And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
I hope you dance
~ Lee Ann Womack, I Hope You Dance
Katie and I are waiting in line to get some dinner before the show. This week’s Mama Katie date night is a special treat. Just two days ago I serendipitously fell into two tickets to Taylor Swift, making for one extremely happy ten year-old.
The evening air is electric as fifty-two thousand people mull around the outdoor stadium, waiting for Taylor to take the stage. In the meantime, James Wesley is crooning his fabulous new single from behind us,
Five hundred channels and there ain’t much on tonight
But reality shows about some folks so-called lives
A pretty girl cries cause she don’t get a rose
But she’ll find love next year on her own show
And they call that real
Real, is the hand you hold for fifty-seven years
Real, is a band of gold trembling with fear
And it’s the first long tear down an old man’s face
Watching his angel slippin’ away
His heart so broke, it ain’t never gonna heal
I call that real
I put my arms around my girl and sway to the music. She looks up at me with a sheepish smile as I sing along with James. As he hits the chorus, the music builds and I hug my girl and swing her in time to the beat.
“Mama,” she asks, “why do you always dance in public?”
My girl is ten. She’s watched some friends decide that moms are insufferably uncool and should serve no purpose beyond doling out cash and food and driving them from one place to the next with as little interaction as possible.
She isn’t there yet. Hopefully there’s no ‘yet’. Shuddup, a mom can dream. For her, while I may not be exactly ‘cool’ anymore, I’m still silly and kinda entertaining and sometimes even funny. Mostly, she clings hard to the idea that Mama can still make things all right. And perhaps because her life at home is a little different than most, this time alone with her Mama still carries a premium above all else.
But she’s still ten. She’s OMG people are like LOOKING at us ten and MAMA, you’re totally embarrassing me ten and even though no one is actually looking at me I feel like every eye in the place is on me because, well, I’m ten.
And so the question.
“Mama, why do you always dance in public?”
I often stop to think before answering her questions. Gun-shy after our first spectacularly failed sex talk many years ago, I often question my initial response, think about possible consequences and measure my words carefully as I proceed. Not this time. I don’t hesitate for a second. This one I got.
“Baby, I dance because I choose joy. I choose to live in each and every moment that I can and I choose to FEEL it – whatever it may be in that moment. If I’m moved to dance I let myself dance. Because I would choose joy every single time over worrying about what other people may be thinking.”
She shrugs and slips an arm around my waist.
We turn and look around the stadium together. It’s still light out, but the air is changing. It will soon be twilight, I tell her – that magical time when the world looks and feels enchanted.
I put my arm around her shoulder and whisper in her ear, “besides, nobody’s really looking anyway.”
She looks around and decides I’m not lying. She smiles at me and sways a little hip into mine. James ramps it up just in time.
Real, like too much rain falling from the sky
Real, like the drought that came around here last July
It’s the damn old weevils and the market and the weeds
The prayer they prayed when they planted the seeds
And the chance they take to bring us our next meal
I call that real
Later in the evening, right in the middle of the concert, my girl will begin to cry. She’ll ask if we can sit down. She’ll crawl into my lap and cling to me for comfort, burying her head in my chest. “Mama,” she’ll finally say, “things have just been so hard lately. I just wish they didn’t have to be so hard.”
And I will say, “I know, baby, I know. I wish I could make it easier.”
She’ll sniffle into my shirt.
I will say, “Ya know what, sweet girl? That’s why we dance.”
She will look confused.
“Honey,” I will tell her, “sometimes life isn’t easy. It doesn’t always work the way we want it to. Things will get better; I promise. But so too, it’ll be rough sometimes. Life works like that – in cycles.”
She nods. At ten, she already knows so much more than she should about life’s ups and downs.
“So when there are moments of joy, we take them. Remember how I said that we have to allow ourselves to feel them?”
She nods into my chest.
I pick up her chin and wipe the tears from her beautiful face.
“We dance, baby, because those moments make these just a little easier.”
She smiles at me. And in the chair, holding onto each other, we sway to the music.