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  • Betsy Singleton Snyder

Dancing with Your Family

I never danced in The Nutcracker ballet. In fact, I didn’t have access to an inexpensive production that my single mom could afford. That meant I did not grow up seeing live performances of The Nutcracker.

The good news is that the ballet occasionally came to us via our television. I studied the main characters' actions, including a pretty little girl, a toy

Toy soldiers stand at the ready.

nutcracker, a handsome prince, and a villainous mouse king. While I didn’t understand all of the ballet, I was enthralled by the costumes, the dancing, and the magical atmosphere of the stage where sweets came alive. The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy was completely hypnotic.

When my boys were still very young, my husband and I decided to put them in dance lessons. We signed them up because they were too young for music lessons, yet so obviously loved movement and music. Besides, it was a fun way to burn up the energy of four boys. Later my children fell under the same spell I did while they watched a Nutcracker production by the famed choreographer George Balanchine on AETN one evening. They were mesmerized by all that color, music, and interesting characters.

Our oldest eventually gravitated toward ballet lessons rather than tap and modern dance. Before long, he had decided that he wanted to try out for The Nutcracker at the studio he attended. He was assigned to be a "party child" and the next year he enjoyed a second role, “toy soldier."

Until I had children, The Nutcracker had not been a part of my holiday traditions. Several years later, two more of my children decided to be in a production. To be honest, adding another event to a pastor’s schedule in December, a pastor who is a mom, who also happens to have triplets born in December, is not something for which I long. However, the aunts and uncles came out to the performance, several friends joined us for the big night, and I finally got to see live scenes of The Nutcracker ballet. It was glorious.

My boys are no longer in ballet, or even dance, although one ice skates, and, boy, did that ballet gave him a leg up! Still, I fondly remember their dance experiences, and how we collected various nutcrackers: red, green, and navy with elegant crowns and fancy mustaches. We also have some wonderful, holiday ornaments that remind us of our ballet years, and the joy of seeing children and adults dance to beautiful music and tell us a story that has some scary parts, yet ends with restoration and hope.

There are seasons in parenting because there are seasons in life. I am no longer in the bone-weary days of exhaustion from lack of sleep. I don’t have to worry about baby diapers anymore, only getting their undies clean for school. Sadly, I rarely get to read to my boys because they read chapter books by themselves.

I am on the precipice of parenting all tweens, although my triplets are not quite there yet. It is a new place for me, and I’m not sure how it’s going to work out yet, but I have this feeling they are about to need me more than they ever have. While I don’t know what that parenting will look like exactly, I will continue to reach for traditions that my family loves and that bring us closer.

Traditions like a holiday ballet create bonding among family members; traditions provide continuity and the security that some parts of life can be counted upon; traditions remind us that time passes, and that we live best when we remember to cherish where we are in life, and that includes where we are in our parenting, or even as grandparents.

Writing about my family and my journey has been a consistent reminder that all children, parents, and families are different, and at different stages. I try to refrain from advice because I don’t know you. Yet I leave my fellow parents with a suggestion.

Christmas will soon be over, and a new year will roll around, and then another, and another. Your babies will turn into young people, and that is a good thing. In the meantime, be present to those you love, live in the moment, and soak in the color, the beauty, even the sometimes scary parts, as well as the joy. Do it as if you were dancing your very own story—because you are.

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