Flexible Family

All parents know they would bend over backwards for their children. But what about the children bending over backwards…or forwards? A few weeks ago a colleague of mine mentioned to me how surprised she was to find that her 10-year-old couldn’t touch his toes. She can still touch her toes, and I, at 47, can still reach to put my hands flat on the floor. But then, there has never been a time when I have not danced. My mum danced all her life, and I started with ballet aged four and half. I’ve had some breaks along the way, filled with Scottish country dancing, salsa, or tango, but I’ve always danced and seem somehow to always come back to ballet.

I’ll be honest: when pregnant with my first child, I knew that, given the choice, I’d choose a girl. I imagined growing into girly spa days, lunches and shopping trips, and of course, taking her to ballet classes if she wished. But at 20 weeks I saw “Knabe” written on the bottom of my doctor’s notes, got the dictionary out, and found out that I was having a boy.

He arrived, healthy and happy, and after a few weeks on a steep learning curve we discovered that one of the best ways to soothe him was to have a little bop round the apartment with him in the baby carrier. “Get the Party Started” by Pink seemed to be a particular favourite. By the time he was 18 months the best thing to do when Daddy came home from work was to be picked up for a living room disco session with spins, dips and rockin’ on out. Then we noticed that he could never sit still if music was on. And then he started to put together his own little dance routines to show us.

He started kindergarten at four and a half, going to Tagesstrukture (Tagi, or after-school care) three afternoons a week. Without Tagi, of course, it would be difficult for me to have the flexibility to go to work. By second kindergarten we asked if he would like to go to the local dance school, and he was very enthusiastic. So starting aged five and a half, one afternoon a week the Tagi makes sure he’s ready and then he walks the 500 metres on his own to dance school, and at the end walks back to Tagi. “Grossi” at the dance school knows to contact Tagi if he doesn’t arrive, and Tagi know to contact the dance school if he doesn’t come back (neither of which has ever happened).

How wonderfully flexible! Because I work on the day of his dance class, it would be really difficult for him to attend if it were not for the flexibility of the Tagi and the dance school. And how wonderfully flexible my son is. He has to walk there and back on his own, be responsible for the extra clothing, and remember where he’s going and when: these are all great skills for developing into a flexible individual. And… he’s the only boy in the class. The only comment he’s ever made about it? “It’s great. I get my own changing room!”

He started in ballet level one, and I must say that I think that part of the reason he accepted ballet class so readily was because he’s always known that Mummy goes to ballet class on Tuesday evening. How is this moment of mummy luxury possible? Family flexibility. Every Tuesday my husband is responsible for the kids: to collect them, feed them, get their bags ready, etc., and I have my night off to dance and then meet friends, go to the cinema, and so on. And on Thursday evenings it’s my husband’s turn for a night off. I’m positive that it contributes to our sanity.

Now that my first son is seven and a half, his objective is to get to the dance school end of year show where, as the only boy, he will be the King in the dance theme of The Lion King, and then he’d like to change classes. It’s likely to be street dance or break dance, but I don’t mind. He’s had a good grounding in ballet basics, and the main thing is that he still wants to dance, and it keeps him moving, fit and flexible. Is his love of dancing nature or nurture? I think it’s a blend of both. I truly believe he’s just a natural dancer and wants to move, and we gave him the right atmosphere for that to develop. His brother is three years younger, and his reaction to a living room disco session has always been to fidget and then to escape!

So I didn’t get my longed-for ballerina, but it turns out not to matter. Our flexible acceptance of our children’s natures means that one of them still wants to see Romeo and Juliet with me. His only complaint? “Why can’t it have a happy ending?” But for us so far, flexibility in our work roles and childcare arrangements, flexibility of those around us, and flexibility regarding traditional gender stereotypes is bringing us daily happy endings. And as a bonus, my son and I can still touch our toes.

By Michelle Kiener

Michelle is a gourmet chef, freelance writer and managing editor. A UK expat, she lives in Baden with her Swiss husband and their two boys in their “fixer-upper” house. She enjoys skiing, triathlons, gardening, dancing and crafts, but since becoming a mum is proud to fit in a daily run for the bus, a weekly ballet class, and keeping the grass short enough to let people in and out of the house. michelle@chefinity.com

Photos by Michael Vogel

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