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The Nutcracker and joy in the face of sadness

by Meagan Francis on December 21, 2012

nutcracker

One of my earliest memories comes from when I was just about Clara’s age (3 1/2) or a little older, when my family went to see The Nutcracker in downtown Chicago. My uncle Jim worked for the Lyric Opera of Chicago, so we got a backstage tour. I remember learning how the stage techs would create “fog” and blow it onto the stage during the performance.

I don’t remember much about the performance itself, except for the fact that I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. It remains one of my strongest memories of early childhood, so it obviously made a big effect.

And last Friday, when the news of tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School started making its way through the Internet and onto TV screens and radio reports, I remained, for a couple of hours at least, blissfully ignorant. I was in the car with my sister-in-law, Jenna, my five-year-old niece Ruby, and Clara, heading up to Grand Rapids to see The Nutcracker performed by the Grand Rapids Ballet as part of my job as editor for the Experience Grand Rapids blog.

We’d planned a whole girl’s night out, checking into a lovely room at the Amway Grand Plaza hotel (my favorite hotel in Grand Rapids and one of the nicest I’ve stayed in anywhere – and thanks to blogger conferences, I’ve stayed in some nice hotels!) where the girls dressed up in “fancy clothes”:

Amway Grand

headed to the historic Pantlind Lobby for more photos:

Pantlind Lobby

Meagan Clara

and then took the Skywalk to dinner at Six. One. Six. at the adjacent JW Marriott, where it was lovely to be able to enjoy a reasonably quiet, grown-up dinner with my daughter, who is finally old enough to sit still and eat in a fine dining establishment. (To be on the safe side, though, we did book our reservations for 5:30 PM!)

Truffle Fries

JW Grand Rapids

Can I take a moment here to say I was really impressed with the kids’ menu at Six. One. Six.? The meals – which were fresh, “real” food, and included veggies with dipping sauce and dessert – were quite reasonably priced when you consider that even boxed mac-and-cheese costs $5 at most chain family restaurants.

Six One Six
After dinner we headed to DeVos Place to see the performance – but first, we got a backstage tour.

nutcracker

By this point, we were somewhat aware of what was happening in Connecticut, but I purposely shielded myself from much knowledge at that point. Instead, I checked out of Twitter and email and concentrated on something I could contribute to, something right in front of me: my family, my daughter and our evening together.

When we finally settled into our seats, the girls were so excited they were ready to burst. Clara, ever the social butterfly, kept tugging on the sleeve of the man next to her and saying “Isn’t this going to be amazing?”and  “Aren’t you excited?”, while Ruby demonstrated her “sitting still and paying attention” skills before the curtain even opened.

Nutcracker

Finally the show began! It was beautifully done – everything from the costumes to the choreography and the music, performed by the Grand Rapids Symphony.

Grand Rapids Ballet

The girls were rapt throughout most of the performance. At one point Clara, not quite tall enough to see from her seat, climbed up in my lap and rested her head under my chin. I took the opportunity to wrap my arms around this quickly-growing child, my baby, my little girl. I smelled her hair and whispered in her ear, “Look! Do you see that some of the dancers are the wind, and the other are the snowflakes?”

“Oh, isn’t it beautiful?” she stage-whispered, and my heart squeezed itself.

Motherhood is full of ordinary moments – the diaper changes and nose-wipes, quick stolen hugs and tuck-ins – and collectively, those ordinary moments add up to a beauty of their own.

But every now and then there are those transcendent moments, too. Like when you’re holding your only daughter on your lap, watching the same performance you remember watching with your own mother decades earlier, consider the way it affected you for the rest of your life and wonder if it will do the same for her.

Or when you see a spark of something in your child that you recognize as being of yourself. Or when a child amazes you with his creativity or kindness or talent.

No, those moments don’t happen very often, but that’s what makes them special. And truth be told, they seem to happen more often when I slow down and take the time to notice. If there’s one thing this week has reminded me of, it’s to take the time. Notice.

There has been a lot of sadness in the world this week, but there’s also the potential for infinitely more joy. And that is as it should be. Really, that’s how it has to be.

We grown-ups might feel vaguely guilty about enjoying our celebrations when other parents are suffering, but our children aren’t going to let us get away with that for long. My children have been sad and worried for the Sandy Hook children this week. But they haven’t stopped laughing, smiling, or celebrating.

Let’s allow their excitement and joy and optimism to infect us. Let’s notice those transcendent moments. Take a break from social media or the news or some other day-to-day drudgery. Go see a local production of The Nutcracker or A Christmas Carol. Bake some cookies (even if not from scratch), sit down and write out a few cards (only to the people you really want to send one to, and who cares if they don’t feature a family photo and don’t get there by December 24?) Watch Elf or A Christmas Story. Do a good deed for somebody else. Embrace an imperfectly perfect holiday.

Our children will not be small for many Christmases. Let’s not squander this one.

The only way to combat fear, sadness and horror is with optimism, joy and gratitude. Luckily for us, our kids are a constant reminder. So let’s let them lead the way.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays To You and Yours.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Sarah Powers December 21, 2012 at 12:24 pm

Dangit! TEARS. Thank you. xo

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melissa December 21, 2012 at 12:28 pm

Beautiful, Meagan, I am crying. I’m glad you all had such a magical time.

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LP December 21, 2012 at 2:08 pm

I had exactly the same experience with my daughter. It was one of the most precious moments of the year. Thank you as always for your lovely writing and inspiring thoughts.

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amy December 21, 2012 at 2:11 pm

I am relishing the joys of the holidays with (for) my kids — definitely a little extra this year. And I usually don’t like the hustle and bustle busy-ness but I really appreciate the distraction at the moment.

But how not to feel guilty? Every time I hug my sweet babies, I am grateful that I can, but when they’re not here, all I can think about is how those other parents can never do that again. I can barely bear it, how can they?

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Devon December 21, 2012 at 2:45 pm

MY heart just squeezed itself. Beautiful. Beautiful. Thank you for putting into words what I have not been able to articulate all week.

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Kirsten Valder December 21, 2012 at 4:28 pm

Thank you! Thank you! I so needed this today.

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Nina December 21, 2012 at 5:54 pm

Well said, and your outing truly seemed amazing. I’m excited to bring my kids to see broadway plays myself.

I’ve always felt like the best way to combat sadness is to find joy despite of it. It’s really sometimes the only thing that can help us trudge on.

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Kara December 21, 2012 at 8:27 pm

Thank you for this. It is exactly what we all need to hear this year.

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Elizabeth Kane December 21, 2012 at 9:05 pm

All of you look beautiful!

I love the way you wrote this. The Nutcracker is absolutely magical – the music, the dancing, the lights. I was wondering why I became emotional during the show this year and this might be why. In the hustle and bustle stress of everyday life I slowed down enough to appreciate the moment I was in. I’d like to have more moments like that. Granted, I might not have a bright growing tree getting my attention, but there’s magic I’ve been overlooking in these ordinary days.

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