Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Other Dance

I've been trying to see things in a more positive light recently. I know I complain a lot. I'm just not a "glass half-full" person. I swear I come by it honestly.

I had a miserable grandmother (who I loved immensely). The joke was that if you asked her how dinner was she would say "Fine, but I don't know why they had to seat us near the kitchen, in the dark, next to the screaming child. And there was a draft."

Every once in a while I'll be talking and I'll hear her litany of complaints in the cadence of my speech. In those moments I sometimes try to pull back on the negativity but in my retreat I often become a rambling mess of qualifications and apologies. I have found it's best to nip my inner Debbie Downer in the bud or let her flow freely, there really is no middle ground. But I don't want to look back on this blog years from now (or worse yet, have Nora look back on it) and think that the past year and a half, and parenting in general, have been a miserable experience.

Parenting is hard, but it is not miserable. I'm learning things daily, and for that, I am grateful. I'm being forced to stretch and bend (both physically and metaphorically) in ways in which I never knew I was capable. Sometimes I'm really good at these new tasks, and sometimes I'm not, but overall I'm getting better at it each day.

Recently I've been complaining to anyone who would listen about Sam's trip to Holland. He's there with his students and he's sick. I'm here with Nora and we're sick. On top of that, I've started a new job and snow keeps screwing up our schedule. But all of that said, it's not so bad ... If I had a regular 9-5 office job it would be much worse. If Nora hadn't started sleeping through the night again it would be much worse. If we lived in a tiny apartment or didn't have enough to eat ... I could go on and on ... The fact is, we are really lucky and Nora is really easy to parent. I wish I didn't have to keep reminding myself of that, but I do. It's just who I am.

Also, I find it easier to write about the crap, but I'm going to try harder to also write about the good moments too, even when they seem small. Like yesterday: I got Nora to go back to sleep when she woke up too early from her nap. I've never been able to do this before and I couldn't believe that I was able to carry out Sam's successful techniques for handling this situation flawlessly. Then, when she woke up the second time, at the end of her nap, she said to me "Hiya Momma! Hiya!" and it was amazing!

There are also moments of bliss that aren't small at all, but I seem to forget to write about them in the midst of all my complaining.

Last week before Sam left we were all in the living room. It was a snowy day and, for Sam, an actual Snow Day. Sam and I were on the couch reading and Nora was playing with some toys on the floor. We were listening to WXPN when a Nick Drake song came on. I don't know what song it was, only that it WASN'T "Pink Moon" and it was on Five Leaves Left. I know this because Sam and I used to spend lazy weekend afternoons in our Butler Street apartment listening to that album on repeat. The familiarity of the song washed over me and I felt warm inside. I then noticed that Nora was dancing to the song and I began to cry (from happiness).

Nora has two dances. One is called "The Butt Dance" and it involves a lot of bouncing and some marching. It's hilarious. "The Other Dance" is more nondescript, except to say that it breaks my heart. It involves large steps and lunges with her hands in the air - sort of like slow ice dancing. It doesn't sound like much, but I assure you, it is a sight to see. It looks like the dance of someone so much older than she, with so much more understanding of the world and so much more pathos than I can comfortably believe she has right now. She was doing "The Other Dance" to Nick Drake and I thought to myself, "I love this small person more than I ever thought I could ever love anything."

And then I had another thought.

I thought again about those afternoons on Butler Street. Sam and I were in our mid-twenties. We weren't married. We hadn't even begun to talk about kids. And yet listening to Nick Drake now, with Sam by my side, and watching Nora interact with that music from our past I was almost shocked that I hadn't known this was inevitable. I felt sorry for my 25 year old self - I didn't even know enough to want this. It never occurred to me that the memories we were making then would be something I would be nostalgic for. Even though my parents passed their music on to me, before Nora was born I never considered I would be passing music on to someone else.

I was not a girl who had an aching womb, who knew that her life's mission could only be fulfilled by having children, and yet this small child who fills me with delight landed in my lap. I won't say it was effortless and I won't say there weren't bumps along the way, but really, what more could I have wanted? A husband I love and who loves me, a child who amazes me, a roof over our heads and food on the table. On some levels it was all I ever wanted and on other levels I never even thought to want it.

Then Nora noticed I was watching her (thankfully I had already wiped away my tears because she had seemed quite confused in the moments she has actually seen me cry) and I saw the flicker of embarrassment on her face. She barreled towards us and buried her head in my lap while laughing her amazing laugh. And another memory came flooding back:

I was dancing under the steps at the Carnegie Museum of Art. I was young - maybe five? I don't know why I thought no one could see me. It probably didn't even occur to me to care until I saw my parents and my brother's first grade teacher watching me. It wasn't the dancing that made me self-conscious, it was the watching -- the way they looked at me told me that they were seeing something they didn't think I wanted them to see and therefore I decided it wasn't supposed to be seen.

I wondered if that's how Nora felt when she saw me watching with awe as she did "The Other Dance" to Nick Drake's rich and somber music. The movements must have felt natural to her, but my watching must have seemed odd. I felt horrible for interrupting her dance with my stare, but I couldn't look away. I know I'll have to walk that line with her for years to come: how do you watch someone grow up before your very eyes without making them feel like they're being watched?

I don't want to miss a thing.


  1. I agree with Sam. It's really, really good.