Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Shine in Use

My daughter mid-jump at the dance recital

You remember that I'm not a girly girl, right?  Well, my baby girl just finished her first year of dance on Saturday.  In true form, I stayed pretty clueless about everything as the year went on--the costumes, the pictures, the recital.  Dance is definitely in the details, and boy are there a ton!  My biggest flop was on picture day.  I put her ribbons on in the wrong places.  She came to dance with the sash ribbon around her neck and no sash!  Then I put the makeup on her as recommended, and I decided that I didn't like it and rubbed it all off.  Yes I did.  It felt a little "Toddlers and Tiaras" to me.  And I failed to practice her song with her until two weeks before the recital.  This turned out to be the beginning of a very special parenting moment for me.     

It started when I filmed her class as they practiced their dance for the recital.  I sat down to watch their practice and realized how many of the moves my daughter was doing wrong.  In particular, she loved the bourree turns--a little too much.  She'd twirl three times around when she was supposed to twirl once, and she really messed up the last one in the routine.  It was tricky.  Hands were to be on hips and not over the head, and they had to turn once to the right and then reverse the turn to the left.  A hard concept for a three year old!  But she was cute with all of her mishaps, and three year olds were expected to mess up!  I faced the first of many parenting dilemmas about whether or not I should intervene. 

Well, the perfectionist in me won out, and I proceeded to learn the dance myself to help her at home.  We did plies and bourree turns.  We jumped in and jumped out.  We worked at it like someone who wants to get better does.  She grew more confident, but the double bourree turn at the end still gave her trouble.  We practiced it for Daddy, me guiding her little body while we sang the lines of the song: "Sing along!  If you cannot sing them hum along!"  Recital day loomed.

At the dress rehearsal, the huge Snow White backdrop distracted her too much, and she spent most of the time turning around to see it and pointing it out to the girls around her.  "Momma wants to see you do your dance!" I reasoned, trying to gently get her to realize that she should do her best.  Saturday came, and we found our seats.  We were near the back as rookies often are, not realizing how early the good seats get taken. 

I sat nervously counting the dances before hers and fiddling with my ID bracelet that would allow me to retrieve the right girl at the end of the recital.  I thought of her standing backstage with her class.  I wondered what she was thinking about.  I silently encouraged her and wished she could hear me.  And then, she was on stage.  Her tiny arms and feet were moving.  Her sweet purple dress was swaying.  Her curls were bouncing.  She was beautiful.  My eyes were tear-glazed, and my heart was racing.  She hit move after move as I mentally danced along with her.  I waited with anticipation for the double bourree turn at the end, and then there it was.  She had done it perfectly.

How many parents have watched their daughters dance?  How many have had eyes shine with joy just as mine did?  Too many to count.  But on Saturday, I experienced it for the first time.  And I loved it and I love her.

I am reminded of a favorite quote of mine by Alfred Lord Tennyson:

How dull it is to pause, to make an end.
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!

This quote speaks to me about about really living your life to the fullest--whether you are dancing or running or parenting.  Unburnished metals are not made shiny and smooth by friction.  I thought about my little girl's ballet shoes and my running shoes and how they were worn out by all of our wear.  And I read the rest of his quote, a part I had never seen before:

As tho' to breathe were life!
As though to breathe were life?  How sad!  To think that just breathing was enough.  To not challenge yourself.  To not wear out your shoes!  To not shine in use.  His quote serves as a reminder of the brevity of my life.  I want to live it fully.  And I challenge you to live fully too.

Well worn shoes


  1. Katie, this is a beautiful post! Wow! I got all teary-eyed just reading it. What a wonderful mom you are!! And writer too. You describe everything so perfectly, I can picture every moment!

    I'm not a mom yet, but I look forward to these moments. I attend all of Caroline's recitals and I get the teary-eyed, heart racing feeling you described. Every single time.

  2. Oh Katie....what a great post. You are teaching your kids such valuable lessons...but most importantly you are making memories with them that will last a lifetime. (I think about your post about Cotton Row, your mom making you practice and you complaining-and look at you now!) What a great mother you are!!! I love the quote. You are so very inspiring. :D