It’s the end of August, that time of year where the light starts to change just a little bit, there’s not quite a fall chill in the air yet, but you can sense the waning of summer, and you hang on to every “last” summer thing as long as you are able to. The last trip to the pool, the last trip to the beach, the last summer bike ride, the last lazy days of doing absolutely nothing, and the kids know their nights of staying up late are coming to an end.
The travel soccer practices have started, the school supply lists are out, and the closet cleaning has begun. Change is definitely in the air.
Usually at this time of year I am also preparing for my own new school year, pulling out my ballet attire, cleaning out my ballet bag, checking out my teaching shoes and finding my favorite comfortable socks. I’m making sure I’ve got my syllabus cleaned up and unwrinkled, anticipating meeting all those cute kids in their maroon leotards for my first class. Only for the first time in over 25 years, I am not getting ready to start teaching this fall. I “retired” last spring. (And yes, it still sounds really weird to say that.) I admit at this point that I am a little at loose ends over this development, though I know this is an absolutely perfect decision for me.
Many people have asked me in recent months why I stopped teaching at Princeton Ballet School. I hope I can answer some of those questions, though as with many things in life, there are many layers to the decision. My “retirement” from teaching last spring was quiet and uneventful, and I am grateful for that. Since I began working a kind of insane job (no, actually it can be really insane) as the Director of Marketing at McCarter Theatre Center about 5 years ago, I had pulled back at various times in my level of commitment to Princeton Ballet. But I wasn’t ever ready to let go quite yet, so I kept it, kind of like a little nugget of myself that reminded me of where I’d come from.
Then, as some things happen in life, one day, last year on a cold January day while driving over to the studio to teach (after eight hours of exhausting work on McCarter’s marketing budget), it suddenly hit me. I didn’t really need to do this anymore. Not that I didn’t enjoy teaching, not that I didn’t appreciate the ability to work with young dancers, but honestly, I didn’t need it any longer. The late hours each week were knocking me for a loop, (not to mention my aches and pains…) my kids have gotten older and now need me in different, sometimes more demanding ways, and I suddenly realized I wasn’t adjusting. I was just doing the same thing I had always done because, well, frankly, I didn’t even know I could stop.
I let the idea roll around in my head for awhile – of course the doubts began to creep in – this is my vacation money, I love the people at the ballet school, I enjoy nurturing young students, could I really give it up? I had fostered meaningful friendships with many people involved with ARB/Princeton Ballet over the years, could I give THEM up? And then, as I thought deeper and longer about the possibility of NOT teaching, relief began to wash over me. I could imagine letting go of the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach every time I realized that I had a conflict, which included but was not limited to: Back to School night, school concerts, soccer practice, basketball practice/games, church activities, Board meetings at work, you name it. Not to mention having a child who plays a travel sport is not for the weak.
We made the schedule work, and my husband Joe and I would have phone conversations along the lines of, “Well, can you take off early? Can you get Joseph to soccer/basketball/cub scouts/dentist/friends house?” As a fireman, Joe does NOT have a flexible schedule, he works until his shift is over, or he has to move heaven and earth to find someone to cover him so he can leave. He was doing that consistently without complaining about it, (one year he even took off every other Monday evening so he could get Joseph to indoor soccer practice) – but I realized that maybe I shouldn’t be asking him to anymore. I wasn’t saving lives, I was only teaching ballet.
So, what began as a mere thought bubble in my car became a real life decision. I told Mary Pat, the Director at the Ballet school, (and also my dear friend) – in February, so she would have plenty of time to cover my classes, and so that I would not be able to have a change of heart. I made it through the spring school show, I quietly let people know I was leaving, and then the year was over, kind of like sliding into lake water off a dock. Very gentle.
Now that it’s August, it’s more of a harsh reality that I am not going to be greeting any maroon leotards this year, I am not cleaning out my ballet bag, and I am not going to get to see my cool ballet friends every Monday night and tell jokes and laugh with them in the faculty room. This all makes me a little wistful. But, I will also be able to less stressed about the fact that my kids are each changing schools this year (going to high school and middle school respectively) – and I will have more energy and time to devote to whatever they need of me, whenever they may need it.
I have always let change guide me through my work, in fact, it must, because if you don’t change you fall behind, and I tell my kids all the time that change is good, and the possibility of change is what moves us forward. Sometimes it’s easier to be comfortable doing something you’ve always done, and I reach for the somewhat clichéd saying: “If it ain’t broke, break it.”
I know with complete certainty that life will naturally lead me to more possibilities, and now I have the space and time to be open to them, I just had to let something else go. But just because the time has come doesn’t make it less hard. As my mom always said to me: “Nothing hard is ever easy.”
I’ll be thinking of all my wildly talented Princeton Ballet friends and colleagues as they start this year off with the new crop of shiny lovely students who are so eager to meet them, and then I will giggle later in the year when they lament about how half the kids don’t have their hair up, are forgetting their ballet slippers, and they start asking them things like: “Do you really think that combination goes with the music?” Or, “Why are we running in a circle?”
Yes indeed, change is good.