Monday, May 14, 2012

Another Kind of Mother's Day

I've been doing some hyper-mothering.

Lily decided she wanted to try out for the school talent show. I totally support her, of course. Get that girl on the super highway to self-expression. Totally down. Problem is, Lily doesn't have a particular talent. Except one. She's an amazing pole dancer.

Let me explain.

Our basement, when we bought the house, was unfinished. The divorced guy owner had strung a heavy bag and placed a sad metal desk in the corner, but it was dungeon-y. Now though, it's kind of cool. It's just a big carpeted space in which the laundry gets made and Lily and Lou dance around. The entire center weight of the house balances on a pole in the middle of the room.

When the kids were little, I wrapped the pole in Styrofoam pipe insulation and wrapped that in hot pink duct tape. I don't know what I was thinking. Only that pink duct tape was a vivid, visible color, and that I didn't want them to drive their ride-ons head first into the unyeilding steel. It was a good call. They did a lot of running into, and around, that pole.

The other thing my kids do in that basement, aside from bashing into the pole, is dancing. They dance a lot. It wasn't long before they both could do tricks off the pole. Lou could hang upside down by his legs, lily could run at it and swing around it, legs in the air.

Dear God.

I don't want to lead you astray. This post does not end with Lily pole dancing in the fourth grade talent show, which would be, in a way, awesome.

It does end up with me in the basement, digging into a very flabby grab bag of low-hanging-fruit modern dance moves and an Adele song. Some things are just destiny.

Lily got reeled into the talent show milieu by her classmate, who was going to choreograph a number for herself and five classmates, Lily being one.

But, in the first of the three mandatory talent show meetings, the other four kids hadn't shown up. We managed to get there ourselves only because Lily said the meeting was in half an hour, I said fuck, and we got in the car.

We were told in the mandatory meeting that there would be three meetings, this was the first, the next would be dress-rehearsal and the last would be the show itself. If you didn't do it by the letter, you'd be out. No offense, they said, but there was just too much to organize to have people coming and going. You were in for the minimum requirements, or you were out. A lot of people would audition, you might get chosen, you might not. They were trying to make a coherent show, try not to be heartbroken if you didn't get in, there might just be too many people. Fine. No offense taken.

So the two girls pow-wowed and decided to go ahead with a duet. Seemed the other girl had some pre-choreographed "routine" that she'd learned in dance class, or gymnastics, or some such. Okee fine.

We filled out the form with exact details of the performance, per the instructions.  Exact costumes. Exact music. I have no idea, but this other girl does, and Lily is taking her cues from her.

Well, it turns out this routine she knows is from hours spent in front of some Wii dance game where you mimic the moves of a silhouetted fly-girl type, to popular tunes.  So Lily diligently looks it up on YouTube and spends the afternoon trying to mimic a video game. It's all very low-rent and J Lo.
 J Low Rent.

The duet partner girl tells Lily, the day the forms are due, that she's going solo. Screws Lily right out of her first gig. Bummer. But Lily punts. She says, OK, you're going solo, so am I.

But I'm thinking, oh God NO, no. NO.

Lily has never taken a dance class. She once took a six-pack of gymnastics lessons. She's physical and lovely, but she's not totally graceful. Her instrument, shall we say, is untuned. What she does do is dance with great feeling, around our basement, to Adele songs and Katie Perry songs, while totally digging Taylor Swift.  She's ten, it's her duty.

But now she's out on the talent show iceberg. With very little experience. Completely unprotected.
It's a mother's nightmare. You can just hear the gears on that roller coaster car clanking and straining against gravity as it goes up, and you know that what's on the other side is just speed, terror and downward momentum. You pray to a God in whom you do not believe. Please God, let there also be a thrilling joy ride, a hair straight up, shriek of pure adrenaline to counter the fear. Because you are either a person who loves roller-coasters, or you're the person who throws up once and never rides again.

She wants this, she insists. She wants to go for it. And who am I to stop her? It is my job to release this beautiful person into the world and risk letting her soul be crushed by it. That is what parents must do. It's what we humans must do, and I don't know if I can take it.

So there's my girl who suddenly has to learn to perform this Wii game, the moves of which probably every girl in the world who has a Wii will recognize, but we don't, because we don't have a Wii. It's like some terrible nightmare.

So I offer the only solution I can think of, which is, let's bag this awful idea, and come up with our own dance, to a song she likes, that moves her, and hope she can bring it off with originality and earnest moxie.

We're going to leave it all out there, god save the queen.

Now is the moment in this piece where I must admit to having danced some in my youth. It's embarrassing to admit, because I was never a great dancer and there exists video with which I might one day be bribed, were it to fall into the wrong hands.  Be that as it may,  I fucking loved to dance. I danced a bit in high school, fruity liberal-arts dance, in bare feet. And I danced some more in college. More of same. Never exceptionally, but with vigor and some humor. I'm only telling you this so that you'll understand. When Vild makes horrible fun of me for this, you'll know what it's all about.

Lily chooses her song. It's Adele's, Turning Tables. After hearing this song in every store, every day, for eight months, I must now hear it 147 more times in my damp basement. But, so be it.

I teach Lily how to count in 8's. How to map out dance moves in sets. I give her the basic concepts of the body in space, advise her to use all of it, high and low, fast and slow. I yell things like, "dance it baby, it's not cheerleading" over the music. I say stage mom things like, "don't fuss with your hair while you're doing it, for heaven's sake".  I get my rickety, joint cracking, skeleton on the floor, like some old diva with a cane --five, six, seven, eight! It begins to take shape. I give her steps, many of which she uses, several of which she does not. We try things and they are terrible and we make fun of ourselves and laugh. I show her a shadow of a person she has never met. A younger person, who danced. She is more impressed than she aught to be, and I am grateful for it. We play the Adele song over and over and over again. We have two weeks to choreograph this bitch, for Lily to memorize the moves, to get the song on disc, to get a costume, for her to try out. But we lose a few days in there to life in it's larger form, so we are left with four nights, two hours each, in which to make it happen.

Finally, she's got what she's got, the audition is the next day, hell or high water.

Next day, I await her return. I listen for the bus. She comes in sobbing, rushes into my arms. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. The worst has happened. She'd gotten nervous and forgotten big parts. I'd forgotten about the rule that insisted she wear socks, no bare feet. So she had to do the thing, not on the carpet of our basement but on the shiny gym floor in slippery feet. It's the worst. The humiliation is complete. She knows she did not get in, and worse, she's embarrassed.  The judges looked at her with anger and disappointment, she says. Are you sure? She's sure. I hold her close. She sobs.  I tell her stories of my own humiliation and disappointment. Rejected only last month by all five of the writer's residency programs to which I applied. And so many others. About the risks and rewards of being a person who puts herself out there, chest first. Reward in the big picture, maybe, though often preceded by a series of painful heartbreaks. She cries it all out, has a snack, then passes out on her bed with exhaustion.

By the time her dad gets home, she no longer wants to talk about it. She accepts a few more hugs and goes to bed for real.

Part of me is relieved. It pains me to admit it. She gave it a try, it didn't work out, no real harm done. Lessons were learned, fun was had.  She did not end up soaked in pigs blood, lighting the gym on fire with her rage and humiliation. That's a good ending, in my book.

Until today, when she bounds into the house with her talent show acceptance letter. Holy shit! She made the cut, slippery socks and all.

We jump for joy and hold each other tight and I can hear the faint sound of the roller coaster chain, hoisting us up together, high into the sky.    


  1. Oh my god so good it hurts.

    Tonight I'm having a dinner party with some friends. The last time they came for dinner their three year old wanted us to do some contact improvisation so we danced like lunatics for a while and it was good and somehow I ended up teaching them my 8th grade talent show routine. which I still remember. But that hoisting of the rollercoaster...I'd forgotten that part til just now. So good. Please video tape it!! x n

  2. Wow So much abouT this one is riveting and beautiful

  3. Oh, how I love Lily! Oh, how I love you! You were actually quite a good dancer in your day... But I think writing may be your talent.

  4. Wait. You write like THIS, and you got rejected by five different writers' residency programs? What were you applying for? Advanced Techniques in Technical Manual Composition? Did that damned (literally) Salman Rushdie swoop in and steal the last opening? (Again?) As far as I'm concerned, you don't have to apply to be a resident. You're already an occupant.

    1. Todd,
      Thank you. That's a super nice thing to say.

  5. Yes to what Todd said. Occupy it , Baby!

  6. Yay Lily! Yay you! And a big yay for getting your dance on together. Please please please video tape this for me. I also spent many a years dancing in that basement in awe of Lily's skills around th pole, and now id love to see her skills on the stage!

  7. LOVE. Full Stop.
    You. Lily. Life.

  8. Hooray for Lily! Kudos to Mom who, by the way, doesn't need no freakin' writing program to teach her how to write. Though I get the fantasy part about a sylvan retreat and a place to do it in.

  9. wow, good to come back to this. way to go lily. i want video. now. maybe of you and lily in the basement. sorry about the writers residency programs, that sucks. you are an amazing writer. miss you! heather

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