My girl’s a dancer. It was all I could think as she moved to the music in her gold and black sparkly outfit. With her little tan jazz shoes. I had to hold back tears as I watched and held the bouquet of flowers I bought to give her at the end.
How did this happen? When did my oldest turn ten? How is it that I only have eight years left with her as my kiddo?
And how do I have a dancer? A little girly girl who wants to wear cute outfits, giant bows, and loves makeup. How could she be mine?
Let’s take a trip down memory lane, shall we? Recall little-Jackie who grew up in the eighties and nineties with her mismatched neon colors, biker shorts and Roadrunner shirt combinations, dirty high tops, red cowgirl boots with worn-out toes, and the legendary Tom’s Autobody hat that went everywhere she did for years. The little girl whose clothes took bottles of Shout to get somewhat clean after she played outside. The girl who practiced football with the boys and sat with them at lunch until about sixth grade.
The girl who lived to play basketball and spent most of her time on the bench, because she could not keep her aggressive fouling to a four-foul limit. The young mom who wondered why people would buy her gifts of tiny, sparkly skirts and big bows, because after all, she couldn’t possibly raise a girly girl.
I love it when life’s irony is on me. And it’s funny. My first baby, a big girl now, lives to be a diva. We didn’t learn her gender while pregnant with her, so when the doctor delivered her and said, “It’s a lady!” we were surprised and in love. Her little room and the baby shower gifts were in neutral colors, but she came out with a “pink glitter sparkle is best” attitude that’s never left. Basically anything I loved/did/wanted to do/desired at her age, she doesn’t like and says it’s “weird” or “for boys.”
She’s been JoJo Siwa’s biggest fan for years now (if you’re unfamiliar, Google JoJo and find a young woman who has made a gabillion dollars off her marketing of music, dance, and giant bows), so when she asked us this summer if she could take dance, we weren’t surprised, and encouraged her to try it. But me and my big assumptions and far too judgmental attitude, worried that it wouldn’t work out.
I stressed about her fitting in and being new to the sport, when others had probably been dancing since they were two (like JoJo).
My worries were mostly based upon the residual, overwhelming guilt I feel about my illness and all the resulting “interesting” years we’ve had. It still nags at me that AE set back the lives of my family.
It’s also because I know all of zero about dance. I quipped in my Christmas letter that someone once told me you need a certain “this” (as she gestured around her face) to be a dance mom and I was certain I didn’t have it. I feared we’d both stick out and I’d be amongst a sea of moms with perfect hair, nice nails, and not one of them would be wearing an Elton shirt.
Turns out my girl fits in great with the class’s two grades, all the different bodies, movements, hair styles, outfits, and abilities. Silly me pictured perfect magazine moms and uptight coaches yelling at mean girls who gracefully danced on tiptoes. Turns out a lot of the moms seem to be a lot like me. While they wait at practice, they read books and catch up on work on their phones, and they tell their daughters to hurry so they can race out to soccer practice or make dinner.
The coaches run a positive, inclusive, and fun atmosphere, where all the girls seem to be learning and having fun. And I’ve seen my daughter’s confidence absolutely soar this year.
But as she danced by me on family night, her first performance for a crowd, it was more than all that. It’s the constant reminder that I could have been taken from her and her brother, and never had their little sister if life would have ended differently for me in 2018. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to completely rid my mind of that when I see my kids doing their thing. It brings out overwhelming joy and lingering anxiety all at once.
When she finished, I made sure my eyes looked only dry and happy to greet her. And I could tell she liked the flowers, but made me keep them to not be embarrassing. (I’m pretty sure I’ve already reached that stage in life where my existence is embarrassing, so I have that going for me.)
I’m still not convinced that I have the necessary “this,” but I love being a dance mom. I even have her picture on a button to wear.
I love watching my kids find themselves in activities, music, and their art.
And even though I never would have guessed it would happen to me, my girl’s a dancer.
It’s eternally funny to me how life always seems to work its way through my plans.
Just keep swimming (or dancing).
“I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean, Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens, Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance, And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance.
“I hope you dance... I hope you dance...
“I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance, Never settle for the path of least resistance, Livin’ might mean takin’ chances, but they’re worth takin’, Lovin’ might be a mistake, but it’s worth makin’, Don’t let some hell bent heart leave you bitter, When you come close to sellin’ out reconsider, Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance, And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance.
“I hope you dance... I hope you dance.” I Hope You Dance by Lee Ann Womack
*I know, I know. You all thought I was going to name this one Tiny Dancer. Every now and then I'm actually NOT the world's most predictable person.*
/ / The JM Stebbins blog is an autoimmune encephalitis blog from former lawyer and autoimmune encephalitis survivor, Jackie M. Stebbins.
Jackie M. Stebbins is also the author of Unwillable: A Journey to Reclaim my Brain, a book about autoimmune encephalitis, resilience, faith, hope, and survival. / /