Last weekend, I took my 4-year-old daughter to the Moscow Ballet’s performance of “The Nutcracker.”
If I hadn’t been raised with grandparents who once took a 5-year-old me in a velvet dress and patent-leather Mary Janes to a performance of “Phantom of the Opera,” it might have never crossed my mind to drive my young daughter three hours to the big town to experience such a thing.
But I was. And I remember the feel of the big seat folding up and down underneath my small body, the melody of the music, magic of the stage lights and the weight of my eyelids as my grandpa’s arms carried me, sleepy, out into the night when the curtain fell.
Of course, Edie had never seen a ballet, but I told her she could wear the new sequin dress her great-grandparents sent her and I even put on a dress myself and lip gloss on us both to seal the deal and held out hope that the outfit wasn’t going to be her favorite part of the whole experience.
Let me tell you. I. Had. No. Idea.
Below is a rough transcript of about three of the 90 minutes of dialogue I had with my small daughter sitting in the seat next to me, whispering in my ear while snowflakes, sugarplum fairies, creepy looking mice, a nutcracker and countless ballet dancers leapt and twirled across a lit-up stage while the people around us tried to enjoy the show, despite the incessant narrative that was being asked of me.
Edie, coming up for air after the shock and wonder of the first dance.
Edie: “So is it really Christmas or are they pretending it’s Christmas?”
Me: “Well, it’s Christmas in the ballet, but technically, they’re just pretending it’s Christmas. It’s not Christmas today.”
Edie: “So is that a real nutcracker or is he just pretending to be a nutcracker? And is she a real doll? Or a person?”
Me: “They’re just pretending, but in the ballet, the magician is making them come to life.”
Edie: “Oh, look at those dresses. I want a dress like that when I grow up. I want a dress like that with no sleeves and sparkles and I want a prince. We’ll dance and get married. Are they married? Are these the same people in different outfits or different people? Where’s her blue dress? Why does she wear dress jammies? I have dress jammies. She has dress jammies like me.”
Me: “Shhh… whisper.”
Edie: “Do those boys have feet? I can’t see their feet. What kind of shoes are they wearing? Where’s the music coming from? Where are the speakers?”
Me: “There. Do you see them? No? They’re right there: Do you see those snowflakes? Gramma Beth performed this dance when she was young.”
Edie: “Gramma Beth? Gramma Beth was young? Are these dancers young? Do these dancers have grammas? Do they have mommies?”
Me: “Yes, they have mommies.”
Edie: “Where are their mommies? Where do their mommies live?”
Me: “Ugh, I guess in Russia.”
Edie: “Where’s Russia?”
Me: “Shhh, just watch. Look at those scary mice!”
Edie, looking away: “I don’t like those mice. Is this just pretend? What was that noise? What happened to the mouse?”
Me: “He fell down. The noise scared him. They took him to the hospital to be checked out. He’s OK.”
Edie: “Well, where is his mommy? Do the mice have mommies? I don’t see the doctors? Where’s the hospital? Does he have blood? Does he need a Band-Aid? Oh, look at that tutu! When I grow up, I want a tutu like that…”
And so on and so on until the lights went up, they all took a bow and Edie sat in her seat wondering if it was over.
I didn’t have to ask her how she liked it, so I asked about her favorite part.
“All of it,” she exclaimed, and then I carried her up the stairs and out into the crisp night, her Cinderella jelly shoes dangling from her toes and my hope of an experience etched deep enough for her to remember some of it, if only the dresses with no sleeves and the seat that folded up beneath her.