on the eve of my daughter's first or only (time will tell) dance recital

*for my mother*

Tonight Caroline fell asleep while we were all snuggled together in our bed, reading "Little House in the Big Woods." We were reading about the maple sugar party at Grandpa's house and the swirling of skirts and banging of boots and off she went. Her brother was rearing to go for an all night read-a-thon, but I snuggled my little chipmunk (this week he is the tiny menace of our backwoods locale that destroys flower beds, as opposed to the baby bird of weeks past who hatched out of an egg each morning... I cannot make this stuff up) into his chipmunk bed and wished him acorn dreams (for real, I said that). I admired her sweet slumber and carried her to bed, tucking her under the sheet and George under her arm before retiring to the jobs of the night. With Steve at the game, it meant lunches and dinner clean up and everything else that we didn't pick up or prepare for Friday.

Friday. It hit me, even though it has been on my phone's calendar for weeks, shining off from the screen. Recital. Dress Rehearsal. Connor and I have been watching her practice her tap and ballet routines in the "big studio" since April. She smiles when I catch her eye and I shake my head when she fumbles the steps and throws her head back and laughs in her moment of lost.

We found this studio last summer, at the end of camp when we drove by and saw an open house sign. It was the day of the last farmer's market and we took our peaches and walked up the block and into a studio that felt exactly like the one I had grown up in. It had good energy. There were no trophies or awards from competitions. There was a strict dress code. They had Caroline at tap shoe.

I entered into dance with Caroline cautiously. Dance had been my thing, my only thing, for a very long time. I breathed dance, I ran routines in my head at bedtime to fall asleep, I dutifully brought a blank tape each January to my dance teacher to record the music of the dances I would perform in June to better practice them at home in my living room under my mother's watchful eye. "Do that pirouette again," she would say, until I got it just right. I couldn't have been the only dancer who spun across the floor with the dishes after dinner. I danced in the Nutcracker every year from Kindergarten when I hit the stage in all white pulling Clara in a sleigh with tiny reindeer antlers on my head and a furry little leotard. I did A Midsummer's Night Dream twice, once as the tiniest and once as the biggest. I overheard my mother at a party not that long ago say that she was sure I was going to end up in a tiny NYC apartment, a starving dancer. Sometimes I think about that too.

I remember being a tiny ballerina. I remember leaping around the room when my mother agreed to dance lessons with the phone book in front of her, exclaiming, "Ballet!" over and over. I remember my first recital (I was a rag doll, with a pink polka dotted jumper over lace bloomers), the big stage, the bright lights, not knowing what to do next. I also recall how angry my mother was the afternoon of another recital (when I played the part of a black eyed susan) when my babysitter let me run through the sprinkler after my mother had carefully done my hair before she went to work. I mostly know it from photos, but that first year there are Brett and I on the stage, a bouquet in my hand, the red velvet curtain our backdrop. I remember the year I broke protocol and auditioned for the traveling Nutcracker that came to town and caused a stir with the traditional show in Springfield. I remember the way it felt to stand on that stage the year after I danced the part of Clara and have the Ballet Mistress Miss Nancy express to me how it wasn't fair to give me a part when I already had one in the other show. I knew even then she felt betrayed and was punishing me. She gave me the part anyway - the soldier who falls during the battle and needs to be carried off in the stretcher. I somehow managed to hold a coveted role in the other production too; the first girl Polichinelle out of Mother Ginger's skirt. I loved it.

Caroline has not always loved it. In the early months of the school year she would collapse in a heap at school on Wednesdays and cry the entire way there. This often led to me wondering why we were doing this and I started thinking this was me pressuring her and what if it was? It started to get a tiny bit better after Christmas, hit an all time low the day of her second "peek week," when the parents are allowed to come observe class. I think I made it clear that day that if she behaved so terribly when I picked her up to go to class on Wednesdays that even if we paid for the lesson, we were not going. I knew she got it when she cried not because I was upset, but because she was not allowed to go that day. That was also the day it got better and it has gotten better ever since. She counted down the Wednesdays left and when I announced to her this past week that she had finished her last class, she cried.

It brought me pause.

I called my Mom that very moment (it was 9AM) and asked her if she and my father would mind coming a bit earlier so that she could accompany Caroline and I backstage for her first and perhaps (jury is still out) last dance recital. I know she will help secure every curl into the perfect ballet bun, that together we can apply blush and lip gloss, but I draw the line at the eyeliner and eyelash curler which I still to this day cannot go near after my annual pre-recital makeup application. We had a good laugh about that and I could hear the emotion in her voice. It's an amazing thing to bring something so special between her and I full circle with my tiny human girl, my determined strong daughter, my twirling ballerina tap dancer.

Steve still says she won't go on stage, but I've seen her and I know that not only will she go on stage, she will shine brightly in her canary tutu and sequined skirt, the one with her name written on the tag, exactly like my own when I was little but written by my hand now.


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