone screen since sitting down, except for the brief 5 minute conversation she had with her co-worker who happened to walk by. Not to be a snoop, but it’s hard not to be when they’re having their complaining festival right next to you. Together, they complain about work, complain about co-workers, complain about husbands, and complain about children – theirs and everyone else’s. And at the heart of it, she complains openly about how much money she’s spent sending her daughter to various ballet classes. But to me, it has been obvious for as long as the class has been going on that her poor daughter absolutely despises ballet. Now, gathering from the conversation occurring 3 feet from my ears, ballet has obviously been mom’s idea from the start, and the idea of wasting that investment is the unforgivable sin. Nearly every week, the poor girl cries and refuses to go into the classroom, clinging desperately to her mother. Her mother responds by belittling her daughter in front of everyone within earshot. On one occasion, she even resorted to threatening her with either going into class or going to get flu shots. I felt so bad for the poor little girl that I almost cried with her.

Regardless, other than complaining to her friend, she’s done nothing but stare at her phone for the entire 45 minutes we’ve been sitting there. Constantly clicking, it’s really a picture of a pathetic addiction that so many of us have. We’ve become so addicted to a sound bite version of life on a social media feed that we’ve completely forgotten that reality is happening all around us.

Down the hallway, coming out of the childwatch room, I hear another mother yelling at her 3 and 4 year old children, “Stop acting so childish! I’m sick of this!” Really? The poor kids are already traumatized from being left in the nursery for an hour, can’t she cut them some slack? Maybe they’re crying because…I don’t know…they missed their mother? One other question, how else do we expect children to act, if not like children?

To my left, another mom is engrossed in her Instagram feed. Non stop scrolling. There is absolutely no regard for her child in the room in front of her, who keeps peering out the window as she passes by, hoping her mom is watching.

She’s not.

At the next bench over, 2 different parents and one teenager – same thing. Zombified by their phones. A younger sibling starts complaining, to which the phone-engrossed parent hands him yet another phone. Instantly, the kid is engrossed in a video game. It is one of the most stark pictures I have ever seen in my life. Is reality too hard for us now, or have we just become so apathetic to anything that’s not all about us that we default to escapism? 

If you’re a parent, and you work, and you shuttle your children around, you’re reliant on your device. I understand. Sometimes, we have to do what we have to do. But I’ve been convicted more and more over the years that we’re ignoring what’s most important in life in favor of our constant need to be engrossed in nonsense. And, 99.9% of social media is precisely that – nonsense.

And as I watch my beautiful ballerina through the window, and as she watches her teachers intently, trying as hard as she can to mimic their movements and repeat them as gracefully as she can, I’m engrossed by the sheer beauty of real life – right in front of me. And she twirls past the window, looking out quickly to see if I’m there, and to see if I’m watching her.

I am.

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The view from the bench.

Sure, I grab my phone from time to time to take a picture – but not of me. I want to preserve these moments, so I take a picture or two so I can recall them. They’re not perfect, and they’re not well lit, and they’re not even going to make it to social media. No, these are for me. I want to remember this exact moment in life, as it is, when my little ballerina danced around the little classroom for the first time, looking out the window every chance she got, just to see if Daddy was watching.

And, as they finished up their class for the night and filed out the door, one by one, their teacher gave them each a candy cane for Christmas and a high five for being a great student. Hannah came out the door and ran over to me, putting a sticker directly onto my shirt.

“What’s this for?” I asked her with a smile.

“It’s for you, Daddy,” she said with a smile, “I got a candy cane, so you can have my sticker.”

“Is this my Good Daddy award?”

Hannah just smiles as she takes my hand.

“Yeah. You’re my daddy, Daddy.”

And I cherish the moment as my little ballerina and I walk down the hallway, hand in hand.

Sundance Award-winning Producer/Director.

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