01/18/2012 08:42 am ET Updated Mar 18, 2012

Praising Children's So-So Creations

Back when I was six, I could hardly wait for my ballet school's annual recital. I loved dancing, twirling across the floor in my pink leather slippers, leaping high in what my first-grade imagination divined to be the ultimate in grace. The recital, I knew, would be the opportunity I'd been waiting for to show the world my passion for plies and arabesques and pirouettes, a chance to demonstrate to my mother that I wasn't as much of a klutz as I seemed when I spilled my milk over my pot roast at the dinner table. The recital would be about pure joy. I smiled to myself just thinking about it.

But when the recital time came around, even my purple leotard and tights couldn't make me smile. They were hastily purchased consolation prizes for my ballet teacher's decision to assign me the role of... a purple rock.

As it turned out, according to the rest of the world (as opposed to my internal vision of myself), a prima ballerina I was not. I pointed my toe left when I was supposed to point right. I was short and stumpy when the other girls were tall and willowy. I messed up the line. And so, instead of bending like a tree, or blooming like a flower, or even waving like a rippling brook, my part in the recital was to lie very, very still.

I did an excellent job portraying the purple rock, or so I'm told. But the next year, I moved on to art classes and horseback riding.

Now I'm a mom.

My daughters aren't especially into dancing (no realizing my childhood dreams through them), but my younger became interested in needlework the fall, sparked, I assume, by watching my modest efforts over the years. She begged for a needlepoint canvas of her own, and when I warned her that needlepoint took a long time, and a project couldn't be finished in a day, she held out her pinky and promised, "I'll do the whole thing, no matter how long it takes."

Unwrapping her first gift on Christmas morning to find a little needlepoint kit,she bubbled over. Seriously. I actually had to tell her that there were more gifts to open, because she sat in the middle of the crumpled paper in her reindeer jammies, tugged loose the first skein of embroidery floss, and started in right there on the floor, next to the Christmas tree. The look on her face as she knotted the first thread was that look we all try to record in holiday photos. It was the spirit of the season.

I was excited for my daughter (and for me -- there's no feeling on earth like giving a child a gift she truly loves), especially because I knew that she had weeks and weeks of needlepointing ahead of her. So imagine my surprise when she came to me on December 26 and asked, "Mom, can we go to the needlepoint store today?"

Now, I was so worn out from entertaining a crowd of thirteen on Christmas that I wasn't going anywhere; my brand new furry Lands End slippers were staying firmly on my feet. But, more than that, I couldn't figure out why she'd need to go to the needlepoint store. I'd put together the kit myself -- it contained threads in every color she'd need, plus a couple of extra tapestry needles. I told her as much.

"Oh," she said. "I know! Actually, I finished it! I want to go get it made into a pillow!"

"You... finished it?" I replied. "How could you have finished it already?" The kid had slept, I knew that. I'd checked on her at about 10:00 p.m. to make sure she wasn't sleeping with a needlepoint needle in her hand. I'd been working on a single needlepoint project in every faculty meeting since 2007 -- how could my kid be done with hers in less time than it took me to finish a single begonia?

And then I looked at the canvas she was waving at me.


It was covered in stitches, yes. But the stitches were horizontal, not diagonal. And only about half of them were done -- she'd gone in and out of each hole only once, not twice. I could see why she thought she'd finished, because thread was worked in and out through the canvas. But it wasn't needlepoint -- she'd obviously forgotten how to do the basic stitch I'd taught her a year or two ago. The biggest problem? It costs beaucoup bucks to turn a canvas into a pillow (I stitch, but don't sew) I wasn't sure I wanted to invest the money for a bedroom decoration that was this far from perfect.

Then I remembered the purple rock. So, I was a lousy dancer. I was six. I should have been allowed to dance. My daughter is ten. She made a canvas that's not a needlepoint, but it is... something. Should I spring for the pillow? I'm considering.

Much more important than the $40 is my daughter's self-esteem and pride. As I see it, though, that goes both ways. She can take pride in doing it "her" way, or she can take pride in doing it the correct way. I'm not sure which value to teach.

This purple rock is stumped. For now, I think I'm going to lie very, very still.