Ever since I was a young girl, I have loved “The Nutcracker.” I was a ballet dancer from the time I was 4 until I was 12, and I was a piano player from the time I was 4. Between my love for ballet and my love for piano, Tchaikovsky’s score combined with classical ballet, combined with the story, made “The Nutcracker” one of my very favorite things.
As a non-Christmas celebrating Jew, seeing “The Nutcracker” was truly the closest I got to learning about and understanding Christmas. Sure, I knew Christmas involved a pretty decorated tree and presents, but “The Nutcracker” takes us into the world of Tchaikovsky’s time, providing a window into the festivities of a late 19th century Christmas party. And all of us are invited – even the Jews!
Watching “The Nutcracker” for me as a child was not only a window into a holiday that wasn’t mine, but an education about and immersion into the festival and celebration I knew little about. If you judge by the commercials which inundate us from Thanksgiving (or even earlier!) on, popular culture shows us a Christmas of consumption. “The Nutcracker,” on the other hand, depicts what I imagine to be a more realistic experience for those celebrating Christmas: getting together with friends and family, merry-making, toasting and festivities, staying up late, and believing in the magic of a godfather with fantastic gifts; one of which comes to life in a little girl’s dreams.
My ex and I took our boys to see “The Nutcracker” a few times when they were younger. These were kids’ versions of the ballet; a tad shorter, with more emphasis on the funny and playful choreography, and less emphasis on the classical romantic ballet parts. Our boys seemed to enjoy it just fine, although Little Man was frightened of the Mouse King the few times we went. (I totally get that.)
Since getting divorced, we have not seen “The Nutcracker” as a family. My ex has taken the boys with his mom and my uncle, who lives near his mom. (Yes, we are that kind of divorced family; he does things with my family and I do things with his if we are in the cities they live in, even without the other person!) This year, I decided to spring for expensive tickets to the LA Ballet version of “The Nutcracker” and take my boys on my own. This month also marked my 40th birthday and I felt like it was a great way for us to celebrate the holidays and my birthday before my ex took them to Northern California to celebrate Christmas with their Christmas-celebrating grandpa and his wife.
It was game on for “The Nutcracker.”
I scored awesome seats. Close up – in the orchestra, but not too close. Gotta be able to see the feet.
Snazzy dress clothes for the boys: check.
What a perfect occasion to buy my boys new dress clothes since they needed them anyway, right? Firstborn got a very handsome single-breasted black suit, and Little Man scored a vintage tuxedo jacket to wear over his Sears shirt and tie.
Musical education: check.
Firstborn’s piano playing has recently really progressed so much so that I bought him a beginner’s book of classical pieces and, knowing he was going to see “The Nutcracker,” he mastered “The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.”
It was going to be perfect. Awesome tickets. “The Nutcracker.” Snazzy clothes. Excitement. Piano-playing for weeks leading up to awesome, snazzy, exciting, perfect Nutcracker night. Right?
In the epic fail of my life (at least that’s how it felt to me at the time), the day before “The Nutcracker” – on the day that would have been my father’s 73rd birthday, God rest his soul – I threw my back out. Like, I was hinged at the waist and immobile. Then I could not stand or walk for days. (I still managed to livetweet the airing of my Christmasy movie, “The Flight Before Christmas,” but I was in pain much of the time.)
I was down for the count. Out. Grounded. Punished? Perhaps. Maybe not. God only knows. Epic fail: check.
And so to make a long story short, my ex-husband put on his best snazzy clothes and took our boys to see “The Nutcracker” with my tickets. Firstborn looked so handsome and Little Man’s tuxedo jacket over this Sears shirt was almost too much cuteness for one little person to embody. And I spent that time home on a couch, propped up and virtually immobile, crying my eyes out and trying to find the lesson God might be teaching me deliberately or by accident.
If you’ve ever thrown your back out in a way such that the masseuse that works on you says after working on your back for three minutes, “Oh my goodness, did you have a terrible fall?!” and you reply, “No, I was reaching for the canola oil,” you know how unbelievable this kind of injury can be.
And if you’ve ever wanted so badly to do something right as a mom after feeling you do so many things wrong, you know how unbelievable and upsetting this kind of turn of events can be.
And if you’ve ever spent a lot of time and money and energy on something because you want it to be so right and perfect and you think nothing can go wrong but then when your ex brings your boys over after “The Nutcracker” and your eyes are almost swollen shut from crying so hard about everything you’ve missed and when you ask your boys how it was they say, “Boring,” then you know exactly what it’s like to be a mom.
From my imperfect life to your perfect or imperfect ones, Happy Holidays. Merry Christmas to those of you celebrating: may all your Christmases be exactly what they are supposed to be, and may you learn whatever lessons there are to learn.