This past Monday, Jewel could hardly dance. She had fresh corns on her baby toes and they were swollen, red and painful. It was the worst possible timing. January is audition season for summer intensives and Jewel was planning on auditioning with several national ballet companies. Last summer, she was admitted to American Ballet Theatre. Her dream this year is the Boston Ballet.
But her feet were suffering.
"Every time I go up on pointe, it feels like someone is piercing my toes with needles," she said.
Jewel's instructor worriedly texted me. I made an appointment with our pediatrician.
He took one look and said: "Repetitive trauma." He wrote a referral for a podiatrist. Thankfully, no bones are broken and her corns are not infected.
While we waited for insurance approval, Jewel is soaked her feet in Epsom salts, applied corn medicine and carefully wrapped her toes with tape. I asked her how and why this happened.
"Didn't we just buy new pointe shoes?" I asked.
"The new pointe shoes don't fit right," she said.
"Jewel!" I exclaimed. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"Pointe shoes are too expensive," she said. "I didn't want to ask for new ones. I don't mind the pain, really. I'll dance through the pain."
I'll dance through the pain.
"Honey," I said, "I don't care what it takes--I'll pick up extra shifts at the restaurant, teach more writing classes--we are getting you some properly fitting pointe shoes."
"No, Mom. We can't afford it."
I stared at her. There were no tears. She didn't complain.
I grabbed my keys and told her to get in the car. We drove to a store that specializes in specialty fitted pointe shoes.
Jewel's instructor calls Jewel's feet "shank busters." She has beautiful, strong feet but she often breaks the shank (hard, bottom section) of the pointe shoe while dancing. She needs hard, durable shanks on her pointe shoes. The problem is that with her corns, Jewel needs a softer shoe with a wider toe box.
This means we have to buy pointe shoes that will only last through one or two auditions.
When Jewel put on the better pointe shoes, her face broke into a smile. She went up on pointe and said: "Wow! These feel so good! It doesn't hurt at all!"
And, here is every parents' dilemma: do we funnel family resources toward the one child who exhibits talented potential or do we more fairly spread out the resources, regardless of individual gifting?
I bought the shoes. Because for now, for today, she lives in that tiny window of ballet opportunity.
Yes, ballet is a short-lived dream. But it is pristine beauty. Ballet is the ephemeral now. And this now is all we have.