Yes that’s my feet. Yes I’m totally holding on to something. No, I don’t dance in those.
They say that to last in medicine for a career, to be a better doctor, parent, spouse, etc. you should seek balance and remember to take care of yourself. If the oxygen masks come down, place it on yourself before putting it on your child. Self-care and balance was definitely something I lost in training. I had planned to get it back once I started my big girl job. But then there was being slow on the new system and therefore having to chart at home. Then there was oral boards. Then there was wanting to jumpstart my research efforts. Then there was a new baby and I certainly didn’t want it to look like adding a child to my home was detracting from my productivity at work. Then there were more oral boards (subspecialty is awesome, Imma right?) Then there were 4 posters at my annual meeting. Then, then, then. Excuses in my head until my “just for right now” became a habit. I forgot what normal life (where I don’t do work at home and work) looks like.
Skip ahead…burnout…therapy… SSRI… new job… new perspective. After moving 3 kids across the country, renting a house, buying a house, and being at my new job for 8 months, I was finally ready for some self-care.
My daughter (6 at the time) had gone to ballet camps over the summer and was enrolling in weeknight classes. This studio has classes for adults. My kid had already outed me to her teacher – “Mommy danced pointe! She’s a dancer!” Umm, no, no I wouldn’t say that sweetie. Mommy is a doctor and had 3 kids, so mommy is just gonna keep any prior experience to herself thanks. (I took some in high school and college… back when I… back when it was a long time ago). So I signed up for the adult class.
There’s a ballet boutique in studio. I stop in to buy some gear. “Ok, Momma’s taking a class. Do you have any ballet tights and leotards in old-lady-had-3-kids-size? Seriously, do they even make ballet tights for bottoms like mine?” And I don’t mean to be derogatory toward my backside. But let’s be honest. Things change back there when you have kids. Anyway, back to the story. The shop owner (a previous serious for reals ballerina) was so sweet. “Oh, you are an adult! You can wear leggings if you want!” Well, awesome!
My cheap self didn’t want to buy a new leotard, and I had hoarded mine from HIGH SCHOOL and hauled it through 4 states to bring it to this day. (That’s a different problem I should probably address). So I tried said ancient leo on. And it fit! I mean kinda. But here’s a little CME for you. Elastic doesn’t last as long as it takes to get from high school to a subspecialist physician. So that elastic made a fun noise when I pulled the leo on. And it stretched. But it didn’t snap back. It just hung there. No worries… because I can wear leggings and those should hold the saggy leo rump in place on my rump. I eventually got a new leo (as a gift from my stepmother actually). But I still wear old faithful with my leggings sometimes. Because I am cheap.
Now, when I did ballet as a teenager, all the dancers wore these sheer skirts. Hardly anyone at this studio wears them. I think it’s so you can see your technique and turn out better. But all I can think is, I have to wear a skirt. My modesty far outweighs my desire for correct technique. So I stand out a little. Because I wear leggings with a sheer skirt over them. Actually, NO ONE else at the studio does that. But no one has told me to wear something different. And I can’t hear anyone snickering about my outfit because I’m breathing too hard trying to keep up in class. One night, my water spilled all over my clothes to change in to at ballet (during my daughter’s class just before mine). The skirt was soaked. But there was no way I was going in without a skirt. My old faithful leo had some serious panty lines under those leggings. So I broke down and bought another sheer skirt. ‘Cause the one I had (that was now wet) was from high school too.
The adult class was awesome. The instructor was very kind and individualized our learning to bring us all up to speed. I loved it! I was exercising without realizing it. I was doing something that I loved that wasn’t medicine or breastfeeding a child. Then they cancelled the adult class. Because there were not enough students. No worries they said, you are welcome to do a drop in class with the dancers in 3a. That’s the same instructor that my daughter has for her level 1 class. Cool, ok, I can do that.
Y’all. First 3a class. Those girls are tiny! Like I was sure some of them couldn’t read and write. But then I saw them taking notes in their little ballet notebooks, so obviously they were old enough to be able to do that. Without help with spelling, because they never asked how to spell anything, even the French stuff. Anyway, let me tell you, if you feel big in a leo in a room with other adults (or at least teenagers), then you feel giant in a room with pre-pubertal ballerinas. But, I’m persistent and not easily embarrassed. So I press on.
These girls take three classes a week. So, they know the combinations, etc. by the time my class comes around on Wednesdays. I spend the whole class staring at some Tinkerbell sized kid trying to copy what she does. Sometimes all I can do is smile and laugh to myself while I shake my foot around in an attempt to do what everyone else is doing. And the teacher reminds me not to look down. Worse is center work when they all watch me lope across floor trying to copy the leap and footwork they just did. Just when I start to figure out what they are doing, the teacher changes the combo. When we do pirouettes, I position myself as far away from the little toothpicks as I can so I don’t fall and knock one over.
After a while, we meet our neighbors and my daughter becomes friends with a girl who goes to the same school as well as to the ballet studio. Turns out she is in the 3a class, but due to homework or having to take a nap or something else kids do, doesn’t come to the one I go to on Wednesdays. She is in 3rd GRADE. Oh my goodness. I am in a ballet class with 3rd graders! Wearing my saggy leo, leggings, and a skirt.
But guess what? I am happy as pie. My daughter isn’t old enough to be embarrassed of me being there along with her. We get a special night together every Wednesday. I get to exercise. I get a new goal to work toward. I get to show all those girls you can be anything – a Physician – or a ballerina starting out in your 30’s. I’m proud of my G3P3 body (and all it has done) in a leo and hope those girls are always proud of their bodies and what they can do as well! It’s been a good outlet for my perfectionism and accepting a long road to strength and improvement. And finally, I can laugh at myself instead of gritting my teeth in frustration with my body (and cerebellum). I’ll get it, one day. But if I don’t, I’ll have fun trying, all while taking some ballet steps toward a healthier me!
So, what do you do to find balance? How can you physically engage yourself and relearn how to enjoy life outside of medicine? I encourage you to risk embarrassment to find something that makes you more you, happy, and helps to balance out your professional commitments. And if you are near me and want to do ballet, please let me know… maybe we can get our adult class back.