Thursday, July 30, 2015

Profile of courage and compromise

Sometimes things just don't go as planned. And as with many setbacks, lessons are learned, grudgingly.

July was supposed to be Earbaby's defining month. Sure, she's just going into her junior year in the fall and she shouldn't feel pressured to decide what she wants to do for the rest of her working life, but going into a monthlong dance program was supposed to help narrow her choices, and her focus.

It hasn't gone as planned.

The first week of EB's program began the day after school ended. She went through roughly four hours of dance class on day one. She marveled at how tired she was, and it wasn't even a full day. The next two days started earlier and by the time the July Fourth weekend came up, she had done all of three days of intensive dance classes, was very tired, very sore and pretty pleased with the program and her fellow dancers. "I'm so tired, and it's just the first week!" she said. But a four-week journey lay ahead, so she comforted her sore muscles with Epsom salt baths and celebrated the nation's birthday with friends.

Monday morning she was packed and ready to get back to work. Her dad and I planned to spend the morning together with a walk and a brunch, so we dropped her off and went on our way. We had been out walking for about an hour and were just starting to head to breakfast when my phone rang. When I saw the caller ID number, I knew it couldn't be good news.

EB was in ballet class at the barre, and when she went to turn, her left knee didn't. It momentarily dislocated, she collapsed, and the month of dance took a different turn. Fortunately we weren't too far away, and the rest of the day was spent at the hospital and making appointments to see an orthopedist the next day. EB was in incredible pain, but she was also embarrassed that she had gotten hurt. She didn't want to be the center of that kind of attention, didn't want to take up class time while the EMT attended to her, and didn't want to cry (she didn't, with great effort) and make an even bigger spectacle.

And she was in unfamiliar territory. Incredibly, despite 13 years of dance and eight years of gymnastics, she had never suffered a serious injury. She suffered from Osgood-Schlatter in both knees, a condition that was painful and annoying, but she has rarely had to sit out even with that during gymnastics competitions.

The next day her dad took her to the sports orthopedist who diagnosed her with a sprained left medial collateral ligament, gave her crutches and said she should be healed in four-to-five weeks. That's when she cried. Because that would end the program for her, and that's when it was apparent how much she loved it.

Now a mild sprain can heal quicker in motivated 16-year-olds who listen very carefully to the doctor who says he's seen these things improve drastically in 48-72 hours. Physical therapy was necessary to start her on the path. And when I told her she could try out again next year (the program limits kids to only two years and they try out each time), she said she wanted to be in this year's with this group. So it was time to get to work and see if we could salvage the summer of dance.

EB's convalescence rivaled Lazarus. She was on crutches three days, switched to the initial brace she was given when she first went to the hospital, had friends come to visit her (and even insist on carrying her up the stairs so there would be no more damage), and started her first physical therapy session before a full week had passed. In the meantime, the program director told me she could keep coming to observe the dances until she was able to participate again (she had to be cleared by a doctor). She would more or less switch roles with the high school intern, who would understudy EB's part. It wasn't a great solution, but it kept EB in the loop and motivated her to stick with her exercises.

By the time a full week had passed since the injury, EB was ready to go back and be cleared by the doctor. Yes, her knee was a little sore from the PT exercises and the injury, but she was ready to reclaim her spot. Truth be told, her nose was a little out of joint at being replaced and she felt isolated and frustrated just watching as everyone rehearsed for the two-week tour that was to follow.

So we went back to the doctor. He cleared her, with restrictions, gave her yet another brace, one a little less cumbersome that kept her knee literally on track, and told her to keep up with the therapy. EB was ready to jump in with both feet. The program director was more cautious and wanted her to ease back in. EB was frustrated and crabby.

I talked to the program director and told her EB would let her know when she had enough. Although the doctors, the physical therapist, the dance teachers and her mother had told EB to take it easy so she wouldn't further injure the MCL, she couldn't hear us. She was ready to go and she didn't want to switch off with the other dancer, this was her spot and she wanted it back. All of it. It didn't help that the other dancer borrowed one of her shirts to perform in and kept trying to discourage EB's comeback.

Still, my Earbaby had to learn that desire isn't commensurate with ability when returning from an injury. After her first full day back participating, she had to acknowledge that she was in pain. And she wasn't fully healed. "I had a reality check," she said. "I guess I'm not invincible."

Now she and the other dancer switch off. One day EB does all four dances she's been choreographed in, the next day she only does two and the other girl steps in. EB is learning that with compromise, everyone is just a little unhappy, but everyone gets something. It's been an interesting month, for the lessons learned, the frustrations expressed, and growing that only comes through a little pain, suffering and sacrifice. EB is pondering if she wants to try out again next summer. Most of her friends have jobs, and she would like to join the workforce, we would like to travel, and college tours are a real possibility. If the entire month of July is accounted for again, that changes the equation.

But EB didn't get the dance experience she wanted and needed. She'll continue with physical therapy for the short term, return to dance at two studios again in the fall, begin cheerleading practice in two weeks, and then take a look back at this month and figure things out. This was a rough ride for her. I'm so proud that she was able to hang on, hang in, and tough it out.

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