I Wish You Could See Her Dance

Dear Will:

I wish you could see her dance.

My daughter is a supremely gifted ballerina. Not that I know the first thing about dancing, you understand. But people who know the first and second and fifty-seventh things about dancing have told us repeatedly that she’s got “it” (whatever “it” is). And at this point, I’ve sat through enough dance performances that I’m starting to see what they’re talking about. In a room full of talented ballerinas, Bryn still manages to stand out—not in a flashy, hey-look-at-me sort of way, but rather with an understated elegance. Your eye is drawn to her—even if you’re not the dad.

I would not have chosen this path for my daughter, believe me. For starters, ballet is extremely expensive (who knew?). And since she is at the studio six days a week (20 to 30 hours!), it is a major burden on the family. In fact, as I’m writing this I’m sitting in the conference room at the Maple Conservatory of Dance waiting (yet again) to take my daughter home. If she had chosen instead to pursue, say, biochemistry, I would just have to see that she got to and from school and got her homework done. And maybe if she joined the Chemistry Club (or whatever it is that aspiring biochemists join in high school) it might have cost me 25 bucks. Piece o’ cake.

But here’s the thing: She loves it. LOVES it. She gladly endures the sweat and the pain and the hard work because she isn’t fully herself until she puts on her pointe shoes and starts to move. That’s when she becomes centered, sentient, pulsing with life. In fact, she has been dancing for so long now (since she was four or five?) that her identity is inextricably linked to ballet. When I introduce myself to someone at 15, I might have said, “I’m Peter, and I like to play basketball.” Bryn never says it that way. It’s not “I like to dance,” but rather, “I’m Bryn, and I’m a dancer.”

It bears repeating, however: Bryn is 15. Her journey of life is underway, but relatively speaking she’s barely left the driveway. So much of her future remains to be determined, so many choices of great significance remain to be made. But because of her avocation, she’s already feeling the pressure to know for sure what she should do. I’m told it’s not uncommon for dancers to join professional companies at 16 or 17 years of age. (“Over my dead body,” says the dad.) And since she’s talented, she feels that she should start moving in that direction—or at least that her colleagues in the dance world expect her to. That pressure doesn’t come from her parents, I assure you, nor from her teachers; but maybe from well-meaning strangers and interested friends who ask her, repeatedly, what her future plans are. And that pressure is intense. Of course I’ve told her not to worry about it, told her that at 15 the biggest decision you should have to make is whether to order the burrito or the fish tacos. But giving her that good advice does not come close to making it so.

Later tonight, after her 9:30 dinner (imagine!) and an hour or more of homework, she will curl around her scriptures as she does each night. I can only hope that she turns then to the fourth chapter of Mark where she will read of the time when Jesus’ disciples were troubled themselves by a raging storm. They did as she might, and called to Him who calmed the wind and waves with simple words: “Peace, be still.” May He likewise bring peace to her troubled soul.

As I wait here for her to come off pointe, to return to earth and settle—exhausted—beside me in the car, I tilt my head to see her through the window slats. I look at her there, floating weightless across the floor, light as a distant melody, absorbed in the flow and emotion of the moment. One small strand of hair has freed itself from her tight, tight bun. It dances gently across her brow, moving effortlessly to music one can only imagine.

PW

Let’s Start with the Obvious

Dear Will:

So the ol’ 401(k) statement arrives in the mail and I think to myself: “Don’t do it.” I hold it there, knowing that what lies within is the grimmest of grim news, a financial plunge of historic proportions in what has generously been called our “portfolio.”

Knowing better,  I open it anyway . . . and it’s horrifying. Stupefyingly so. But as is so often the case, stupefaction leads to a moment of clarity and self-awareness not seen since I acknowledged in the 10th grade that I would always be a lousy golfer. In this golden moment, it occurs to me that I never  had enough in the 401(k) plan to retire anyway. Not even close. Wouldn’t have survived the first winter without begging lumps of coal from the local soup kitchen. So what if that super secure Lehman Brothers bond hadn’t exactly paid off? In times like these, there is comfort in incompetence.

Which sort of begs a question (for our present purposes, anyway): What other “blessings” do we have to be grateful for? Let’s start with the obvious:

Dana took Bryn to see Twilight—while Seth and Peter stayed home and watched the ballgame. If that’s not a blessing, what is?

Luke moved into the dorms at UCLA. He gets to sleep in every day, treat every meal like a buffet, come and go as he pleases, all without the daily scrutiny of his overbearing parents. What could be better?

Luke moved into the dorms at UCLA. More time to focus our daily scrutiny and overbearing parental instincts on making Bryn and Seth miserable instead! What could be better?

What could be better? How about family vacations?

Who doesn’t love a scraped-up minivan with a busted air conditioner?  Well, we don’t, for example. But when you have to make twice daily round-trips to the ballet studio, a buck eighty-seven for gas is pretty nice. You know, considering.

Rat traps. (Don’t ask.)

Almost forgot: Luke moved into the dorms at UCLA. Now Seth doesn’t have to share a room and instead can devote precious real estate to the 140-or-so stuffed animals with which he shares his bed. Which doesn’t explain why he continues to squeeze his scrawny nine-year-old frame into the narrow patch not covered by his velveteen menagerie, but at least he now has options.

Then there’s the President-elect. Seems like we ought to say something about him since he got Dana to work the phones and Bryn to wear his shirts and even Seth to stick stuff on his bedroom wall. Luke even worked the polls this year (twice, though he hastens to point out that it was a non-partisan endeavor). Now if we could just get that annoying bumper sticker off of the scraped-up minivan, Peter would be happy too.

There’s other stuff as well. Like a job, for instance. In this environment, that’s a pretty great thing. Food on the table, even if it isn’t served buffet-style as in the dorms. Oh, and Jason Mraz (Bryn wants him in here too). Teachers. Coaches. Friends. Microwave ovens (when you get home from ballet every night at nine, that’s pretty important). Yoga. Belts. Laptops. iPods (unless you put them through the washer). Chocolate (dark especially). Books. Rain (yeah, right). Sports. The Maple Conservatory of Dance. And of course family. Dysfunctional though it may be, it’s the most precious thing of all. You know, considering.

PW