One Ballet Class

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Since losing my mom I've shared so many of these thoughts about having a child of my own someday. This is Teresa's second post for the Life is Sweet project. You can read her other post here

I’m at my 3 yr old goddaughters ballet class. I put her in it, because she is a classic girl and her mother is not. Piper Jean loves pink and rubbing noses, doesn’t care for getting dirty. Her mother is a dreadlocked hippy with an older daughter that loves bugs and quiet, and sometimes she doesn’t know what to do with this feminine little social butterfly. She wants to play princess, wear flouncy dresses and paint nails. I like to think she gets it from me.

So I put her in the very class I started at when I was 3, at the Holly Hughes Academy for young girls. And every Thursday, just like when I did, she marches in her little pink tights and soft salmon shoes, ready for dance. She sports a tiny bun made of her silk spun hair that never stays in, pushed off her little face still small enough to fit in my hands with a tender headband to catch the unruly wispy baby hairs on my little lady’s face.

Thursday is our day; I pick her up an hour early. She tells me stories I don’t always understand; chattering on inanely, and I listen intently as though she is telling me the cure for cancer. We go for a milk and a snack, and as always, I tell her about staying healthy and making good choices about what we eat.  Already at 3, she doesn’t care for fast food and steals my zucchini off my plate when we have dinner. She gets that from me too, I suppose, she is the only health conscious 3 year old I know. Her first swear word was when we drove past a McDonalds and she said ‘That shit will kill you’, and I realized my little girl was sponging off my word. I have no children of my own, but she is the closest thing I have to mine. When she was a baby, her poor mother was 21, with a demanding toddler, a screaming newborn and an absent boyfriend. I took one look at her raspberry lips, her little blue eyes, and her little clenched fist and I was hooked.  The first time I met Piper, she glanced around the room unimpressed, as though she perhaps took a wrong turn somewhere out of the womb. And I remember thinking, ‘okay, I get that. Maybe we can get along’. This is the baby girl I cradled into my chest for months, giving her mother my gift of martyrdom, as though my presence would give her a break from the demands of motherhood, but in reality it was entirely selfish: I was falling in love with this little girl. And in her fussiest of times, when no one else would do, I could always still soothe her. She would scream and wail for anyone else, but I seemed to have the right concave of chest, the perfect sink in my collarbone. She would collapse into me as though it was me she was screaming for, as though the jut of my chin resting against her temple was the very thing she needed to sleep. And we grew together, that baby girl and I, just like that.  I held her hand while we walked and stumbled around parks and bumped heads on coffee tables, and she held my hand as we stumbled through uncharted territory for me: Loving a child. Because when your mother dies when you’re 7, this ends up being an issue for you. Although I have always been the mother hen among my group of friends, having a child scares the bejesus out of me.  It brings up all sorts of insecurities with me: What if I’m not good at it, what if you need to see that sort of thing in your own life to be able to mother another? What if I’m just too selfish of a person for that now? My life is a constant self-indulgence of doing what I want, when I want, albeit a very fulfilling one at that. But what if I’ve filled myself up so much there’s no room for a child? And the very scariest question of all: What if I have a child, and am an amazing mother, what if I love her perfectly and sweetly, and then I die and leave her too? I can’t even imagine. But then here, this little blond princess broke into me, and showed me that there is room, especially for little ballerinas.

And it is here, on the bench where I wait for her to finish learning plies’ and spins, with the other moms, that somehow, 20 years after mine left that I get closer to my mother. My memories of my mother are unfortunately, not all pleasant, and the others; sparse. She was sick for years, and although I have a couple happy memories, there isn’t really any day to day dealings I remember of her, other than sitting in a cafeteria, being minded my a nurse that fed me oatmeal cookies while we waiting for her chemo to be over.  But today I spy a young mother with her little girl, waiting for a sibling to finish class. And they have the rhythm that only a mother and daughter can have. She knows which way to lay into her, and her mother knows the exact second that she will begin crying, and has an arsenal of fail safe jokes to make her smile. She tickles her, kisses her in places that only mothers kiss their children: the back of the ears, palms of germy hands; places too intimate for others. Her daughter giggles with glee in the way that only small children can when they are around someone they know will always think they are funny. And it takes everything I can do to not cry. All I can think is ‘My mother must have done this with me’.  Surely there are a million instances where my mother tenderly showed me she loved me, surely only she knew the right song to sing to me.  I don’t think about my parents as often as I probably should, but in moments like these, I yearn for her in ways I can never explain unless you too, are a little girl that has lost her mother. People think that when you lose someone and the white-hot surge of loss is gone that so is the longing, but it’s not. It happens here, in random moments, where you are watching a little girl with her mother that you’re quite sure that if you move one inch to the left your heart will explode in your chest right there from sadness. There are no purer, sadder moments in my life than where I stop and think ‘I miss my mother’. So where does that leave me? Will I always be too terrified to finally have a child of my own? I mean, Piper is not even mine, and the natural instincts I feel for her are intense; even the thought of anyone ever hurting her makes my blood boil. How can I ever risk being completely cut open like that? Will I die without leaving any real legacy behind? I don’t believe you have to have children to be a woman, plenty of people are fine without them, and I could very well be one of them; but did I really want there to not be a person out there who came from me? Who never has my genes, my eyes, my wit? Will there ever be anyone out there who says they ‘get that’ from me?

Piper Jean comes out of class just in time to break my pity party before the tears come.  Flying out of class would be more appropriate here actually, Piper does everything the same, whether it’s exiting a room or entering a heart: Headfirst, at top speed. She prattles on about the move she learned today, not pausing for a breath, shows me the sticker she got for being a good dancer, and waves goodbye to her ‘best friends’, because in Pipers world, everyone is her best friend. I help her into her coat, change her shoes and scoop up her taffeta covered butt to load her in the truck. Her teacher comes out and tells me that Piper is the most accomplished dancer in the class, as though at 3 years old, they are practicing Swan Lake and not doing jumping frogs.  She crouches down to my little frog, and asks her ‘How are you such a good dancer already?!’.  Piper Jean, delighted in the solo attention, jumps up off her little rose colored feet, and shouts ‘I get it from my Auntie Teresa!!’,. And although this time it will swell from only love and pride, I wonder how many times my heart can feel like it’s going to burst out of their chest in just one ballet class.

Teresa is a writer, traveler, nutritionist, tour manager and hula hoop champion.  She likes bukowski, the ocean, holding hands, Roswell reruns, and long, romantic walks down the organic produce aisle. Her blog ( is currently under construction, but until then you can find her on twitter @thebandiswithme 

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