I can feel my life changing all the time as I grow and evolve and as my kids grow and change as well. We are sailing far past the baby and toddler days. I don’t monitor anyone’s bathroom habits much anymore. (Thank you Lord sweet baby Jesus. So glad that is over.) I don’t wake in the middle of the night unless there’s a nightmare or a sickness. I don’t keep extra clothes in my car for accidents. I don’t structure my days around nap time. There’s a lot of freedom that comes with this new era, and I’m finding that I’m relieved to see it arrive. It’s no secret that I loved my days with tiny babies, but it’s only magical because it’s a passing season. Now we are on to something new.
But the thing I didn’t foresee with this new chapter is the busy school schedule. School-aged kids always have something going on, it seems. This month alone brings two birthday parties, a field trip, a school-wide field day, a class breakfast, end-of-the-year teacher gifts, and a ballet recital. It’s always something.
I got Norah to her ballet dress rehearsal on Saturday, and the two of us took a moment to get her dressed in my office since it’s a few steps from the university theater where her performance was held. She was so sweet with her tiny tutu and tights that never quite fit without a few wrinkles at that age. She met her class backstage, and their excitement was tangible. You could see that each of them felt so special, but they also loved the camaraderie of their matching ensembles. It reminded me so much of my backstage ballet memories and friendships.
She rehearsed her piece twice over, and I changed her again and brought her to her dad’s where she was staying this weekend. After that, I went to the gym and headed to the grocery store, and was generally feeling exhausted from the crazy pace of May and resigned to a night of take-out and pajamas on my couch as a result. My phone buzzed in the check-out line though, and a friend urged me to head out with a large group of us. I’d originally thought I needed to take a pass to focus on mom duties this weekend, but it didn’t take much nudging to change my mind, so when I got home, I threw the groceries in the fridge, changed clothes as fast as I could, and raced out to meet my carpool.
What is it about a group of strong women that makes us capable of getting straight to real talk right away? My friends have always been significant to me, but I think as I age and experience life, I get even better at recognizing kindred spirits. I’m grateful for all of them. It sometimes seems like the universe plops these people right in front of me, and maybe it does. But I know I am responsible for that, too. The energy you send out returns to you. If you focus on the right things in life, those ideas always rise to the top of whatever other noise there is, and you eventually find yourself surrounded by like-minded people.
We ate and laughed for hours, and no topic was off limits for conversation. Someone decided we should head nearby to a basement dance club that plays old 90’s hip hop, and even those of us who swore we were only coming for dinner and were headed home by midnight (famous last words, right?) followed suit with a little convincing.
Is there anything better than the combination of girlfriends and laughing and dancing and music that brings nostalgia? I really don’t think there is. Dance is such a life force in the same way that yoga is for me. It feels like meditation in a different sense. There are so few experiences in life that force you to focus on exactly what is in front of you at that moment and nothing more. We spend so much time thinking about what our bodies look like in our day-to-day lives as society continually screams these messages at women particularly. What we forget to notice is what it feels like to be in your own body. Dance does that like nothing else can.
I took it for granted, growing up inside the walls of a ballet studio, that my body would always feel that familiar to me. I spent at least five nights a week for well over a decade dancing with friends in one way or another. Life is different now, but sometimes you get the chance to do it all over again with a familiar soundtrack, and it fills you up in the best way. When I read Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection last summer, I noted a passage where she explains how her research reflected that dance is a necessary part of whole-hearted living; she claims that “laughter, song, and dance create emotional and spiritual connection; they remind us of the one thing that truly matters when we are searching for comfort, celebration, inspiration, or healing: We are not alone.” It’s those communal moments with different individuals moving to the same music that place you inside your own body in a way that is necessary and often forgotten but somehow also allow you to tap into something greater – that emotional and spiritual connection Brown speaks of.
I only got something like four hours of sleep before Norah’s show the next day, but it was all worth it. After dressing her and dropping her off backstage, I studied the program while I was seated in the theater and waiting. I noted when her dance was scheduled and was preparing myself for the usual happy-sad mom tears that come at moments like this. But I surprised myself that I didn’t shed a tear at all for her piece.
Instead, I choked back a swell of tears that caught me by surprise when the first piece in the program began. It was a modern ballet performed by dancers I do not know at all. But something about the combination of the choreography, the lights, and the swell of music softened me in that place where good art always resonates. That deep recognition “your bones recognize as if you’ve created it,” as Andrea Hollander says. That missing piece that connects you to something outside of yourself. We are body and soul – all of us. And dance in any form reminds me of that every time.
Norah seemed to enjoy her time on stage, and I snapped a few pictures outside the theater. When we were home later last night, she asked if she could wear her costume the rest of the day, and I said yes. She played inside and lazed around on the couch in her lace and crinoline. And as I was making dinner, I looked out the patio doors to find her outside in the backyard twirling and twirling all by herself. The May sun was slanting a bit in that way it always does a couple hours before dark, and it would catch a glinting sequin every now and then. It felt so real and true to see her living in her own body and her own world without regard to anything else.
At the end of the day, as I turned off lights and headed upstairs to bed, I stopped to scribble a note for my gratitude jar like always. I was surprised as I reflected on the day that my best moment was not the big performance or the dressing room excitement or seeing her proud face with the flowers; it was the shimmering sunlight and the twirling dress and her quiet joy as she went round and round all by herself.