12 Dec
2016
Posted in: parenting
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Gifting Experiences Over Things

I watched our seven-year-old come on stage to walk-through her part in The Great Russian Nutcracker with big eyes and slightly hesitant steps. The stage was bigger than she’s used to dancing on with movable backdrops and multiple props lining the stage’s wings. Professional dancers from the Moscow Ballet company waited in the wings or on the stage. They were speaking Russian and looked aloof and marginally bored. As I watched our daughter and her fellow snowflakes, I was impressed with how confident and brave they were in an environment much different from their normal dance setting experience.

The professional dancers have been touring from city-to-city for weeks. Their lives are a blur of venues and local youth dancers. The rehearsal was for the benefit of our local dancers who auditioned for parts in The Great Russian Nutcracker and have been practicing for weeks for the performance. Our daughter was giddy and breathless when I asked her how she felt about rehearsal on our way to our backstage area. She used words like amazing, perfect and scary. She was awed by the adult dancers and intrigued by the cultural and language differences. She wanted to be those ballerinas.

Snowflakes in the Great Russian Nutcracker

The excitement level grew once the youth dancers were in costume. We could hear the music, the applause, shadows on the back drops and dancers coming and going from their entrances and exits in the wings. I was teary-eyed as I watched our daughter dance on stage with professional touring dancers in beautiful costumes and saw her face light-up from the experience. That frigid December night will stay with her. She gets to tuck away that experience and those feelings of joy at doing her passion in a unique way.

It almost didn’t happen. I didn’t tell her about the auditions. I didn’t want to add one more weekly thing to our calendar with an added practice. I knew performance day would be long. Then she read the poster for the auditions, and that changed everything. She dropped hints. She begged to audition. I caved, and she won. I’m glad she’s relentless.

We don’t gift our kids with many presents on Christmas. They each get three presents from us. I don’t like stuff for the sake of having stuff. There’s only so many things the kids actually play with in the house. The rest is shoved in a closet or bin and forgotten. The Nutcracker experience reminded me how powerful the gift of an experience can be. It’s not something tangible to put on a shelf, but an experience having the ability to change people and shape the way they view the world.

I remember those looks on our kids’ faces when they saw the ocean or Old Faithful or Mickey Mouse or an alligator in a swamp or the Gateway Arch in St. Louis or driving our car onto a ferry. There’s close-to-home experiences like the look I get when we sit in a theater and the lights dim for the showing of that movie they’ve been waiting for months to view or the first time skiing or a concert for someone they have only heard on the radio.

They’ll be a few things under the tree to unwrap on Christmas morning and the promise of some new adventures in 2017. I’m already looking forward to the memories we’ll make thanks to some experiences we’ll share.

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