Friday, November 15, 2013

Sugar Plum Dreams Performing Arts studio has built a well-earned reputation not only as, "The place you go, the place you stay", but also as the place you go if you intend to go far. Its roster of recent alums and current students finding bigger and brighter spotlights for well-honed natural talent is both impressive and growing. Combining excellent technique classes with award- winning choreography and a plethora of performance opportunities for its young pupils, is a launching pad and the sky, it would seem, presents no limit.

One such opportunity, the studio's biennial production of The Nutcracker in collaboration with Blacksburg Ballet, SME, and DCVT has been as much a part of the holidays for area families as stuffing stockings and laying out sugary treats for Santa or carrots for Rudolph on Christmas Eve. And preparations are already underway for this year's rendering of the classic tale, to be staged at Burruss Auditorium on Saturday, December 14, 2013, at 1:00 pm and 7:00 pm. Audience members will be treated to performances by professional soloists and guest artists, and even the youngest of spectators will recognize Blacksburg celebrity, the Hokie Bird, delighting audiences with a return appearance.

Once again the show's run features a field trip on Friday, December 13, 2013, for fortunate students from area schools. This offering is designed to realize a primary aim of the organization, described by longtime director, Karen Stemen, "The field trip opportunities help fulfill our mission of educating the public through the art of ballet and bringing the arts into the classrooms of young ballet patrons." This 55-minute excerpt offers just enough sugar plum magic and battling mice to whet the appetites of a young audience eager to share Clara's fantastical journey into a land where a damaged doll metamorphoses into the heroic prince of her dreams.

Stepping into Clara's slippers for the opening act is BMS eighth grader, Miss Meredith Hertweck. When asked about taking on the seminal role, the young ballerina's excitement was palpable, "Having grown up doing Nutcracker, I was really hoping this could be my year. I am very excited."  Nearly as thrilling as winning the role of her dreams is the opportunity to share the spotlight with one of her mentors, Ms.Kaitlin Shreckhise.

For Shreckhise, a veteran of 15 presentations of Nutcracker over the span of  her two decades as a dancer,'s practice of presenting performance opportunities where more experienced teachers are invited to share the stage with their young pupils affords her an occasion she had not dared to hope might come again, "I am so, so excited to be dancing alongside my students. I really didn't think I would ever have an opportunity to perform again, especially in another Nutcracker. The Nutcracker has always been my favorite ballet because it, for a lack of a better word, feels like home. Being that I have performed in it every year from age 3 to 18, there is something so familiar and comforting about it. I have certainly missed it these last few years, and I am ecstatic to have it back in my life again. I am thankful everyday for being able to teach and do what I love, and I am even more thankful for my students. They are the ones who make my job possible, enjoyable, challenging, and exciting. I am grateful for them, and I feel so honored to get to dance with them in this performance." 'Tis a busy season for Ms. Shreckhise, who will grace the stage in the coveted role of the Sugar Plum Fairy a mere month after joining the ranks of Ted speakers at VT's own TedX event.

Assuming Clara duties for the second act is pointe instructor Catie Cheek, " I will be playing Dream Clara and  am really looking forward to training for the Nutcracker alongside the students that I teach - I think it is a great lesson in remembering that you can learn as much from your pupils as they learn from you. Meredith, who plays Little Clara, is a very hard-working dancer and I think that combining our passions for ballet will make for a very successful Clara for Blacksburg Ballet's Nutcracker!" Cheek trained with the Dance Conservatory in Delaware and performed with the Ballet Theatre of Dover during her high school years. In addition to her teaching duties, she is a fifth-year Industrial Design student at Virginia Tech and a Resident Advisor in the Honors Residential College.

All three dancers have every reason to be excited, particularly when each considers the heights to which many of their predecessors have risen since enjoying their own time in the Blacksburg spotlight. 2011 Nutcracker Prince Nick Grubbs is in his sophomore year in NYU's esteemed Tisch School of the Arts. Emily Hall, who played the Snow Queen in 2009 to Grubbs' Prince, is lighting up Harrisonburg stages as part of James Madison University's dance program.

Anyone familiar with would not be surprised to learn that Hall has also appeared on the JMU Dean's list or to dig out an old Bruins yearbook and find Grubbs pictured in a National Honor Society photo. One aspect of the studio's training regimen that delights parents and impresses teachers of DT performers is the unfailing work ethic it instills. A visitor to the studio is more likely than not to find clusters of dancers poring over Algebra or drafting term papers between classes. Dancing in a stringent program such as's not only produces quality on stage, but propels students to excellence in academics as well. Balancing the demands of as many as 16 hours of classes and rehearsals each week with school requirements breeds time-management and self-discipline that will serve these young people admirably, whether their career paths lead to Broadway or the boardroom.

For at, students are encouraged to dance with stars in their eyes but never allowed to forget that hard work and dedication to training are the surest means to reaching their dreams. Many dancers train year-round, taking full advantage of summer intensive opportunities, each of which comes as a result of an intense audition process. Summer 2012 found Hertweck busy in the Radford University Summer Ballet intensive, while fellow dancers Maggi Weissman and Erica Boerth travelled as far as Atlanta to train with the Joffrey Ballet. Both girls are featured in this winter's upcoming Nutcracker production, alongside Erinn Stephenson, fresh off a 5-week summer intensive with the School of the Richmond Ballet.

Lindy Mesmer, a 6th grade student, spent much of her summer competing at the New York City Dance Alliance national competition in New York City and training with the Bolshoi Ballet in Nutmeg, CT. At the same time her fellow dancers are busily spinning sugar plum dreams into reality, Lindy is in the midst of preparations to take the stage with the world-famous Radio City Rockettes, offering her own interpretation of Clara in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. Lindy got her Nutcracker start as one of Mother Ginger's Children, progressed a few years later to a featured solo part as a music box, and is now poised to take her talents to a larger venue at Radio City Music Hall. Excited dancers will make the trip to see her performance on the heels of their own Nutcracker production. Performing Arts studio is launching young dancers with big dreams, ensuring that they have the discipline, drive and training to reach their destinations. Locals interested in seeing these stars of tomorrow would do well to reserve their tickets today.

Reserved tickets for the 1:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. December 14th performances may be purchased at the Blacksburg Ballet office, located at 1101 North Main Street in Blacksburg, and are $12 for adults and $8 for children age 12 and under. Tickets purchased through the UUSA ticket office on the Virginia Tech campus are $15 for adults and $10 for children age 12 and under.  Student and senior groups of 8 or more may call to request discounted rates. For more information or to reserve seats today, please call (540) 961-6666 or visit

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Miley Cyrus: Dysfunction With the Wrong Key

She twerks. She belts out songs with laced with drug references and not so veiled references to sexual availability. She sports increasingly provocative apparel and grabs headlines with her on-again, off-again engagement that even the most avid reader of US Weekly and People would be challenged to remain current on. She is Miley Cyrus. Once the adorable princess of the 4-8 year-old set with her atypical problems as a part-time secret pop star, she is now at best a cautionary tale and at worst, every tween mom's living nightmare.

And so parents are left with two choices. Either force themselves and their daughters to avert their eyes from the train wreck that is admittedly at times entertaining, albeit almost always disturbing to witness or allow Miley's atempts to open every door with which she is presented with the lone key of conformity to the image which proves most appealing to the masses to motivate them to equip their own girls with a full key ring as they launch them into adulthood. For this is the crux of the Miley Cyrus crisis: she is a girl attempting to proceed with only one key and doggedly refusing to accept that one size does not fit all when it comes to the locks of life.

During her Hannah years, the key of conformity certainly served its purpose,skyrocketing Miley/Hannah to the top of the pack  of Disney starlets vying for the coveted title of Queen Bee. And by being exactly whom Disney wanted her to be, she achieved this. She was on every first grader's dream backpack, smiled out at her young fans from their lunch boxes  as they chewed their cheeses sandwiches in the cafeteria, and even cushioned many a pint-sized head at night  from her vantage point on her young fans' pillowcases. The Disney machine is a lot like high school where conformity is the ticket to popularity while the non-conformists exist at the fringes, unable to open the door to widespread acceptance and student office but patiently honing their keys of individuality and determination, knowing that these keys will ultimately open the more important portals they will later want to pass through.

 The Hannah key of conformity is really not that different from the key of obedience to authority that is the key with which most of us begin our daughter's set. We patiently instruct her as to what is and is not appropriate, preparing her for preschool play groups  and elementary experiences. A well-raised child quickly grasps the power of positive reinforcement and understands that meeting the expectations of the authority figure of the moment is a surer means to getting what he or she desires than the tantrums and whining we so often witness at Walmart.

It is easy to understand why Miley's parents and the adults comprising  the Hannah machine so carefully crafted that single key in neglect of the other keys of truth to self, surrounding oneself with true companions who will serve as mirrors, forcing a girl to face her flaws and strive to eradicate them rather than sycophants who echo whatever nonsense she spouts or blindly applaud every  choice without regard to whether it is the correct one, and an adherence to a set of principles not to be violated no matter how appealing the carrot. The turn of that particular key produced results. The money was flowing, fans were flocking, and endorsement deals were plentiful.

But then Miley grew up, and in order to secure  a fan base of her peers and having only that key of conformity in her possession, she was forced to reinvent herself, going from the sweet, innocent adolescent torn between her pop star persona and life as a "regular" girl to the pot-smoking young adult begging for entry into the adult world of success, which she may achieve on a limited scale for the time being, but the longevity of which remains a question only time will answer. 

I hope that the answer is kind to Miley, because although she is technically an adult and thus accountable,the grooves on those other, more important, keys of authenticity, genuine comrades and a solid, inviolable moral code take years of carefully crafted experiences to form. Such keys cannot be issued her instantaneously,even by parents or handlers who in hindsight see where it all derailed. 

The world has watched other young entertainers develop and learn to wield a full set of keys. Jodie Foster and Claire Danes both took their turns at Yale, taking advantage of the opportunity to truly know themselves before continuing their careers in the adult arena. It is nearly impossible to remain true to a self with whom you are barely acquainted, and the temptation to instead inhabit the skin formed for you by individuals motivated more by self-interest rather than your own best interests is easy to succumb to, even when that skin does not fit.

The reader may wonder which of the two approaches I have adopted. Ella is restricted from listening to Miley's latest offering, a celebration of the party culture. I am often amused by the way that Ella quickly changes the station as soon as she hears the opening strains, checking to be sure that I notice lest I become concerned that she will be led astray by those first instrumental notes. The other night I had to suppress laughter when, on the way home from rehearsal, every other station featured the advertising she so vehemently despises. After what felt like a full fifteen minutes of flipping back to K92 to see if the song had ended and it was safe to listen, she turned to me as we turned onto our street and said, "Mom, this is the very end and there are no drug references or bad things  in the rest, so I am not changing the station again before we get home."

I just nodded and smiled  inwardly, for although she is restricted from listening,I have made sure she understands why. I have long been a believer that compliance with parental directives is made more facile by reasonable explanations of the rules. Certainly the rationale behind, "Don't chase the ball into the street," was a more comfortable conversation, but explaining why certain songs or movies are off-limits affords me the opportunity to engage her about important issues without having her inundated with messages that run contrary to the way I am raising her. We are ten years in and it is working so far. But I have a strong suspicion that it will be entirely uphill from here. 

I combine these restrictions with experiences that will help her to really get to know herself, guidance  processing situations that help to separate true friends who will stand by her and can be counted upon to offer her an unflinchingly honest appraisal of her when it is required from the posers, and unambiguous modeling of the principles in which I have encouraged her to believe.

Unlike Miley, Ella will never have to tackle life with an incomplete set of keys. Not if I have anything to say about it. And as her mother, I have everything to say about it.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Princess Fiona: I'm a Believer

 This is the summer of Shrek. Ella is delightedly involved in Summer Musical Enterprise's production of Shrek the Musical, and has fully metamorphosed into a swamp dweller. When she is not singing the Duloc ditty, she is reciting lines from the play, offering her best Donkey impression. So it came as no surprise that I was called upon to view both Shrek and Shrek II last weekend. Although I am a longtime fan of the not so jolly green guy, and a definite subscriber to the theory that the sequel rarely lives up to its predecessor, it is Shrek II that makes me a believer. In Fiona. For as the story of Shrek II unfolds,  Fiona casts off the mold of the Disney princess and emerges as an excellent model for tween and teen girls alike of self-acceptance, dealing with the transition from her father's daughter to her own woman, and of the essential ingredient of forgoing the future of which you've dreamed for most of your childhood to seize the reality that awaits you when you reach adulthood.

There are a myriad of issues to confront as a young girl navigates those tumultuous years between 10 and 20, and self- acceptance is at the top of this seemingly endless list. Fiona's fictional struggle to accept her ogreish nature is not far removed from the very real effort required by a young woman to deal with the sprouting of hair in novel places, the growth of breasts and the looming onset of menstruation, all of which, to her, seem to appear overnight, much like the verdant hue of Fiona's skin (can we say acne?), her broad nose and her oversized ears. Like Fiona's parents, tween moms and dads spot these changes coming a mile away. We may cringe at Harold and Lillian's decision to lock their princess away in the obligatory tower with only a dragon for company, but is it really that far a  cry from the manner in which parents often envelop their daughters in a cocoon of silence accompanied only by their own confused musings or the images presented by today's media (Miley could very well be the new dragon- recent haircut choices make me wonder). Both choices are motivated by an honest fear, with the unpredictable ogre whose size and appearance make her difficult to manage mirroring a burgeoning sexuality that is at times seemingly impossible to subdue. But the effects of both are equally damaging.

Unable to process her struggle with the aid of her parents, Fiona turns to Donkey, whose advice eventually helps her to accept herself. I suspect her ability to do so has more to do with the outcome of true love's first kiss than the dictates of the spell. Today's girl would do well to surround herself with such pals, preferably with better table manners and a stronger intuition regarding her need for occasional privacy. Excepting involved parents unafraid to confront the realities of her transformation from girl to woman, a strong circle of trusted friends is a girl's strongest asset in her sojourn from childhood to adulthood, and while she can do without either of the two if absolutely required to do so, one can not be foregone in the absence of the other.

To be fair, had Snow White or Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty been given a sequel, perhaps one of them would have moved beyond the wedding with the promise of a problem-free happily ever after to become a suitable millennial heroine. Without the sequel, Fiona would not have the opportunity to model so beautifully the handling of the dichotomous existence that is teenage life and tweendom. Fiona is most herself in the swamp, happily splashing in a mud bath with Shrek or goofing around with Donkey without concern for social convention or parental approval. Yet when the invitation to Far Far Away comes, she does not hesitate, knowing that her acceptance of herself remains inauthentic until she returns home and presents society and her parents with the choice to accept her as she is. Her nervous gestures as she and her less than charming prince make the trek from carriage to palace steps belie her uncertainty as to how they will choose despite her earlier assertions to Shrek that of course her parents would accept her because she was their own. Oh, that all adolescents, particularly those struggling with matters of sexual identity, could truly have such confidence. The inclusion of this uncertainty, aside from its obvious comic effect, guarantees that young viewers will identify with a figure confronting her inability to remain the little girl her parents and community want her to be if she is to truly inhabit the person of the individual she is meant to be.

In the pages of  Fiona's diary Shrek learns of the future for which his bride once longed, an easy existence complete with an idealized mate whom her parents accept unreservedly and a flawless beauty that is the talk of all of Far Far Away. When Shrek imbibes the potion that restores Fiona to human form, Fiona is confronted with the opportunity to have her childhood dream come true. She can  bestow the requisite kiss on her "new and improved" husband, retain the blessing of her parents, and enjoy the spoils of her inheritance. She has had a foretaste of this in that painfully awkward interlude when Charming masquerades as Shrek. It is fitting in the end that he is revealed as the true ogre, as the boys of our adolescent fantasies almost invariably are. But in the final analysis Fiona realizes what the audience has known from the opening credits- that to ask Shrek to relinquish his true nature for her will ultimately render him something less than what she wants and a diminished version of what she truly needs to achieve happiness. it is not an accident that her father is exposed as a frog, yet another point of relatability for a young audience. Her realization that he is less than the kingly figure she doubtless worshipped as a child emboldens her to let go of her childish vision of her future to embrace a mature perspective and gain true love, a love that has not sprung to life as if by magic but has been conceived in the crucible of crisis, sorely tested by forces both external and internal, and found to be the real thing.

And so in this summer of swamp creatures and singing pigs, we find a timely guide for what gives every appearance of being an interesting few years. And yes, I am a believer. I can hardly afford not to be.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Saluting the Unsung Heroes

A dear friend recently posted this on Facebook and was thoughtful enough to tag me, writing a blurb about her admiration for women who raise children without the benefit of a dad in the home. After my initial reaction of pride and appreciation, I was struck by the irony that this graphic did the opposite of its probable intent by its creator: It reminded me how not alone I truly am. And it gave me the inspiration to unmask the true superheroes who guarantee this every day.

You see, Ella has an entire army of dads at her disposal every day of the week. Most of them are not related to her biologically, none of them live in her house, not a single one is romantically involved with her mother. Nonetheless, they are Ella's dads, men who take the extra time to give my girl the positive male attention and encouragement that will help to prevent her from becoming a sad statistic, one who seeks male attention from less honorable boys and suffers potentially disastrous consequences.

The rest of the world proceeds unaware of their Superhero status. But in Ella's eyes there is nothing they can't do, and in my heart lies the assurance that there is nothing they wouldn't do for her. Every single one is.a Clark Kent in his daily life. But make no mistake, these are super men.

Gary KItts
Gary Kitts came into Ella's life in 2008, when he reconnected with his childhood friend, my mother, and fell in love. For Ella, the phenomenon of these two falling for one another was secondary. Tuff Kitts was her Papa at first sight. He is the man who shows Ella with every interaction with his wife exactly how a man treats a woman he loves. He has set the bar sky high for any future Romeos who come to call, and you can be sure that any boy who wants to so much as buy her yogurt had better pass muster with Papa first. Gary, or Papa Tuff as Ella refers to him, has a gift for making Ella feel special. When they are together, there is no one else in the world. Ella has nary a worry when the Dads and Donuts flyers are circulated at school as some girls of single mothers might. She knows Papa is just the man for the occasion. He is her source of sugar products when there are none at home, her guide in the forest when she is on the hunt, and the proudest spectator in the auditorium when she dances.

Bruce Board
I'f Gary Kitts were not my father, I would want Bruce Board to be. All my life he has been there for me, and he carries that tradition on with Ella. Ella has the privilege of witnessing one of the healthiest father-daughter relationships I have seen when she spends time with Great Uncle Bruce and Cousin Casey. If a boy somehow manages to secure the approval of her Papa, then he better have the good humor, affection and genuine warmth of her Uncle Bruce, because this is the yardstick by which Ella will measure the future father of her own children. Bruce never fails to engage Ella about the things that matter to her and his hugs and warm meals are always certain to satisfy.

Andy Wert, Brian Kitts and Jim Kitts

Being the brother of a single woman with a young daughter may appear burdensome to lesser men, but my brothers three take it in stride and each exhibits paternal qualities that provide Ella with security, fun, and love. From my brother Andy's quiet strength and constancy, Ella gleans a sense of security and serenity. The fiercest of storms may rage outside the beach house we rent together each summer, but with Uncle Andy around, fear is the farthest thing from Ella's mind.. Uncle Brian, with his unrelenting mischief and spirit of fun, provides an element of levity for a girl who spends the bulk of her time with her very intense mother. Uncle Jim hosts Ella every spring for a week and makes no distinction between his own girls and Ella when she is there.

Andrew Stanaland

Andrew met Ella when.on the first day of preschool, she ran over his daughter Claire on a tricycle. Despite this bumpy beginning. Andrew went on to become Ella's first tee ball coach and Claire remains one of her closest confidantes. Andrew gave Ella her first baseball, a pink polka dot orb that held a place of honor on her dresser for years. Andrew never hesitates to jump in when a male hand is needed, whether it be driving the boat so the girls can tube or showing them how to construct a fire pit for smores and campfire chats. And his pancakes are like nothing else to Ella. From Andrew Ella has learned that fathers are fun, and that she Is always welcome to join in.

Kyle Shukis

Kyle was one of Ella's earliest dance coaches. He instilled a discipline and work ethic in Ella that she to this day carries with her into every dance class and rehearsal. It crosses the threshold of the schoolhouse door every morning and ensures that her diet is impeccably healthy. In the midst of all those tutus and little girls in buns, he noticed her. Girls need to be noticed for the right reasons, and Kyle did that for Ella. When he left the studio to pursue other opportunities, Ella vocalized her devastation at losing a "Dad". How thrilling for her last November to learn that he had seen her solo at Jump and was proud, not because she had executed the choreography flawlessly or won the approbation of the judges, but because he could see the fruits of those early lessons in how to work hard for what you want to achieve and was moved that she had developed the confidence to try. That text from him meant more than any trophy ever could.

Glen Chilcote
Glen Chilcote is Ella's music teacher. Ella is convinced that he walks on water, or at least creates harmonies impossible for other mere mortals to produce when he swims. He has inspired Ella and instilled confidence in her musical abilities. He has reinforced for her that she is inherently valuable because of God-given abilities and talents. She works hard for him to be sure, but she never has to try to gain his acceptance.. This is a lesson many girls learn at Daddy's knee;Ella is learning it every time she goes to music This man enriches the life of every child with whom he comes in contact, but when such a man gives so generously of himself to a fatherless girl, the impact is stunning.

I owe each of these men a debt I can never repay. And this blog entry is a paltry token of appreciation. But I want each of them to always know that Ella and I are not fooled by their Clark Kent demeanors. Each time we see them, we see their capes flying and our spirits soar.

So despite what the graphic says, I am no superhero- I just know where to find them.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

How Are We To Teach If We Never Really Learn?

I remember the fundamental lessons Ella was first taught within the context of her earliest social experiences- at MOPS and play group: 

 1. Every person has worth. 
 2. We share what we have with everyone in the group regardless of whether we agree with everything he or she says or does or whether we like his or her outfit or even whether we are having a good day. 

3. We do not denigrate. We do not belittle. We do not mistreat. Period. 

 I recall sitting in the circle with the other moms doling out the goldfish, painstakingly counting to be sure everything was fair and everyone got his or her share. We did not give a few more to the kid who knew his colors or the child who could recite the alphabet or the sweet one we favored secretly because already we could see a proclivity for extreme politeness. And the children noticed. And when it was time to divvy up the toys the moms could just sit back and watch because those children knew that every one of them had better have something with which to play. They did this not because their mothers were menacing or they feared reprisal, but because deep down in their tiny little souls they grasped that this was the correct way to do things.

 With the recent DOMA ruling, the Supreme Play Group has decreed that as far as it is concerned, all the children in all the playgroups in the land are entitled to the same number of goldfish. And if one playgroup has officially sanctioned a union between Sally and Sue or Billy and Bobby, well then the federal playgroup poobah is going to count those goldfish just to be sure that those two get exactly what they are supposed to. It matters not whether the playgroup down the block recognizes them as belonging to each other. It matters not whether all the members of the playgroup like it. 

 I, along with the rest of the nation, have heard and read a great deal about same-sex marriages in recent months. For me,the debate cannot be a purely academic one, because it affects people with whom I learned those same fundamental lessons enumerated above, people with whom I graduated from high school, cherished college chums, and treasured colleagues. And essentially, despite what the talking heads want you to think, this argument is not about where you worship or how you vote or what you believe about the way our bodies were designed to work. The debate is a human one with a million faces that all boils down to one simple question: Do you believe every man, woman and child is entitled to be treated with fairness and dignity? If you do, then we all get our goldfish. 

 We claim to have answered this question as a country with the Emancipation Proclamation and Brown vs. Board, but as long as we are asking a segment of our society to continue to defer the dream, the question remains open, the heart grows sick, and the nation suffers. 

 Sadly, the state of Virginia is less concerned with fairness than the moms in my old play group. Granted, we were stellar, but I digress. Today a woman I respect more than she even realizes and for whom I have a profound fondness learned that despite the demise of DOMA, the state for which she has labored tirelessly and to which she has contributed immensely will not allow her to receive the benefits due her by virtue of a legally binding marriage. She doesn't get her goldfish, and it only makes the goldfish the rest of us are snacking on while she is forced to wait for hers taste stale. She and her sweet wife no longer feel welcome in a place enhanced by their very presence there. And should they ultimately feel compelled to leave, the loss will be profound. And so I grieve with them. And the only words I have are these: Virginia is clearly having a bad day. It is acting out. And all the children notice, Jan and Suzie, all the children notice.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Making it all make sense

Life so rarely makes complete sense. There is always some conundrum or other tickling the back of my brain, niggling away at me, reminding me that the goal of obtaining sufficient wisdom to understand my world, much less the desire to pass said wisdom on to my tween daughter so that she can somehow arrange the shifting pieces of her puzzle to form a coherent picture, is quixotic at best. I struggle with God's promise to equip me fully to meet all the demands of His perfect plan when I spend so much of my time feeling woefully ill-equipped. Ill-equipped to navigate the vicissitudes of tween mood swings,unprepared to face the decline of my physical condition. When Ella was 2 I drove nine hours to visit friends in NY. Three years ago I traveled to Italy. These days driving to Roanoke is a real stretch and just getting through Target is a small victory. And what happened to the sweet-faced girl who once begged for snuggles and play time. She is now a nearly grown girl who truly appreciates the ride to dance or the new tennis shoes, but is it really necessary that we walk together in the mall, and can I not behave and stay in my room when she is entertaining guests? When she was in preschool I prayed diligently for her to find the right circle of friends, ones who would spur her on to be the best version of herself and give her confidence that she was likable not because of how high she jumped or if she wore the right jumper, but because she was Ella and that was enough and always would be. The very first answer to that prayer arrives Sunday for their annual week together and the second returns from Texas the same weekend. In the final analysis, I do not have to amass wisdom; I have to perk up my ears and listen as God doles it out moment by moment, situation by situation. I do not have to put the pieces together for Ella. God will guide those capable hands, hands made that way by Him. And the puzzle will confound her at times, and she will dig deep and pray hard and figure it out. And as for my physical decline, I cannot jump as high or run as fast (ok, at all) as I used,but nine days out of ten I can get up and go to a job I love and take care of the child I adore. And on the tenth day I rest to sweeten the other nine and lean on the village I have so carefully chosen for us, all of whom stand ready to fill in the gaps. I am not defined by my challenges or limitations. I am defined by my response, a response I get to choose- every minute, every hour, every day. And by the Grace of God, I choose to answer not with self-pity and dependence and fear, but with strength and self-confidence and the belief that by allowing another to assist me, I strengthen a bond and invite a future opportunity to serve another.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Merry Christmas 2009

As I write this, Ella is downstairs painting her nails with the girl who lives across the street and we are snowed in with 18 inches of God’s frozen creation on the ground and more falling as part of the biggest storm to hit Virginia in ten years. We, apparently, are in for a very white Christmas.

In truth, the deluge of snow is apropos as I sit down to reflect upon the last year in our household. For this year, as in years past, God has opened up his bag of wonders and mercies and poured them down upon us. Every year I am certain He cannot possibly outdo Himself from the year before. And then He does.

Spring brought the completion of Ella’s kindergarten year at Tall Oaks Montessori and the end of her time there. Saying goodbye was especially poignant as her best friend in all the world, Lindsey Cliff, moved away in June. But summer camps brought her a fresh crop of new friendships and exciting experiences, from inventing rockets to dancing at Stepping Out to horseback riding. We capped off Ella’s summer with a family trip to the beach with aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents on the heels of Aunt Kim and Uncle Brian’s wedding.

My summer was anything but mundane. Around Valentine’s Day, Mike asked me what parts of the world I wanted to see. The next thing I knew, we were planning an ten-day trip to Italy for June. It was amazing and awesome and wonderful to explore one of the most romantic countries in the world with the person who defines romance for you. From the Alps to Venice to the Lamborghini factory in Modena, we covered 1500 miles in 8 short days. It was a journey I will never forget!

Fall brought the return of familiar routines in unfamiliar settings as Ella started first grade at Kipps Elementary. It took maybe a week for Kipps to feel like home. I am in the office on Mondays and in her classroom on Thursdays, and we both feel embraced by the learning community there. Ella was invited to join the Performing Arts Company at Dance Tech this year and danced the role of an angel in the Nutcracker. She is a second-year Daisy Girl Scout and a dedicated Melody choir member.

I am continuing my work at VTTI and my role as supportive taxi driver and planner of weekend events for Mike, Ella and me. This year we have been exploring fun things to do in Greensboro, N.C., discovering new restaurants (Fatz CafĂ© in Dublin is a new favorite, as well as Zaxby’s in Salem), and enjoying the wonder of being in one place together.

I continue to marvel at Mike’s ability to balance the demands of running a business with his usual stellar contribution to our partnership. His willingness to share everything with me and his infectious passion for the things he cares about combine to keep a sparkle in my eye and a spring in my step even on the longest of days.

In this blessed season of celebration and awe as we rejoice in the coming of our Savior once more, our family extends to yours our warmest wishes for a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!