I do the math on my hand. This is my 5th end of the year dance recital and you think by now I’d know to remember to pack hair spray and snacks. Someone hands my daughter a bag of chips and I want to hug her. I want to tell her that I am not a total failure, that we did not lose the wristbands, we wore the right color tights and that I do at least have a few bobby pins in my pocket. I can not handle the crazy that is backstage. It is a whirlwind of squealing girls in sequins, lycra and tulle. Moms wielding curling hours and more eye makeup than the entire MAC counter, I start to sweat in my ponytail. I quickly look away as an entire row of dancers peel off EVERYTHING for a quick costume change. I was not made for this. I unashamedly let an eight-year-old I have never met teach me how to get my daughter’s hair in place and I make the fastest exit I can.
We sit in the balcony. Where we have been for hours. Dance recital day is all consuming. Rehersal, hair and finding the right tights. My kids are number 41 and 46 in a very long program. I joke with my husband and ask if anyone would mind if we had a pizza delivered. He watches soccer silently on his phone. I watch the stage, despite my discomfort backstage, I like the music and the art that someone has gone into to show me what it looks like. Song after song. I hear it differently because now I can see it.
My son is up first. Yep, you read that right - my nerf gun shooting, goal scoring, video game addicted son takes the stage in what is usually only his sister’s dance recital. His hat is to the side, his Jordans laced up, his pants I swear — I wore in the early 90s. Well, I just wanted to wear them — but I wore boring Jordache instead. Kriss Kross starts to tell them to jump. And he does. How high - he almost hits the sky. And my heart has that familiar swell. The one where I think it is trying to bust out of my chest and down my cheeks in pride. I watched him at dress rehearsal just two days ago. Catching errors and uncertainty, eager to get home and take care of all the things I needed to do, but on stage, all I see is my kid out there kicking ass in front of an absolutely packed auditorium. They strut off the stage and the crowd claps louder than usual because these have been the first boys they have seen all day.
A few acts later, my girl in her sequins prances out. Like my son, I saw her dance in costume so recently, but it is a different thing entirely on this huge stage. Under the lights. A few counts in she practically does the splits. The splits. How in the….When did she learn that? I must have been watching it through the lens of my phone rather than with my big teary eyes the other day. We miss a lot like that. All this. The hours in my seat of a program that seems to never end and the million bobby pins. I’d do it again, for that feeling of watching my kids out there.
Tess has told me week after week that she is done with dance. That she wants to quit. WHY DID I EVEN SIGN HER UP, she whines. I remind her, sometimes at the same volume, that it is because she asked me to. I remind her that she told me assuredly at the recital last year that she wanted to do it again. I tell her each week as we struggle with tights and finding the other damn jazz shoe that this is what she signed up for and we are not quitting until after the show. Secretly I wish she would. It is not cheap and I’d love one less thing to chauffeur her to and from.
At dress rehearsal, I see that my daughter, usually short and focused, is put on the front and that now she is in the back. I see her with new skills but less confidence and timing than the other girls. I want her to do well of course, but I tell her as we put on these tights for maybe the last time what I want her to do today. I don’t tell her the usual before recital things. Smile, watch your line, have fun, break a leg. Instead, I talk too much. I tell her how proud it makes me watch her do brave things. How nervous I’d be in front of all those people, but that she has done it so many times before. I tell her to go out there and be brave. I tell her to stop looking around at the people around her. To just do her thing as best she can. I ask her what would happen if she wasn’t there? She looks at me funny. She might want to skip practice, but she never ever wants to skip recital day. I ask her again, what would it look like if you weren’t in your spot. She gets the question and tells me that there would be an empty hole. Yes, Tess. When we don’t show up, when we aren’t brave….that sometimes it leaves an empty space. A Tess shaped space. That they need her out there. That it won’t be nearly as good if she isn’t there. That that isn’t true just for dance recitals. I tell her it is true at school. I tell her it is true on the soccer field. I tell her it is the absolute most true right in our family.
I tell her that she is needed.
I tell her that she is important.
I tell her that she is brave.
And since I can’t tell her what I am really thinking - to go out there and kick some ass, I tell her what everyone else does.
I tell her to break a leg.