fourth

No one would ever mistake me for a dance mom.  Most men these days can do a better bun than me and I can’t tell the difference between a leotard and a swimsuit. Tess has been in dance for over four years now and I’d still rather vacuum than help her put on tights (which is saying ALOT). Her debut was at a Junior League Christmas shopping event where they had squeezed a stage in the corner and invited local dance studios to perform while women shopped for all things Santa and rhinestone. Tess was barely out of pull ups. I didn’t want to start her that young, but….if she heard music ….she danced.  In the aisle at the grocery store. In restaurants, she would “perform” while waiters dodged her dancing between tables. Occasionally she even got applause. The check-out clerks at Target would tell me, the table next to us eating would tell me and even my parents told me, “Get that girl in dance”. So finally I bought the tiniest of ballet slippers and the most annoying tap shoes and signed her up. Her class only had a few members, because only an insane person would put a three-year-old in dance.  While lining up for her Christmas debut I learned that one girl in her class was sick, and the other had a death in the family. That was it. Her class had three members and quickly her trio had fallen to a solo act. I was so nervous for her. I wondered what she would do when she walked out on the now seemingly huge stage. Alone. In front of all these people and the music started. My plan was this,  If she panicked or froze I’d climb up there with her and go through the motions. If any of you have seen me dance -- you know that this would be entertaining for all, but not for the right reasons.  Instead my girl got up there. Looked wide eyed and nervously into the crowd -- and nailed it.  I had made my way to the front, ready to rush the stage if necessary and instead I ended up weeping like the three year old.
Tess is older now. She almost has enough hair for a bun, but I think this is her last season to dance (at least according to her). I don’t weep at recitals anymore (except maybe because they are soooooo long), but today as I walked out of her elementary school I felt the same feeling. My heart in my stomach. Love and pride bursting me wide open.  Her school does an oratorical contest at the end of the year. Each year a single student is chosen from each class to compete. In front of the whole entire school, a bunch of parents who always get the good seats because they aren’t rushing from the middle of third period, and the most scary --- a panel of serious looking judges.  For the last year I have found my seat in the back of the cafeteria, once for Owen and the last two years for Tess. My son is quiet and shy and so I was surprised that he was chosen. I asked him to practice and he wouldn’t even read his poem to me, but he got on the stage and said it in front of hundreds of people. Again my heart swelled and nearly broke me open. He took last place, but it is one of my favorite trophies. Last year Tess was so tiny, only a kindergartener and I wasn’t sure if she would crack. She shook a little and rushed her poem, but the thought of grown up me speaking in front of that many people makes my knees wobble. Today she was even better, a little quiet but more confident. She took 3rd place, which sounds impressive - but the truth is that is next to last. Still I felt that same feeling as I walked back to my car. It felt just like every time my son stood at bat and I prayed he didn’t strike out. Every time they spoke at a school play. How I feel everytime my son runs across a finish line in a race, especially now that I can’t run with him. How I felt when he said a speech in a library full of parents as Ross Perot. He kept going even when his fake ear started to fall off. When their teachers have read kind words about my students at awards breakfasts where few are chosen. Those words have always meant more than any certificate or trophy.
They are older, they have changed so much and so quickly, but my heart feels the exact same. Like part of it is walking around on the outside of my chest. (like the Elizabeth Stone quote).

 It is awards season at the schools my children attend and my own. I will rush over between classes. Hug them and tell them I am proud of them. I will take a picture of them with their certificate. But the truth is my heart doesn’t feel the same rush. It doesn’t want to bust as each kid, mine included, receives a certificate. Getting an award, just like everyone else, doesn’t quite mean the same thing. My heart wouldn’t have felt any less proud if my kids had taken home 1st place trophies instead of 3rd or 4th. I realized that I am most proud of my kids when they do hard scary things. Things that require work, kindness or knocking knees.  When they have the opportunity to fail. When they are brave, despite a panel of judges or roomful of peers or suddenly find themselves alone. In ballet slippers, soccer cleats or church shoes. Rarely do kids get awards for being brave. These days most awards are handed out for performance or participation. Sometimes the best kind of trophies or certificates look more like 4th place than 1st place.

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