Thinking of the Next Big Thing


I spent 15 years of my life dancing. Everyone gasps at the show-stopper steps, but I’ll tell you a secret: the bedrock of ballet is the “transition” steps: the rather quotidian, easy movements that three-year-olds learn their very first class.

pile is a straight-up knee-bend. First position places your heels together, toes turned out, like a dove’s wingspan. Glissade is a small jump to the side that prepares you for showier leaps like grand jeté.

They seem simple but undergird everything. If transitions are askew or sloppy, everything goes awry.

When I googled “transition steps ballet,” I came across a post for dance teachers emphasizing this very idea.

“… Transitional moments between movements are just as important as the steps themselves …”

A jazz teacher added, “If [students are] thinking of the next big thing, they’re not in the present moment, staying in character or expressing themselves fully.”

Um. That hits a little too close to home.

One of my children is not big on transitions—moving from one activity to the next. Even with many reminders, she will not be ready to go for a while … or perhaps ever.

She completely and totally inherited this problem from me.

If I know any feeling, it is the sense that time plays tricks on you. Endings and beginnings come too quickly; my pace does not quite match the required pace for getting things done in any efficient way.

Transitions are an in-between time—bridges between musts and shoulds and wants. They are getting-to instead of arriving; moving-towards, rather than already there.

In-between time has always flustered me, mostly because I want to arrive without thought or consideration. Getting anyplace takes longer than I expect. I’m always slightly shocked that 15 minutes go by when I dress, wash, and put on mascara every morning. “Putting on clothing” shouldn’t take time, amiright? It’s a throwaway of perfectly good minutes. It’s unfair that I have to get ready when there are bigger tasks I want to hoard minutes for.

So, I know exactly why my daughter struggles with transitions. She hoards her minutes too—finding her coat and shoes can’t possibly compare to bigger, more interesting tasks.

Given all this, I don’t like how often I find myself deeply impatient with myself and my daughter. Rather than drawing kind-but-firm boundaries and modeling transitions, I catch myself hounding her to move.

I don’t always give myself grace during transitions either. Grace to take the time to exercise, or read. Grace to happily cross unattainable goals off my to-do list. I find it hard to lower my expectations of my productivity.

In my better moments, I model being considerate of other peoples’ time for my daughter. In my worst, I’m a bit of a drill sergeant.

The jazz teacher has it right. My struggle with transitional moments is hard, because I am always thinking of the next big thing. I am thinking of being late to school, rather than fully getting ready. I’m concentrating on old irritations and arguments rather than the present moment. I’m stacking my to-do list to the breaking point, so I can grab those hoarded moments for my priorities.

I’m ignoring transitions instead of fully inhabiting them.

But honoring the quotidian is the first step towards life taking up exactly as much space as it needs to.

When I look at my daughter and her struggle to fit her big ideas into the limited amount of time she has, I smile and ache. It’s hard to learn how to live well. It’s hard to be gracious to yourself and others. It’s hard to be fully present in the moment. I am walking proof.

I was an advanced ballet student, but not exceptional. Sometimes, watching the women who would go on to dance professionally, I saw that they had a different skill level altogether. I would see them correct the smallest misalignment of their legs, adjust their posture, smile broadly while doing wrenching exercises with no one watching them but me. What I saw from their artistry was that true beauty comes from taking each moment—throwaway or grand—and paying attention to it.

This is a work-in-progress for me. I’m trying to do less cramming and more being, less distracting and more focusing, less harshness and more grace.

Even my struggle to live in the present moment is a moving-towards instead of arriving. Learning to inhabit my own life with loving-kindness is the biggest bridge of all.

Heather Caliri
Heather Caliri is a writer and artist from San Diego who is happily content with being an awkward Christian. Tired of anxiety controlling your life? Try her mini-course, "Five Tiny Ideas for Managing Anxiety," for free here.
Heather Caliri
Heather Caliri