My first Monday morning in my own home. The kids are sleeping. I’ve got a cup of coffee with just the right amount of hazelnut flavoring, and the only sound is the cooing of the mourning doves outside my window.
Life is good.
Life is scary, too. I still haven’t found a job. I haven’t found a home for my two cats. There are boxes everywhere that still need to be unpacked, and I have so many doubts about being able to make this all work. I have so much to prove to the world. And to myself. I will keep this house clean, I will stay organized, I will stay current on all bills.
It has been an enormously emotional weekend, and not just because it was our first in the new house.
Saturday was my daughter’s dance recital. She has been dancing since she was four years old, and we’ve learned over the years that recital weekend is a grueling, exhausting, expensive weekend. It is a true joy to watch her and her friends dance on the stage, but I am always relieved when it is over for another year.
I always cry when my daughter dances. It’s silly to keep doing that after all these years, but I can’t seem to stop. There is something so graceful, so ethereal, so not-my-daughter about her when she is on stage. She is illuminated from within, barely touching the ground, her gaze focused on something I will never be able to see.
When she dances, she is free in every sense of the word. When she dances, she is utterly her own being, and I ache inside because she is not mine in those moments. When she dances, she is dancing away from me and I don’t want to let her go.
Two of her teammates graduated this year. I have watched these two young women grow up with my daughter, through awkward teen years and adolescent angst and even the occasional acne. But these are not my daughters. Their growing up shouldn’t hurt me.
When my daughter first made the competition team, I instructed her to follow one of the older, more responsible girls. “Follow Lindsey,” I said. I knew Lindsey was reliable and trustworthy, a born leader. As long as my kid followed Lindsey, she would always be where she was supposed to be, when she was supposed to be there. After my accident, there were competitions and performances that I couldn’t attend, when my daughter had to ride along with other families. “Just follow Lindsey,” I repeated. I knew Lindsey wouldn’t sneak off to break rules and get in trouble. She would never lead my child astray.
Saturday, I watched Lindsey dance her final dance with the Alleykat team, and my heart cracked just a little. I have no idea how or when that skinny little girl became such a beautiful adult, but she is all grown up and off to college and it takes my breath away to realize that my little girl is still following Lindsey; in one short year, my baby girl will dance her final Alleykat dance and head off to college too.
“Please,” I want to say to my child, “Don’t follow Lindsey.”
Emily is also heading off to college. If Lindsey made my heart crack, Emily broke it wide open.
I know nothing about dance, but I know enough to know that she is good. Really good. She is a tiny girl, with huge eyes and a perpetually serious expression that almost hides her capacity for mischief. There is something sprite-like about her on stage, an ability to defy gravity and make the impossible seem easy. Over the years, I have loved watching Emily dance because she is always perfectly in control, precise in every way.
She wasn’t in control with her dance this year; her performance to Christina Perri’s “Human” was all about breaking free of control. Maybe I misinterpreted her dance. Maybe I got it all wrong and I have no idea what I am talking about. She wore a silver mask and went back and forth between precision and wild abandon, symbolically fighting to be free of self-control and the expectations of others. This song was her public declaration of who she is everything that she can be in life.
It was the first time a dancer other than my daughter has made me cry. I am so proud of Emily, even though she is not mine to be proud of.
And my daughter . . . my beautiful, thoughtful daughter did a dance just for me. She did a Pointe solo to “And She Dances” by Josh Groban, and she became one of those whirling ballerinas that pop up and spin in a child’s music box. If Emily’s dance proved to the world that she is only human, my daughter’s dance reminded me that they all becomes something other than human once the music starts.
I was a wreck by the time it was over. My niece, sister-in-law and mother-in-law were too. I think even her father and future stepmother were moved to tears as well.
And now it’s Monday morning. There are costumes to wash, thank-you notes to send out, dance tuition payments to make. It’s a new week, a fresh start, and all of the raw emotions have been repackaged and put safely away for the time being. Somewhere in the back of my mind, there is a tiny, nagging thought that next year’s recital will be the last one we have to attend. That next year will be my daughter’s farewell dance.
Life is good, life is scary, and life goes on. Day by day, year by year, dance by dance.