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Because of the nature of the sports, there have been numerous studies done on football players and boxers for brain trauma from the massive blows their bodies take as a matter of routine. There have been studies done on baseball pitchers, to determine the maximum number of pitches a young pitcher should be permitted to throw to avoid damage to a developing arm and shoulder.
They don’t really have these tests and studies for dancers.
When Brighid began dancing, at the tender age of about 8 years old (she dabbled before, but got serious around 8), we thought nothing of having her do an hour long group class, and as she developed her skills, two hours. Then, when it became clear that she had serious talent, it was not only the group classes, but private lessons as well. Then group ceili lessons to get ready for Oireachtas. Not to mention the practice at home – hours of it, even when she wasn’t thinking about it, this kid was dancing in the aisles of the supermarket and in puddles on the street.
We took her to parades; we took her to competitions; we took her to performances meant mostly to promote the school she was with at local fairs and festivals. During St. Patrick’s Day week, she would go to school from 8 AM, I’d pick her up and take her immediately to the performances, as the dancers are always more popular that week than any other. She might not be home and in bed until after 11 o’clock, scrambling the next morning to do homework in the car. But she loved doing it, so I let her.
And at some point, she started to hurt. Go figure. A sport where you are pounding your toes, your heels, your whole foot into the ground to effect a certain sound, or look a certain way, and it hurts you after a while. Using all of your energy to leap yourself off of the ground and into the air, only to land hard on your tip toes – it’s gonna be painful at some point.
I told her to back off at home. Then we started missing dance classes. When it got bad enough to go to the doctor’s, he scared me with his theory that she had broken her hip. What kind of mother was I, carting around a kid with a broken hip, telling her to take it easy, but keep getting out of bed each morning and going to school.
It wasn’t broken. But it was damaged. Damaged from all the years of practice, performances, and pounding. That was it for her, the end of her dancing. The end of a dream she had to become professional.
But was I a bad mom? Or a good mom? I allowed her to go to so many shows, performances, and practices. She loved it; it gave her an after school activity; and we all know kids with after school activities stay fit, have friends, and get scholarships.
I’m not sure whether or not I was a bad mom or a good mom to let her to what she wanted, but I will say that I have both Eilis and Granuaile dancing. They wanted to try it, and I allowed it. But knowing what I know, I don’t push as much practice. Perfection is not our goal, pleasure and fitness are. So does that make me a bad mom? I am not pushing them to reach their full potential by not forcing them to practice.
It seems I can’t win. But we can all take a lesson from Chris Nowinski’s book, and recognize what sports can do to our kids. Keep an eye on your kids. Be proactive in terms of when enough is enough before it gets to be too much. Nothing is worth risking damage to your child.