5 Lessons I Learned as a Backstage Mom: My Hopes for Homeschooling in 2017


My morning ritual often starts with a struggle—a battle between Mind and Body. Each one very clear about what they think is best and each one extremely persuasive. Body reminds me how  tired I am and how very good it simply feels to just be…lay in bed and simply be…

Mind jumps in and reminds me about all my duties that lie ahead..breakfast and cleaning and mail that needs to be opened and clothes that need to be washed and put away and…well, that list is pretty endless. Mind can always be counted on for tons of valid reasons.

Then there appears, almost magically,  a hot cup of coffee. Mind tells me to take a sip, it will give me the motivation needed to get out of bed. Body says roll over and close your eyes.

I lay torn.

Then I hear the deep coughing of Niara in the next room. Mind says, she is suffering. She needs more medicine and maybe tea. You have to get up. Body pleads just ten more minutes, doesn’t this feel good…

Mind won. Children will move you when nothing else can. So I did rise and begin to tend to Niara.

But it did feel good to sleep–to simply rest. For the past few months, since mid-October really, we have all been in Nutcracker mode. Lela and Niara dance with The Washington School of Ballet and get an opportunity to audition for the company’s Nutcracker which is performed at The Warner Theatre. It is a really great experience and this was Niara’s first year performing with her big sister. Both were over-the-moon excited.

But two months of practices and 13 shows later, it left all of us pretty drained. So I understood completely Body’s desire to simply be still.

For the past four years The Nutcracker has been part of our life and I have had the pleasure of being a backstage mom. As a backstage mom my duties have varied from applying make-up, helping with costumes, and escorting kids safely to and from the stage. I show up ready to give to the children and the cast my little contribution to help ensure the show goes off smoothly. I don’t really expect to receive anything. This year was different. This year while backstage I was much more aware and observant and reflective, and I walked away learning some very important and timely lessons.

Lesson #1: Create a New Way of Seeing Things


The creator of this production is Septime Weber. His vision of The Nutcracker is fresh and innovative and especially unique to Washington, DC and our American History. In his production you will see Cherry Blossom Trees, the US Capital, and the Washington Monument. You will also see characters such as Harriet Tubman (that is what Lela played this year), Thomas Jefferson, Betsy Ross and Frederick Douglas.

The Nutcracker has been performed world-wide by countless companies big and small. Even though the story is known, what makes this show unique is the fresh perspective every company takes.

This really has inspired me in how I can approach teaching–for like The Nutcracker, I am teaching my children things that have been taught for years. I am inspired to think of new and innovative ways to engage them and help make what they are learning relevant to their unique experiences.

Lesson # 2: Break It Down Into Small Steps


The production includes children as young as six years old. It always amazes me how confident and comfortable those little ones are performing on a big stage in front of a packed house. I realize that level of confidence and comfortability comes from the fact that they have done their part so many times, over and over again, that it really simply flows out of them come show time. Their practices begins in October and most last an hour. During the first year I thought, how are they going to learn everything with these short rehearsals? But over the years I have begun to see their process. They take it step by step, little by little and add on slowly. My girls were never stressed during this process. They never came home feeling anxious or overwhelmed. Everything was digestible–which for them made it doable.

When your child starts school, no matter how they are schooled, thinking about middle school, high school and college just seems daunting. For me, when I started out looking ahead seemed impossible because I wasn’t sure how it could be done. I had many more questions than I felt I had answers (truth be told I still do). Because of this I couldn’t see the road ahead–for a majority of my homeschooling time I have felt like I have been moving ahead but kind of in the dark. My husband and I have given voice to what we want for our girls–but what I was reminded backstage is that voice does not equal vision.

There is power in a vision.

There is significant power when color and texture and words are given to a thing to help define and mold it. It is also helpful to note that the distant vision, like the image above, has soft edges–unknowns — while the present is much more precise. Creating a concrete tangible vision that we can see, day in and day out, is something I want to accomplish during the first part of this New Year.

Lesson # 3: Have a Solid Plan B


The show has a total of six casts. It is understood that life happens and emergencies do come up. So a child cast in The Nutcracker not only has a part, but they are also an understudy for that role as well for the other five casts. For that reason we knew that even on days where we didn’t have a show, the phone needed to be close by and the ballet bag packed…just in case!

During the last week of shows, during one of our days off, we got the call. I was just finishing up a Literature lesson on Shirley Jackson‘s The Lottery with Lela and her cousins when the phone rung. It was 1:15 p.m. There was a sick BumbleBee that could not do the show and Niara was needed. The call time was 2:00pm. We hurried out the door–me running and building a ballet bun simultaneously (I must admit I was pretty proud of myself) and made it to the theatre at 2:05!

As a homeschooling mom, one of the things that I have found most challenging is being prepared for when life happens. You know, unexpected visitors (you are always home right?), unexpected illnesses, unexpected utility issues (this past year for us it was the air conditioner going out..in August…ughh), unexpected energy loss (you know the days where you simply do not have the energy to push through–especially when you are trying to give up sugar).

I pretty much am good at planning for those expected moments in our lives (vacation, known out-of-town guest, etc.) but I must admit, I do not have any solid back up plans for those unexpected moments. So often what happens to us is that the learning doesn’t continue–it gets delayed. I am really motivated to create plans for those will-happen unexpectant moments in our lives. I am excited to see how it helps ud.

Lesson # 4: Be Curious About Other People’s Passions

Brooklyn Mack

Even though students perform in the The Nutcracker it is not a student production. It is a company production that students are able to audition to be in. What this means is that students are able to spend a lot of time during the rehearsal process and backstage, around professional dancers. This year Lela was super excited because she was lifted (her first lift) by one of the company dancers. And she was able to have several conversations with Brooklyn Mack, a company member,  who told her all about his experience dancing with Misty Copland.

One day when I asked Niara about what she thought of the professional dancers she told me they work hard and they laugh a lot! I agreed. Being backstage allowed me to witness first-hand the fact that they were constantly working their bodies, moving, stretching, bending, jumping, lifting. They were also kind and very encouraging of the young dancers that bombarded them with constant questions. There was a genuine desire for them to share their passion. Isn’t that true for all of us?

I am hoping to be extra-mindful of creating space and opportunity for my girls to experience and be instructed by the passions of family and friends in our lives. I hope to develop in them an encouraging curiosity about the passions of their neighbors, aunties, uncles, cousins, grandparents, teachers and friends and the lessons they have learned (and are learning) on their journey.

Lesson # 5: Keep Your Sense of Humor


Backstage in the green room are huge HD screens that allow us to see and hear everything that is happening onstage. The screens have been such a great addition because you literally do not have to miss a show. All the kids and parents enjoy watching the show live and you hear a murmur of remarks like, “Oh she nailed it this time,” and “This is my favorite part”.

One night when I was backstage Niara and the rest of her BumbleBees went onstage to do their part. I was watching the screen, excited to see her perform. During the scene, one of the other BumbleBees’ antenna got caught on the curtain and prohibited her from doing her dance completely. While the rest of the cast went on with their part (the show must go on) one of the company members danced over to the stuck Bee and untangled her.

Backstage we were all frozen–hoping she was alright while trying to figure out what to stay when she returned to the green room.

When that Bee came in the room she shocked us all. “Did you guys see that?” she exclaimed with a smile on her face. “That was weird, I got stuck on the curtain” and then she let out a laugh. Her laugh instantly changed us–we know longer were feeling sorry for her, instead we joined in. I said, “See that is the magic of live shows, no two are exactly the same”.

Laughter is such great medicine. Sometimes it is the only medicine around and it is always free. There is so much out of my control (which does make me a bit nervous at times I admit) but I am learning to go with the flow and laugh along the way. I hope to laugh a whole lot more in 2017–at myself, the lessons I create, the mistakes we make, the projects that went south. I hope that my laughter will help put in place a proper perspective about things and foster deeper vulnerability and intimacy with my girls.

As the New Year approaches and we all reflect about times past and look toward times present, I encourage you (as I keep encouraging myself) to look for the lessons.

Your Time to Shine: Let me here from you. What lessons have you learned in 2016? Please respond in the comment section below!

Until next time…Stay Encouraged & Be Blessed!




2 thoughts on “5 Lessons I Learned as a Backstage Mom: My Hopes for Homeschooling in 2017

  1. You then can truly understand the craziness! We have been doing it for four years and every year it gets more and more involved. The girls love it and learn so much–but boy does it wipe us out. I keep saying to my husband I need to think of time-saving tricks to get me through Nutcracker season…like more crockpot meals or something!


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