My daughter, Lizzy, flies on the trapeze in the circus. In her career, she has rigged equipment, created costumes, choreographed acts and performed in circuses from “The Book of Dreams” at New England Center for Circus Arts to “Pin Ups” at Emerald City Trapeze Arts. Currently, she teaches circus skills at a summer camp. Pause here to consider her profession—an aerialist who gets paid to teach and perform on the flying trapeze. I once wanted to perform in the circus. As a child, I watched George Plimpton on TV, flying with the Clyde Beatty Cole Bros. Circus and those scenes lodged themselves into my memory. I never did become a professional aerialist. As an adult, I chose a career as a programmer. It seems typical that the career that lights up our imaginations as children rarely becomes the career we step into as adults, which leads to the question, how did my daughter turn her childhood desire into an actuality as an adult?
Lizzy found her vocation through her love for the art, the movement and the pageantry of circus. Not all children who fall in love with the circus have the opportunity or the sustained passion to pursue a career as a performing artist. What did my husband, Steve, and I do to help support Lizzy’s goal to be a circus professional? The answer is, I don’t know. Few parents see their children’s future accurately. Who can tell what job you will end up doing and what combination of skills might support the effort?
Steve and I, two engineers, couldn’t provide our daughter with the training that comes from being born into a circus family. We hoped to robustly support her interests and to do more to nurture her creative ability than what my parents’ were able to do for me.
When I think back on my own upbringing, I agree with my parents’ goal; raising me to become financially independent. But, I wanted goals beyond that for my own children. I wanted to support my girls in ways that I was not supported as a child. The experience of growing up under my father’s rigidity inspired me to find an arts education for my children with plenty of opportunity for self expression. I remember my father adamantly negating any future as an artist and discouraging the study of music and art. I wore a uniform to school for most of my 12 years prior to college. In hindsight, uniforms probably simplified my parents lives and kept my mother sane as her energies went to making a home for a large family. Eventually, through the years, she became an advocate for us to develop our own style and self-expression with clothing. I enjoyed expressing myself through clothing choices and, when I became a mother, I elected to allow my children to choose their own clothing. I learned to ignore my relatives’ pleading for more conventional matched outfits. Looking back at photos, my daughters groan and ask how I could have let them dress like that? I ignore their embarrassment. Letting them present themselves according to their stage of development helped create who they are today.
Despite wanting to unequivocally advocate for my daughters’ creative development, I felt the immense challenge of the conscious, nurturing mothering role take its toll. Exhaustion brings on an unintentional rigidity that flies in the face of a child’s desire to be an energetic, imaginative, free spirit. How do we care for a child when we need a lot of care ourselves? To deal with this conundrum, and to honor my own need for self-care, I mindfully got organized. I prioritized honoring authentic, creative endeavors and not criticizing the girls’ activities or interests. I simplified house rules which helped minimize conflict. I passed a mandate allowing all forms of tumbling, climbing, hanging and other up side down shenanigans. Luckily, both Steve and I were strong enough to flip a child without hurting our backs! Steve donated his mother’s coffee table to the art area and we stocked up on art supplies in the nearby cupboard. The girls were free to express themselves. Fewer rules made discipline simpler and pointed our family toward a civilized and authentic life style.
The culture of Austin, Texas, where we lived, supported my parenting style with its nonjudgmental attitude and artists’ colonies. You couldn’t walk down the street without bumping into an excellent teacher of music, dance, self-care or crafts. I remember vividly when Trapeze Experience set up a rig on my girls’ school grounds and posted a schedule of classes. I saw passion on Lizzy’s face as she asked permission to take flying trapeze classes; she wanted to take every class. She did so and quickly soaked up the lessons they offered.
In seeing Lizzy take those classes, my curiosity was piqued. I decided to take some classes as well, and loved the feeling of flying. Over the next four years, I continued to participate in aerial circus classes while watching my daughter excel in the art. Seeing her grow into a seasoned performer helped feed my own passions around circus arts and the arts in general. I thrived taking aerial circus and music lessons. I joined a couple bands and participated in the community at my daughters’ school. While my own creative practices grew, Lizzy kept on diligently training. Steve and I witnessed how dedicated she was, how strong she became and how much she loved the circus. After taking aerial classes at Blue Lapis Light, Lizzy went on to perform an aerial silks act for her senior project in high school. After graduating high school, Lizzy attended Florida State University, where she joined its student-run, resident circus, The High Flying Circus.
Lizzy had progressed well into paying gigs by the time I performed in my first solo aerial dance. During my aerial circus student showcase, I had the unique opportunity to experience what my daughter was experiencing, performing live to an audience. All my practice and training came together. My sense of performance sharpened as the audience responded to story, music, and movement. That experience gave me deep appreciation for my daughter’s talent and skill as a professional performer.
To this day, I love watching my daughter perform. Through every breath-taking drop and gorgeous moment of stillness, her grace and love of the art shine through. I never could have predicted that she would eventually entertain Halloween revelers on the White House lawn based solely on an interest she showed back when she was fifteen. I never would have guessed her love of the art would so strongly feed my love of aerial arts; something which I continue to practice to this day.
My daughters are mysteries that continue to unfold. They have made choices that were never available to me, choices I never would have chosen, and choices I never even imagined existed. From flying through the air to a catcher on a trapeze, to living in another country, childhood dreams come true in ways that we, as parents, cannot foresee. However, if we remain open and aware to possibility, we can be endlessly surprised not only by what our children become, but also by what is awakened in ourselves.