A few years ago we were challenged with becoming custodial parents for one of our grandsons. This blog isn’t about that as much as it is about accepting a child no matter what. Our grandson came to us at the age of five. He was a clinging needy child who sapped my energy but gained my love. He happened to land in our care along with three other small children. He was situated right in the middle of the age group. The youngest was a little girl. Her two older brothers assigned to us moved us from the category of past middle aged people who fell in love raising a grandchild to grandparents raising four. I don’t think either of us would deny how trying this was but the rewards were many. One of those rewards was finding a niche for our grandson.
We took the little girl to a ballet class at the invitation of the social worker. Our little ballerina was not thrilled to say the least. At two years of age she was firm in the word “no”. On the day of her first class we took our grandson. His eyes were wide as he watched teenage dancers whirl and little children at the ballet bar trying their tiny legs and feet at positions one through five. Suddenly he spoke. “Can I dance too?” Our foster grandchild had lessens free of charge but we couldn’t afford to pay for our grandson. The director of Ballet Chicago heard his question and a miracle happened.
“We had a remarkable young boy who danced with us”, she began. “He died this year of leukemia and his family started a scholarship for young male dancers.” My husband and I glanced from one to another. Could this boy who had come to live with us dance? We didn’t know but we nodded in approval, both of us together.
The audition took place that afternoon. I couldn’t stand the suspense so I sat patiently waiting with our two year old charge clinging shyly to my skirt, wary of all the activity around her. My husband exited the dance studio at the end of the audition. I couldn’t read his face. There was concern and joy all wrapped in grandfatherly pride as he took his seat next to me. The director came toward us as we waited. She could have played poker but as she neared us we could see the barely contained exuberance. “He’s a natural!” Those were the words that changed everything.
Over the following months our grandson didn’t miss a rehearsal; didn’t miss a class. Our two year old was still adamant about “no”. She liked watching us watch her adopted cousin as he stretched and pirouetted and leaped. She just wasn’t going into the little kids groups no matter how much we begged and cajoled. Christmas season brought on the rehearsals for the Nutcracker and a part was written for our grandson. It wasn’t his excitement over the coming performance that brought about the astounding change in him. It was dance, period. He wasn’t clingy any more. He had self-confidence, a burgeoning sense of worth we had never seen before. On top of it all he was a brilliant dancer. His leaps were far superior to anything I had witnessed in the many years I studied ballet and modern dance as a child and young adult. I began to see the first black Nureyev blossoming before my eyes and it was wondrous to behold. His performance during the Nutcracker season was awesome; even the ballet school thought so. He lived to dance.
Two years later we had to give up the big house with all the bedrooms for our grandchildren. By then they were all ours weather genetic or not. It didn’t matter. Our little granddaughter had finally consented to go to dance class and though I didn’t have visions of Maria Tall Chief, I was pretty proud of her. Our grandson was still a rising star. He went to live with cousins who we thought would give him the love and attention he needed in a stable environment. Our other bunch went back to mom and dad. They are doing quite well in spite of the fact they are now teenagers and driving their parents mad. Our grandson probably would have been fine as well but his cousins decided he had to stop dancing. The Chicago School of Ballet offered to look for a scholarship for him to continue in his new home town. We were willing to scrape the bottom of our bank account to help pay for lessens. There was no use. He had to stop dancing because it wasn’t manly enough. The new family cut off his locks (which he had begged for and we had put out over one-hundred dollars to get started). Shorn of his locks like Samson, he was pushed into football. Why? Because these people whom we trusted with his care were afraid he would be gay!
I thought about him today as I watched an episode of So You Think You Can Dance and I cried. My husband and I didn’t care that this young boy had always wanted to be a girl. From the time he was a toddler his grandfather remembers his favorite toys were power puff girls. He liked pink. So what, he was a brilliant dancer. We didn’t just think he could dance, we knew it and we didn’t care if he would be gay. We just knew he would be great.
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