the crystal egg


It would seem, however, that the luminousness was of some exceptional sort, and not equally visible to all eyes.

~ HG Wells, The Crystal Egg


On with the dance! Let joy be unconfined.

– Lord Byron


The back story

There are moments in this life that defy description. That are simply too big, too beautiful, too magical to be corralled into words. They are the moments that change us. That etch themselves onto our hearts and into our souls and break us open, filling the empty spaces with brazen hope, with bold and audacious belief in the possibility of a life made up of more and more and gloriously more of those very moments.

Saturday morning was five years in the making. Five years spent on the outside looking in on the so-tantalizingly-close yet so-desperately-unatainable. Five years of crushing self-doubt. Five years of stubbornly searching for the right people. The people who would not squander our precious hope on empty words and hollow promises but who would walk the walk (or dance the dance, as it were). Who would see it through with consistency and tenacity and an endless supply of good humor and love and the true generosity of spirit that comes with a love, not of the business of dance, but of its soul, of its art, of its very purpose. The people who would SEE our girl exactly where she IS and empower her to explore that place through movement. The people who are COMPELLED to showcase for all of us the beauty of the space that not just she, but a world of would-be-dancers inhabit.

And by God, we found them. We found people (or perhaps they found us) who believe that the language of movement is universal and that molding movement into dance cannot be the domain of the select few, but the fundamental birthright of all who claim their stake in human dignity. We found the people who understand that inclusion requires adaptation and adaptation requires respect and respect demands the will to do the work behind the words.

We thought that we’d found them once before. But like a high school crush mistaken for love, the illusion quickly faded, never again to be confused for the real thing – the messy, gritty, in-the-trenches work of marriage – of enduring partnership.

Five years ago, Luau made the heart-wrenching decision to pull Brooke from her dance recital following a disastrous dress rehearsal. The recital was to be the culmination of a year’s work, yet it was not to be. He would write about weeping in the car after pulling the ripcord. There was no right answer then. She was miserable – the entire situation a set up for failure. Awful, combustible, painful failure.

Three years ago we would try again, to no avail. A different situation. The right words. Not the right people.

Last summer, Brooke and I were in a coffee shop. Another moment suspended in time. Another game-changing slice of our lives that I will never, ever forget. She was eating her marble pound cake. I was sipping a soy latte. No detail escapes memories this big. Seemingly (but never really) out of nowhere, Brooke said something as if she were in the middle of a conversation. (She was.)

“I did not like my recital when I was five,” she said. “I cried and I cried and I scripted and I didn’t like it.”

Her words took the air in the cafe. I steadied myself against the table.

She’d had no words that I could understand then. She was letting me in now. Four years later, she was letting me in.

I waited to speak. I didn’t trust myself. The moment was frighteningly fragile -–as if she’d handed me a crystal egg, the answers held within. Don’t break it, Mama. You only get once chance at this.

“Do you remember the dress rehearsal, baby?” I asked.

Careful now. Easy.

“I do,” she said. “Evie had a thorn in her foot and she cried. I didn’t like my recital when I was five.”

I didn’t know if I should, but I couldn’t help myself. “Do you think Daddy was right, baby? Not to take you back for the show?”

“I do,” she said. “Evie had a thorn in her foot and she cried and cried. And I did my scripts and I screamed and I cried and didn’t like it at all.”

I was breathless, carrying the precious answers, now free from their glass cage. Luau had done the most right thing in a most wrong situation. I wanted to call him. To tell him then and there. You did the right thing. I know how hard it was. It’s okay. But it would have to wait.

“When will I go to ballet class” she asked, “and be a beautiful ballerina?”

We had tried and failed. And tried again and failed again. Trusting was terrifying.

The glass breaks so easily.

But our girl doesn’t.

And she wanted to try again.

We’d ignored them at first, even though they had presented themselves in two different ways – a recommendation of a friend, a casual question from the ballet school’s director. We were afraid of setting her up for failure AGAIN. Three times would be more than we could bear. But there they were. Waiting.

Having started an adaptive program eleven years earlier to enable children with Down Syndrome to access dance, they’d recently created two different classes for children on the autism spectrum.

They weren’t promising anything they couldn’t deliver. They had done the work. They had the support. They understood the challenges. They adored the children.

When we arrived for our trial class, three people were there to observe Brooke and to help establish an appropriate placement. They had clipboards and checklists and questions. They had open hearts and open arms and the will to do the work behind the words.

They put her in the perfect class, with Mr Gino, a man who would treat them as equals. Who would, every single Saturday, show up ready to play, to engage, to open, to share, to steward.

A man who respects his dancers as much as he does the dance. A man who would change the dress code of the showcase from the simple class uniform to “whatever the dancers are most comfortable in” because it meant the world to one little dancer in particular to wear her special, beautiful ballerina dress.

Yes, after five years, my girl would have her recital.

My husband would weep again, but for very different reasons.

And me? Well, I would break wide open and be filled in all the broken places with the belief in the real possibility of a life made up of moments like that one.

Moments that look like this …


and this …


and this ..


and this …


and yes, this ..


and this ..


Moments like this …


and this …


and this …


Moments that look like this …


and this …


And then finally, after five years, a moment that looked like this …



I don’t have words big enough to express our gratitude to those who do the work to make this possible. To Mickey Cassella, Sarah McKitterick and Zakiya Thomas …

To Ryan Edwards, Megan Geno and Wendy Holden …

To everyone involved in the Department of Education and Community Initiatives for the Boston Ballet …

Thank you for being *those* people.

And to Gino DiMarco, better known in our house as “Mr. Gino Gino, but not the one who makes pizza,” you already know.



To the Boston Ballet.

You gave my girl the gift of dance.

Thank you.

Boston Ballet Adaptive Dance


Ed Note: A special thanks to Grandpa DD (aka David Land of Terrabyte Studios) for the beautiful photos. (The perfect ones are his; the ones that are out of focus or funky colors are mine.)

Ed other note: My heart and prayers are with the people of Oklahoma today, along with all of those affected by the devastation out there. You are not alone.

31 thoughts on “the crystal egg

  1. I’m still floating on air after seeing our girl as the most beautiful ballerina and even more importantly, the happiest ballerina that could ever be. Thank you, all!

    Love you,

  2. What a beautiful, beautiful story! Talk about big, bold, healthy risk-taking! All of it. Thank you for sharing this and reminding us all that if our children aren’t afraid to fail… why then we need to steel ourselves to take that leap of faith too, we owe it to them …even when it is harder than hard, Brava little dancer ! And Brava Mom and Bravo Dad!

  3. Just beautiful, Jess. I’m so happy for you, and for Luau, but mostly for Brooke. It is a precious gift to have found a situation this perfect, and you are correct – it is life-changing. We’ve been lucky enough to have one or two days like this one, when everything just … works … and the result is pure magic. It’s those memories that I turn to over and over when everything goes to #$%$. Congratulations to all of you. I’m sure you’re floating right now. Enjoy it. You’ll be up there for a while – as you should.

    • Thanks, lady. Had I not promised someone that the photos would go up today, I don’t think I would have posted it. But yes, I guess we all could use an extra shot of hope this morning. The devastation is just so immense, so unfathomable. My heart aches for the people of Oklahoma.

  4. She really knows herself. She was ready to try again. I’m so happy for her and you two that she got her recital. She looks joyously beautiful.

    Love you all,


  5. Just breathtaking and perfect. Gorgeous.
    Hurray for all the heroes who made that possible, including you, Luau, and most importantly Brooke.

  6. This is beautiful. Brooke looks to be in her element…and the unbridled joy oozing from her face and body language says it all. Thank you for sharing. It does give me hope for the possibilities.

  7. of all the many wonderful lessons to learn here…lessons that you articulate perfectly…a big one is that: there are, in fact, good people out there…people who can and will make your life better. this ballet company…must have seemed so unlikely that there would be any group so amazing and understanding, yet there they are…you found them. it’s just such an important lesson, and this post really expresses it so well.

    it’s hard to find the right people, but they’re out there, and searching for them is worth the effort.

  8. We had a similar moment recently, bracketed by discomfort. My youngest’s dream is to be a rock star. Soooooo, we decided to try guitar lessons. Her instructor had never dealt with autism before, but, she was a grandmother and had dealt with all sorts of children over the years. She asked a lot of questions, and she was willing to give it a try. And, much like Brooke’s experience, magic happened. She took to the guitar immediately. She respected and cooperated with her instructor….and, let me tell you, the instructor had just the right mix of disicpline, clear expectations, flexibility, and consistency. But, most importantly, a great sense of humor and tons of natural encouragement. And, despite the fact that our daughter was a fairly new student, she was invited to participate in the end-of-year recital. Watching her perform was breath-taking. Total self-control, enduring all the stares of strangers, playing with the group, singing the song, and treating us all to a precious curtsy at the end…I never would have believed it. I wish I could only remember that part, but, because this was a group of mostly NT kids, my kid stuck out like a sore thumb. I stayed by her side to assist her. She desperately tried to interact with them, to make a connection, but they were having none of it. There was no opportunity to help them understand her, but, I could clearly read their facial expressions. And I made sure my facial expression communicated right back at them. There was a bully in the pack, clearly looking for the right opportunity to ridicule, but I never turned my back. And she never got her chance. My daughter thought it was a great experience. She was proud and elated and bouncing off the walls. And that is the part I focus on…seeing the possibilities…priceless.

    • What a wonderful story – I’m so glad you were there to make sure your daughter’s experience was only positive. Hopefully your memories will fade to only positive too. Those moments of bullying are pure torture.

      But what I loved most was how you summed up the skills it takes to be a great instructor to many children (at least mine) with autism: “disicpline, clear expectations, flexibility, and consistency. But, most importantly, a great sense of humor and tons of natural encouragement”.

      This. That’s exactly it.

  9. As someone who also had to pull the ripcord but only 3 months into the ballet lessons I am so happy Brooke found somewhere she could dance and be happy. We have found somewhere our girl can do gymnastics on her terms and they treat her like gold. The world needs more Mr. Gino’s!

  10. Love that Brooke finally found the people to let her dance! MacKenzie has her first play performance tonight. We keep trying activities and nothing works out. Hopefully this is the one, she is so excited! (P.S. Those pictures say it all, even if you hadn’t written a word.)

  11. I am so happy that you all have this gift of pure, joyous experience, and the gift of a beautiful memory. Happy especially for B.

  12. I am absolutely moved to tears. What a beautiful moment, so many years and trials in the making. The look on her face is priceless, and a treasure. Thank you for sharing.

  13. She is beautiful!! Absolutely breathtaking!! It is so amazing to see our children come out into the world. She is so lucky to have had that opportunity. Much love!

  14. Beautiful post. The photos are filled with so much joy I can almost feel it radiating out of the computer. Thanks for sharing.

  15. Pingback: In Need of a Reminder | Pucks and Puzzle Pieces

  16. I cannot even come up with words to express the joy I feel reading about Brooke’s recital and the looks on her face. Tears are running down my face; tears of joy.

  17. Don’t know if there’s a pony in the world that’s going to be good enough for Mr. Gino, and the rest of the staff! You made my day, thank you.

  18. Loved seeing these photos. She was so natural in all of them and the spectre of autism wasn’t lurking behind her beautiful face as it sometimes does. Her spirit was completely flying free in bountiful joy.

    • Thank you for the comment and the sentiment that I know lies within it. Please know that the “spectre” of autism isn’t a spectre at all, nor anything that would lurk behind my baby’s face, but rather a part of what makes her spirit so free, an inextricable part of her beauty and the bounty of her joy – it is part of all that she does, and all that she is. 🙂

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