We visited the Discovery Museum in Acton today for a reading of The Nutcracker in storybook form. Seven high-school-aged dancers in full costume illustrated choice parts of the story, each performing a ten-second routine when her solo in the ballet was mentioned. I felt bad they had to curl their hair and lace up their toe-shoes for just that, but I guess it's part of the marketing. Nutcracker tickets don't sell themselves in Acton/Boxborough.
The room was so packed that I was glad the program only lasted a half hour. We came ten minutes early, but even so Dan and I had to sit separately, with a child on each lap. I don't know how Harvey reacted to the dancers, and maybe it was better that I didn't see. For his part, Zion regarded the proceedings with little more than detached patience.
The storyteller did a wonderful job using pacing and inflection to make the story as magical as possible. But as she read, I noticed something. When Clara found herself in a sparkling ball gown, or when the nutcraker turned into a prince, there was an audible gasp of amazement in the room. But not from the children. The oohs and aahs came from the mothers.
Now, there's nothing wrong with a grown woman getting into a picture book. Nor is there anything wrong with a mother trying to get her child engaged in an activity that's happening now and only fleetingly. But this morning, on this outing concocted only to further my scheme of dragging my children to a nonsensical classical ballet, I worried suddenly. Are we, and I mean a societal we, are we well-meaning parents trying to concoct a magical fantasy world just so we can force our children to enjoy it? Do we want to manufacture wonder and excitement in a world where we are the chief wizard? Are we doing this to prevent them from finding magic in the real world? a world that is natural and messy and mostly outside of our control?
The Discovery Museum's stated goal is to foster learning through play, yet it is very difficult to let children play freely there. The way it's set up, in an old house with tiny rooms that can't see into each other and stairs right down the middle, a parent has to be constantly ordering and bossing to keep two children safely in sight. Also, there are precious few places for adult to sit down in the museum, so most parents end up hovering, "Did you see this? Did you see what this does? Put the ball down here. No the smaller ball. Not that one, the small one. Pick it up and put it in the chute. Look it made a sound! Did you see how it made a sound? Cool, huh? What does this one do?"
I'm not saying the kids get nothing out of it, I'm just saying they'd be better served looking at the toys on their own somewhere the parents could sit on a bench and get out of their way.
We let Harvey and Zion play in the museum for a while, something they liked approximately seven billion times more than sitting and watching dancers. Then we went outside to eat our lunch. While we were outside I noticed something. Harvey and Zion went to play in some bushes next to the picnic table. Where it was, you know, kind of dirty. Zion was trying to hide beneath the branches and Harvey was trying to climb on a limb way too weak for the purpose. And I thought: now This is wonderful. The plants that God made grow from the ground? That provide both warmth and shade and a natural play structure to boot? Do I want him to stop being amazed by these things so I can convince him that a chimera of tinsel and crepe-paper and overworked high-school students is amazing?
Because it's not. It's stupid phony cheap glitter wrapped around a kernel of beauty which is DANCE. And I don't what to share with Harvey a love of fakery or spectatorship or paying a lot of money for a fancy outing. I want to share with him my love of DANCE. I want him to know what it's like to reach towards the heavens like you're leaving gravity, to memorize movements your brain can't explain and then feel your body leap away from your brain on amazing auto-pilot, to jump and spin until you feel what joy it is to be alive... I want to give him dance. Not a nut already cracked, but the whole blessed tree.
And for heaven's sake I want to give him space. From me. Because my dreams are maybe not his dreams. And my needs are maybe too big for a three-year-old.
So no Nutcracker this year for my family. Maybe next year, or maybe I could just get the the root of my longing and take a dance class myself. With or without my children. A girl can dream.