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Break Dance Blues

November 12, 2009


I took Graysen to his first break dance class last night at which a few things happened:

1. He was warmly greeted by the super cool instructor with the giant Zia symbol tattoo.
2. He was given personal attention as he attempted the various stretches and moves.
3. He was encouraged to freestyle in the center of the circle of dancers, as the music pounded.
4. He was cheered on when he launched fearlessly into the spotlight to spin and jump around to his own interpretation of the beat.
5. He stubbed his toe.
6. He decided to “give up.”

In the 45 minutes that he was happily involved, he was soaking everything up like the little sponge he is. He was delighting in the individual attention, paying close attention to how the instructors were moving their bodies, and practicing on the sidelines in quieter moments. He grinned and waved at me from across the room several times, and was deeply focused on the proceedings.

Then, everything turned upside down, and not in the way Gray would have liked.

He was champing at the bit to jump in the circle of dancers a second time, and when the opportunity opened up…there he was. Break dancing his little heart out and attempting a variety of handstand moves.

But after he was done, he walked over to me and put his arms around my neck. Suddenly my big break dancing boy was my baby again. He then carefully but clearly articulated himself.

“I’m giving up,” he said.

“Giving up?” I asked, incredulous. “Why??”

“I hurt my toe.” He flopped down in the chair next to me, and proceeded to stare somewhat sadly out at the people on the dance floor.

The sadness morphed into crabbiness after we left. The crabbiness to anger.

“And the guy kept punching me!” Graysen exclaimed as we drove away.

“Punching you??” I asked, again incredulous. I’d been watching the whole time. There was never any punching.

Turns out, Gray was referring to the encouraging “fist bumps” the instructors gave him when he tried something new. This is not a foreign concept to Graysen – he fist bumps his uncles happily all the time. I mused that maybe they just did it a little too hard, but Gray was convinced. They were punching him.

Much later, the truth started to leak out.

The instructors were incredibly strong young men – fantastic role models for the kids they were working with (for free, mind you), and very good break dancers to boot.

Turns out, they were too good.

The guy with the Zia tattoo could spin on his head very very well. The other guy, the one in the picture above helping Gray with a move, could stand on one hand and hop.

And Graysen, the silly little sponge, was taking it all in and feeling inadequate.

“I can’t do those things,” he told me later, his jaw set in outright anger.

And no amount of reasoning about practice, or the fact that none of those guys could do those things when they were 5 either, got through. Gray was done. Is done.

The words I’m quitting. I’m giving up. I’m never going back there ever again… fell from his lips repeatedly over the course of the evening (a mantra which was punctuated by temper tantrums and insinuations that I am mean…for…whatever).

Finding an appropriate response was challenging for me. I tried the reasoning approach, as I mentioned….and that fell on stubborn little ears. Fail.

I tried just listening and reflecting…. but the fire in his little self raged on. At one point, annoyed by the vehemence with which he was processing his sudden abhorrence for break dancing, I made some flip comment.

“Fine, quit. Give up. Who cares…” or something like that, all the while realizing that though he might be a “quitter” in terms of formal break dance classes, but he doesn’t let an upset like this go without a significant battle.

The sarcastic approach hurt more than helped. His little face fell, and guilt crept into my heart.

I centered myself and changed my tactics. I held my big little boy on my lap, and hugged him. Reminded myself that he’s a little guy locked in a battle with this big, confusing world…and that he’s very very competitive.

Right now, given his age, his competitive streak seems to be running toward saving face when he can’t do something to the level of the people he admires.

He’d rather angrily give up than let himself dwell in vulnerability.

I hope this isn’t the last time he attempts break dancing. I do see that he has a natural talent for stuff like that.

But I also told him, with great compassion, that I wouldn’t make him go back if he didn’t want to. It was his choice.

This morning, he woke up cheerfully and gave me a big hug. Then, as I was looking through the cabinets for some sort of breakfast item, he said Mom, look!

He wove his fingers together and raised them over his head, then lowered them in front of his body and looked at me with a smile in his eyes.

“Remember this?” he asked.

I nodded – it was one of the first moves the break dance instructor showed him.

“And then you do this, remember?” I asked, showing him the next step. He followed right along.

The moment was brief and no further mention was made of the previous night’s upset. But he was smiling. Something sank in…something was being processed.

Now, all there is to do is wait and see where that process leads. With this kid, you just never know.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 12, 2009 7:33 pm

    Oh, my daughter is like that–and then she processes it and oftentimes does go back and take it on again…I hope Gray does, too.

  2. hallie permalink
    November 13, 2009 5:25 am

    oh my god, i feel like that *every* time i try something new. but i worked as a temp for so long, i have absolute faith now that the feelings of hopelessness and confusion and inadequacy will pass – even when i don’t *feel* it, i *know* it, and so i get through the not-feeling-it part and sure enough … just like the sun rises in the east, it does pass. every time. it never gives me a positive feeling when i get to that bottoming-out of energy and focus, but i do get through it by recognizing the pattern. the intellectual side of myself does very little work, but it does do this one job a lot.

    gray is such an energetic kid. if you remember this for later, help him remember the next time he’s feeling the pain of not-quite-getting-it-yet … you’ll get through it. over and over.

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