As I watch my daughter dance barefoot around the living room my heart rate quickens and soon all the dreams of her future flashed within my mind. Her last day of High School when I kiss her forehead and shed a tear. If she chooses college that too will be another educational milestone skyrocketing her further into the sky. From there, will she wed? Will she become a mother? The possibilities, for both of my children, are tremendously unlimited.
Layla, my firstborn daughter, has a tender nature. The greatest goal she has in life is to love everyone she can possibly wrangle into a friendship. Eager, inquisitive – she is the person taking initiative, walking up to a stranger bravely and, with a smile, she coerces even the shyest of playmates into friendship.
Thinking about her, watching her move freely atop the cool tile floor, intentionally my mind drifted back into reality so that I could, once more with full intent, watch my sweet blue-eyed Lebanese American princess get her groove on.
Time stubbornly marches forward; babies grow, learn to walk and speak and dance, and soon they fly into the world. I am hesitatingly enamored with the notion that I will get to watch my babies grow into beautiful, intelligent young women… But slowly, time, can we make a deal?
Let her stay young. Fresh-faced, innocent. Layla to dance truly like it does not matter who is watching. Jemma, stark-raving naked running like a kitty-cat in the back yard… Their precious livelihood is a marvel to me, and lately, my heart has been quietly observing and taking in this moment. Right now. When she is five and baby sister is just two-and-a-half.
I can remember my childhood with an accuracy that at times shocks even my dad. Details of interpersonal relationships have always held specific importance to me: The way my mom held my hand while we were driving, or the way my dad would always stick out that one long finger just to jab me in the side because he knew it always made me buckle (he STILL does it to this day, and I STILL always collapse onto the floor merely to get away from that stinking tickle finger!) Everything my parents did, whether they knew I was looking or not, surely made an impact on their children. We all have traits we can say mirror our parents’ exactly, so obviously some sort of psychological mechanism occurs that make us learn from our parental examples.
What occurred to me is that the memories I have from even early on, well, my children are at THAT age – when their memories develop and they start to form an opinion about the ways of the world. Everything I do, say, feel, and teach them (inadvertently or intentionally) matters TREMENDOUSLY.
I thought about that as she was dancing and I wondered, has she watched me dance? Does she see me move carefree and gracefully across the floor on my tippy-toes? Does she see in me the things that teach her what a lady should do, and is my example what she really needs? Mothers want to influence their daughters especially – to have tenderness, faith, compassion, love, grace, patience, virtue, honesty, and to pursue one’s passions… At least, these are the goals I have set for myself – but am I doing it right?
Right before I began recording her dance, she sat beside me and told me that dancing makes her heart feel happy. That her feet can even get tired but her spirit tells her she has to dance. It makes her feel alive, she said, and in her exact words, “I am so into this right now”. I about cried listening to her freely tell me what it felt like – the self-awareness and understanding of her feelings in that moment astounds me – and then she proceeded to show me, with her moves, exactly how those feelings translate into rhythm. It was… breathtaking, really, the whole sequence from emotional insights to the final tip-toed swirl.
You see, the thing is, time moves too fast – she will grow before I know it, and soon her little sister will be one who is five. The thing is, I am not the world’s best mom, and she will watch me make mistakes, but hopefully I will model forgiveness, grace, and unconditional love so perhaps they learn that from me, too. The thing is… This world is going to push my children to grow up.
From the media, to “drama” in the primary classroom between all the five-year-old girls, to the way I run my household. From the signs and billboards she soaks in that dot along the freeway, to the subtle sexually suggestive or otherwise negative advertising she will catch now and then on television. She will be force-fed propaganda and idealisms that strive to make her believe in accordance with mainstream trends in a world where freedoms are no longer free. She will be pressured to look a certain way; perfect hair, perfect teeth… Or else if she doesn’t, society will inform her both subtly and obviously that she is not good enough because her physical form is not an objectified, unrealistic standard.
Today, my big five-year-old daughter danced in the living room. Without a care in the world.
A thousand moments flashed before my eyes, but then I remembered that I, too, can live like a free, purposeful child whose radiance shines from within. Instead of dread the changes ahead, let me as her mother simply do my part to be present for her. To kiss wa-wa’s, explain about why people love each other, talk about God and the stars and why the grass is green, read bedtime stories and write short stories with brave characters named Layla and Jemma. I am the master fort carpenter, the bird-feeder filler as they eagerly await the chance to hand me up handfuls of birdseed. I am the chopper of their fruit plate, the scooper of ice-cream, the reluctant insisting that they eat their broccoli. That is my job. To be HERE. Now. Because soon she won’t be my dancing blue-eyed princess anymore. And her little sister will not be far behind…
I say, let them dance. Encourage the dancing. And when they do, stop, because in that moment, nothing else but her there, twirling with that smile that beckons, “just watch me one more minute, Mama,” will be the most important thing in the world to you.