I’ve just had an extremely stressful (but fun) weekend and I definitely need to pour it out here on my neglected blog. I can usually write whatever it is I want to get off my chest/share with the world via an Instagram post, but this weekend was a biggie, so here I am.
Let’s start with a brief note on Audrey’s dance history. At an early age (like many babies/toddlers), Audrey showed that she enjoyed music and moving to music. We went to all the usual music groups, as well as some a bit more different (me singing in a grown up choir whilst Audrey rolled around) and we listened to music at home, watched music channels, learned sing and sign with Singing Hands and had a boogie on the regular.
Once Audrey was nearly five I started looking for dance classes for her. She trialed ballet with Rex (he was two and just ran around), but I knew what would really make her come alive and it wasn’t ballet. So I found a street dance class for her and she loved it. Sadly, when we joined we knew the teacher running it was no longer continuing, so it was only for a few months, but it gave Audrey (and me) a lot of joy. She danced to George Ezra and Katy Perry, she learned little routines but it was mostly just good fun moving.
When that ended I got on a waiting list for a dance class (which never came to anything) and scoped around looking for another fit. Obviously Covid paused a lot of options, but at the end of 2020, I found a modern dance class for her that some of her classmates were also going to be attending. She liked it and she stuck with it (all the other girls from her class decided not to continue) and over a year since classes could take place, she has just performed in her first show.
The build up to this dance show has been a rocky road. Audrey started leaving the class (I wait in the building in a side room for her), coming to me for a cuddle, sometimes in tears. She was also rehearsing songs and dances at school and she said she didn’t want to do the dance show because: “too many shows!!”. I think of her as quite a happy girl who doesn’t stress or overthink things, but for this, she was feeling stressed. Every week she was saying she didn’t want to do the show, which was such a shame after all this time learning the routine.
We were concerned and confused about what to do as there is a fine line between “you’ve committed to this dance and we believe you can do it” and “it’s ok, you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to”. After seeing Audrey perform at her school show, I felt confident that she could handle her modern dance show too. She was just finding the repetition of the routine hard and also maybe a bit scared of the unknown – she had never been to the theatre booked for the event.
One day I had a revelation – Audrey was talking a lot about her best friend who had performed with the school at the Dome in Brighton. Her friend had showed her the routine and performed it at school, Audrey had loved supporting her. So I suggested that maybe Audrey would feel better if her friend came to watch? And it worked! Audrey was very excited by the idea. She said she would do the show.
And so we ploughed on, through some wobbles, but constantly reminding her that her friend would be there to cheer her on and we would all go for burger and chips after!
Show day came yesterday (the day after her school Summer Fair but that’s another outpouring of thoughts I’ll get to!). At 9am I took Audrey, Rex and his friend (the boys were performing tap in the show) to the theatre for the dress rehearsal morning. Chaperones were provided, but given Audrey’s nerves, we decided it made sense for me to be backstage with her. Again, I was initially torn between giving her the space and independence versus being there to give her support. My instinct was that she would need me, but sometimes I wonder how she would get on without always being micro managed.
The thing is, I stress about Audrey with good cause – she needs reminding to drink water and reminding to go to the toilet. She’s on medicine for constipation and we are trying to get her dry at night, so these things to genuinely affect her mood and her routine. At the rehearsal, we initially sat in the room with the boys and their chaperone by mistake, but when we realised we were with the 44 other girls down the corridor, I had no worries about leaving six year old typical Rex to his own devices.
Audrey and I sat in the corridor as the main dressing room was simply too hectic. I had downloaded some shows on my tablet and in hindsight, I should have brought headphones as that many children together generates a lot of noise. She was doing ok though, she was in the Netflix zone (and not willing to let any other children see, she huddled close to that tablet!).
As part of the dress rehearsal we all went to wait in the wings as another dance finished. The girls in Audrey’s troupe were excited and nervous – talking about how dark it was and a bit scary! It was not helping Audrey. She was cuddling me, telling me she couldn’t do it. One girl from her school in the year below was particularly kind and helpful, she gave her a little pep talk (no doubt repeated from her parents) about how the audience was only going to be friends and family – no strangers, so not scary!
They did two run throughs of the dance and I felt a sense of relief that Audrey made it on stage and remembered the routine. Phew. After that, it was a bit more waiting around whilst Rex rehearsed tap and then we all went home for a three hour lunch break.
At 3.30pm we were back at the theatre. Along with the circa 50 little ones performing, there were now several groups of older girls milling about and the volume of chat, scream and excitement was now extreme. I was finding it all a bit overwhelming, so I knew it was hard for Audrey. She was dressed in her costume and cuddling me, saying she just wanted to get on stage, but we had over an hour to wait. After a while, we moved into the room with the boys which was still a bit noisy and chaotic, but a sanctuary in comparison to the main dressing rooms. At this point, Audrey started to get nervous again, she was tearful and told me she couldn’t do it. I hated leaving her, but I needed to take my seat in the theatre and having spoken to the dance teacher, I felt like giving her space was the right thing to do. I asked Rex if he could remind his sister she could do it (I’ve no idea if he needed to do this) and I left Audrey as she weakly gave me a little thumbs up and a forced smile.
I found Ted and Audrey’s friend ready and seated and explained that I had left her still feeling nervous. We were all worried she might not get on stage. Which was actually why it was an extra special moment, when the girls in her modern group came running on stage and Audrey was just a few seconds behind, enough to give us the fear, oh no, she’s not going to do it and then… boom! she appeared! Hurrah! Of course I was in tears through the whole dance. She looked like she was having the best time and she remembered her routine. She even shielded her eyes at one point to try and see us in the audience. It was spectacular… And this was followed by her brother Rex in his tap routine – which was quite simply adorable, so I continued to cry. He was completely unphased by the whole thing and just got on with it. I could not be more proud of them both.
Early that day there was a moment backstage where I was cuddling Audrey and she was saying it was all “too loud” and I was kicking myself for not remembering her ear defenders, that I felt envious of all the parents of the typical children. They’ve dropped them off, they’ve gone home. Done. There were reception children happily hanging about in the chaos. But my child is struggling and I’m stressed. It felt unfair. I felt like I was carrying a very heavy weight and I wasn’t sure I was up for the job. But seeing Audrey up there, performing alongside her typical peers was magical. It made it all worth it. The tears, the headache, the effort, it was worth it. Because she was given the opportunity, she wasn’t told “sorry we can’t cater for a child with Down’s syndrome”, she was included and we had a bumpy road to get there but she did it!
All I need now is a lie down in a darkened room for a week and I’ll be right back on track.