Of all the prayers that I have given since my children were born, one that I seem to have forgotten, overlooked, and neglected to include in the litany of devotion that is part and parcel of parenting, is a prayer for my own coordination and grace. This might have been because it was not something I thought, in the grand scheme of things, would be vitally important to my ability to feed and clothe and comfort, to the skills needed to apply a band-aid to a scraped knee with the appropriate balance of seriousness and silliness (because if you do not look sincere enough your children will think you do not care, if you look too solemn they will assume their minor injury is some dire, life-threatening wound and break down in inconsolable sobbing that can only be solved with the rapid application of baked goods and stuffed animals).
I did not think that agility and finesse was a necessary component to telling bedtime stories of epic proportions or marching through pretend forests on an imaginary quest. I failed to find any link between fleetness of foot and foraging through backpacks for discarded assignments in the effort of impressing upon my children the sort of educational responsibility that says in measurable terms that you are Parenting with a capital P. In the face of English essays and sports practices and storytimes and mealtimes and even the more relaxed times when we could linger close and enjoy being together, I never considered what it might mean that I am clumsy, and awkward, and possessing of two left feet.
It is my children who have taught me how to dance.
I had long ago resigned myself to being a klutz. I am able to stumble my way through life well enough, but without any of the sort of dexterity or sense of meter or movement that allows one to ‘catch the bright trembling edge of the music of living and trip lightly along on the wings of a song,’ to quote the poet.
I danced at my wedding.
Of course I did. I danced, but it was the hold and sway type of movement that does not require great grace or natural athleticism, and when we were not dancing together, my husband and I, then we were moving along with the scripted motions of the macarena and the YMCA and the electric slide—after all, it was the nineties. In any case, I was made acceptable by proximity—my husband is a far better dancer than I have ever hoped to be or planned on becoming.
Maybe that is where my children get it. Grace. Maybe it is genetic, and if so, it comes from my husband, child of disco that he is, and most definitely not from me, this self-assured and supple way my children move through life, for they are all graceful, and long-limbed—well, they are mostly long-limbed, but even the shortest is, at the very least, athletic, and two of them are dancers by education and by avocation, a situation that led to spending this last weekend watching them both perform, first the oldest in her closing night of a community theatre production of Sister Act, where she got to shake her groove thing as a singing nun in six-inch heels and sky-high white gogo boots, and then the youngest in her college company, a performance which consisted of mostly the lean long lines of modern dance.
My son heaves a great sigh whenever we go to a modern dance performance, but he goes, of course he goes, to support his sister, even though he is never sure what is being said in all those meaty monologues of movement and music that make up a contemporary dance routine.
There are many things I could say about their performances, about the night our singing nun tripped on stage and ended up in the lap of an audience member, or about how our contemporary dancer had a technical malfunction and the curtain would not go up and they ended up dancing in the six feet of space on the stage apron, challenging their ability to adapt and alter and revise the routines they had spent months perfecting. But what I really want to talk about is the way I watched and marveled at my children. The wonder I felt that they have learned something so far out of my own comfort zone, so far from what they could have conceivably learned from me, so far from the hesitant way I step onto any dance floor, even at my most confident and assured.
I have never had the words to describe the sway and swing and step of the dance. I have lacked the language to imagine what could be—the dazzling duets and quicksilver solos and intricate patterns that emerge over minutes and moments and years. I am learning. Fred Astaire said about dance that you should, “… do it big. Do it right. And do it with style.” Ginger Rogers, who, it is said, did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in heels, was quoted as saying that “rhythm is born in all of us,” and I don’t know what it says that I seem to have misplaced that innate sense of rhythm, but I think often of my children, while folding the endless loads of laundry or stirring together another pot of pasta or driving to one more concert or performance or activity or event, and I wonder what it means to do it right. I wonder what it means that instead of guiding them, they have taught me. I wonder what it means to have them lead me through the steps of new and exciting choreography, even though I am slow and hesitant and awkward, cheering me on as I learn what it means to dance.
I wonder what else I forgot to pray for.
I forgot to pray that my children would not be limited by my limits. I forgot to pray that they would move beyond the scarcity of my experience to find an abundance of their own. I forgot to pray that they would find guides and mentors and teachers to enrich their lives—that they would be led to tables with banquets laid full and good conversation and new friendships and opportunities I would never have dreamed to ask for. I forgot to pray that they would, as Isaiah said, “go out with joy, and be led forth with peace,” for if I did, I might have remembered that he also said “the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands,” which is somewhat similar to a dance, really, that wild and exuberant joy in the living, and loving, and finding opportunities to rejoice.
I might have remembered to pray for grace.