I thought my role as a mother was to teach my daughter important life lessons, but it turns out she is the teacher in my life class.

But first, I ruined her hair.

I am an epic failure as a dance mom. It seems all the hair spray and bobby-pins in the world do not make me capable of perfecting “the bun.” For those of you who are unfamiliar with this simple hair design, it requires all the strands of one’s hair to be twisted neatly and tightly into a wrapped-up circle high atop one’s head, resembling something akin to a dinner roll.

By the time I had my daughter’s hair contorted into a reasonable facsimile of a bun, we were both intoxicated by hair spray fumes and more than a dozen black pins were missing inside the foam apparatus one is to use for the purpose of plumping one’s bun (ugh). The final product was less a bun and more like a rebellious croissant, and it wasn’t high enough. Whatever.

To be fair, had she been going anywhere else in town, my fashion faux pas would have made my teen a style icon, because the “messy bun” is a Hollywood trend.  In some circles, the rebellion croissant would even be considered avant-garde.

But this is the world of dance. The most beautiful form of personal expression has some of the most rigid rules I’ve ever seen. I was about to break them all.

Next was her make-up application. If you think I can ruin a hairstyle, you should see what I can do to an angelic teenage face (or my own, for that matter) with a little bit of mascara and red lipstick suited more for a brothel than a ballerina.

Here was my daughter looking up to me to show her the ways of the feminine mystique, and I was still trying to find a copy of the stupid rule book. She sensed my anxiety and started laughing at my attempt to be so serious.

Unfortunately, her giggles broke out at the very moment I was attempting to apply the red lipstick to her perfect lips. Red stains. The harder she laughed, the more I lost my composure and the bigger the clown make-up got. Tears ran down our mascara-clad eyes, as we laughed like fools. This was no time for folly, but no better time to be us.

She looked less than perfect, but instead of being furious with me, she turned my failure into a moment of mother-daughter perfection. It was like she gave me permission to be good enough, just for trying so hard.

When we arrived at the studio, all the girls were perfect: hair, make-up, costumes. My girl walked in, head held high, with a courage that didn’t come from genetics. She felt beautiful, because she is beautiful.

The child I fretted about not having the resiliency required to survive in the harsh world turns out to be one of the strongest young women I know.

Already she understands what I did not at her age: it’s not about what is on your face, or what curves are under your leotard. It’s about celebrating the God-given right to be who you are, comfortable in your own skin, free to express yourself with passion for life.

Confidence is beautiful. My daughter is a great teacher.


Kelly Waterhouse