The Recital

"Will you fix my sleeves?" she says. It's Sunday morning and I'm still kind of half sleeping and Fable is fully dressed at the side of the bed with her leotard over her tights over the underwear that hangs out the sides of her velvet one-piece. I don't bother tucking it in because she's four and it doesn't matter. And then I take pause, relishing in this moment of quiet innocence, trying to recall the way it felt to be her age, when I was too little to care about such things. Or rather, to know I should.
So much of innocence is that lack of awareness. Of what people are saying and what they're doing and how they judge. The need to protect from outside influences is as innate as our desire to return to simpler times. When we were more like them, our children. When we could hold cameras up to our faces, lens cap still attached, and see the world, alive and vibrant, without ever really seeing anything.

Because we saw it all, you know?

They see it all.

And there was a time, like them, when we didn't think twice about how our bodies looked in leotards. When all that mattered were the sequins. Our only issues, twisted sleeves. 

"It's not working." Fable frowns. "Something's wrong with the shoulder part."

So I tell her relax, that I will help you please calm down.

"There," I say, untwisting her sleeve. She smiles. 

"Thanks, Mama. Can I do my makeup now?" 

"Shouldn't we have breakfast first?"

(Of course not.)

She does her own makeup because she wants to do it herself. Because "I know exactly how to do it, mommy."
She grabs the pinkest lipstick she can find and spends ten minutes applying it in slow motion.

She's right. She does know exactly how to do it. 
She is careful and excited and every so often turns around to smile at me and jump up and down. 

"I told you I could do it myself," she says and then she smears blush all over her cheeks and eyeshadow  under her eyes and I'm kind of relieved that it's everywhere - that it's a little bit of a mess.

Because she's four and it doesn't matter. 

When we arrive at the theatre, all of the children are in costume and I tell Hal that costumes haven't changed in twenty-five years. That I wore a costume just like that when I was little and my brother wore those same suspenders when he danced to 2 Legit 2 Quit - right before he quit dance to play baseball. 
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Hal took dance class, too when he was young. He took ballet with a class full of girls - a class he loved and looked forward to until his friends found out and made fun of him. He quit the next day and never danced again.

My brother stopped for similar reasons. They all did. And I watch the little boys on stage recognizing that at some point they just stop dancing... that the girls age, get curvier and more confident, dance on chairs, flip their bodies through the air, but there are no boys over five on stage. 

And I think of Hal and how he "never lived that one down" and how unfortunate it is that we don't acknowledge #boysunstoppable the same way we do girls

No boy should stop doing what he loves because of anxiety about how it looks to everyone else. 

And yet... 

I watch Hal in the darkness with Archer next to him and all of the brothers and fathers in the audience in the same way I do the mothers and sisters. What were they doing before they were aware?
My husband danced. 

My brother danced. 

And then they stopped. 

One day my underwear was showing.

One day I put on my recital costume and noticed I had hips. And a chest that was no longer totally flat and legs that were suddenly  hairy and my eyebrows were too furry and I couldn't wear underwear under my leotard anymore because it showed and this is not fun anymore, I feel stupid. I don't want to be seen.

And then I stopped. 
I was done with dance. 
Age changes us. Age puts us in the audience when we wish we were on stage. Not because we want to be seen but because we miss dancing.

There was a time when I was so happy up there and I watch Fable's silhouette tiptoe across the stage and I remember how it felt to stand in the back and wait my turn - the rush of the darkness that seemed to stretch out in front of me like the universe as we whispered amongst ourselves and how the music was as loud as I'd ever heard it. One two and you're on! Kick ball change! Kick ball change. 


When the lights go up, Fable is smiling. The music swells and she puts her arms in the air, forgets some of the moves but it doesn't matter...

She dances somewhat out of sync and doesn't care. She twirls and waves, closes her eyes and drags her feet across the stage.

Hal and I are laughing and in the audience because we can't believe how big she is and how small she is and how confident and proud and stoic... She smiles, lips the words to the song... I watch them bloom for me and for you, and I think to myself...

She's not dancing for anyone but Fable. 
And nothing, not even a twisted sleeve, can stop her.
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