She sat slumped over her dinner, staring into the depths of the soup, stirring listlessly.  The fact that something was wrong was incredibly obvious.

“I don’t want to go to dance…”

This was Julia tonight at dinner.  She had ballet in about an hour from that time, and it was quite clear she wasn’t pumped about going.  She’s been doing dance for about 5 years now, and while sometimes she says “I don’t feel like going!” that’s mostly because she’s involved in playing or something, but this was different.

I asked her why she didn’t want to go.  She has a new teacher this year…she said “He’s really…strict.”  I probed a bit, wondering what she meant.  Is he mean?  Unkind to her and the other girls?  Basically, it came out that he pushes them to do their best, trying to get the best out of them.  And a lot of the other girls in her class are on the dance team and are much further advanced than she is.  She said she felt embarrassed when he had to come correct her pose or posture.

Ah.  Here you go.  Friends, with the advent of middle school, we are starting to move beyond the warm, fuzzy encouragement of the elementary school years, where everything you do is cute and great and brilliant.  Now we have teachers, coaches, (parents!) who are pushing you a bit, making you stretch (literally and figuratively!), trying to get you to move beyond yourself and improve.

I don’t know if you read Momastery at all (which you should, everyone should) but one of Glennon’s mottoes is “We can do hard things!” This applies to big things like say, caring for a child with special needs, fighting cancer, fighting addiction.  But hard things also include say, having a dance teacher who pushes you and expects more of you.  Working things out with a friend.  Struggling with math.  Hard things, all around.  Hard things, big and small.

We had a good chat.  I told her that as she gets older, people are going to start expecting more of her, to start pushing her to do better.  That this is a part of life.  After all, I said, you don’t always want to be the same dancer you were at 10 years old right?  You don’t want to just stay the same?  I talked about how, unfortunately, life is hard…there are a lot of hard, hard things ahead of her…big and small.  But you know what? I told her? You can do hard things!  Because she is brave and smart and beautiful and talented.  I talked about how I don’t really like training for a half marathon.  It’s HARD!  Running for 12 miles is not very fun.  But I love how I feel when I’m done, and I love the fact that I get to run a half marathon with my good friend in a couple weeks, and how good and proud we will feel to have finished it.  I told her that hard doesn’t mean bad.  That many times…most times…hard things have good results.  Of course I made sure he wasn’t being mean to her or any of the other girls, abusive or inappropriate in anyway.  No, she said.  He just is “strict” she said.  (Read: Not Miss Jen from last year!!) I told her that it is his job to make her a better dancer.  He is a dance teacher.  If he just let her stay the same forever and ever, then he wasn’t doing a very good job.  And that I’m sorry it’s hard, but not to quit, not to give up, to just keep going and push through it and see where she ends up.

In the end she went to dance.  She came out and I asked how it went.  “Good!” she said. “I didn’t need any corrections from him tonight.”  Which is great, I said, but I also told her you can learn from your mistakes and that getting corrected, while maybe embarrassing, isn’t necessarily bad.  (Again:  He’s doing his job if he’s correcting you!)  And then she said “You know he’s actually kind of funny.  He makes a lot of jokes during class and is actually nice.”  

A-ha.

I know sometimes it seems like we live in a time where everyone gets a trophy and parents pitch a fit if their kid isn’t picked for something, or if they think a coach or teacher is being too hard on their kid.  My first instinct was to be a bit concerned “Is this guy being mean to my girl???” and I confess I even looked at the dance schedule to see if there was another class of the same level with a different teacher.  There wasn’t.  But I patiently weeded out the whole story, found out the true issue (Julia wants things to be easy–wow, she’s a human like the rest of us!!)  But friends, we have to remember…life is hard.  There are hard things ahead for our kids.  And while we don’t want to throw them to the wolves too soon, we’re not doing our jobs if we don’t let them do hard things.  Experience challenges.  Push themselves.  How will they deal with that surly high school science teacher, or that nasty college professor who hates their writing, or the demanding boss or the difficult friend if we don’t teach them that they can do hard things, and that doing hard things can be rewarding??

Sometimes I look at that girl and see a little girl who needs to be pampered and coddled and have the way smoothed out for her.  And my gut oftentimes is to do just that, to smooth the way for her.  But she is a warrior…all our kids are warriors and strong and they have great things within them!  I want to continue to help her dig out those great things and become the strong, capable woman she was made to be.  A woman who can do hard things.

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