Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Dancing my Way Home

This has been a good week so far… no specific reason, really… just a lot of little things. For one thing, I went back to ballet. I understand that the image of an almost-40-year-old woman in tights isn’t one that most readers might want to have in their minds, but there I was, Monday night, in tights once again. I should preface this post with some background.

I was a dancer growing up. My mother put me in the standard combo tap/ballet class when I was three years old, and except for a few fits and starts of a month here or there, I danced until I left for college. Things gradually became more serious for me as I got older. I guess I had a bit of ability, and moved up through levels at a normal or slightly accelerated pace, to the point where I was in a pretty serious class from about 6th grade on. I danced at a serious classical studio, one which turned out several professional dancers through the years, who went on to Joffrey, the Houston Ballet and other big companies. (I was not quite that talented!) It was the kind of studio where you stopped talking when ballet class began, and you didn’t speak until it was over. You kept your mind on your body and at times found a poky stick helping you put parts back where they belonged if you were out of alignment. The school (along with a few others) fed the Fresno Ballet Company, where I danced roles of increasing difficulty through my junior high and high school years. Between the hours of ballet class, rehearsal for Company and my tap and jazz classes, I didn’t have much of a social life… I sometimes regret not being a part of organized sports (since it turns out I’m kind of coordinated and might have done okay…), but ballet was a part of who I was, and I don’t regret that.

Sometimes I wonder about putting kids into serious pursuits so young… I was three when I began. I didn’t have a choice about it, and it became part of my identity before I was capable of deciding if I wanted that to happen. But maybe that is how these things go. Maybe I was lucky enough to find what I loved at a very young age. (It does seem a bit coincidental, considering my mom ended up owning the studio where I danced — a place where she grew up taking lessons herself and where we lived at one point… ) As a result, I think that ballet — like it or not — has been a part of me my whole life, even if I haven’t acknowledged it often.

Anyway, I have had ballet dreams on and off, since I stopped dancing. I cannot hear the music for Swan Lake, Coppelia, or The Nutcracker without finding my entire body tensed, my muscles rehearsing independently from the rest of my conscious being. I watched the movie “Black Swan,” and thought all the same things about all the shocking scenes that everyone else did… but I was also swept up in a wave of emotion that I couldn’t identify. I watched the scenes that took place backstage, and in the empty theatre on the stage, and my heart ached. There’s something about waiting in the wings to appear before an audience; something about preparing yourself in a dressing room under those cold harsh lights… something I miss.

So I went to a ballet class this week. A grownup ballet class. I had no illusions of returning to what I used to be. I only knew that something in me wanted to dance again. When I told my mom what I was doing, she said simply, “It was inevitable that you’d dance again someday. You are a dancer. Dancers dance.” And it hurt. And it was hard. And I have no balance anymore, and I got dizzy doing turns across the floor. And the “grownup” class is not serious and there was a lot of chatting between exercises at the barre. But my body knew what I was doing, and my heart swelled with the music, and my feet remembered. And I felt like I’d come home.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Screw it

Tonight I took Lunchbox up for a stinky diaper change. He is a jovial little fellow, always smiling on the changing table. In our new house, we keep the wipes and diapers on a shelf above the table. I was mid-diaper change tonight when I was reminded — in the most horrifying way possible — that I had thrown a couple extra screws up on that shelf when I hung a curtain in the boys room this weekend. They were right in front of the wipe box, and when I was scrambling to get a wipe out while trying to avoid the classic poop smear all over the changing table situation, I pulled the box forward and knocked one of the screws off the shelf. Directly into my baby’s open, smiling mouth. He immediately began gagging and choking, and I immediately sat him up and then turned him completely upside down. He’s not big enough for the Heimlich, and I remembered how to rescue a choking infant from the CPR certifications I take every two years. But usually you’re worried about a chunk of food, not a sharp pointy screw. I didn’t feel that I had the benefit of time to go look up a best practice, so I just went with instinct. Lunchbox started screaming, which I actually took as a good sign (he could breathe at least), so I righted him. One look in his terrified face had me wondering if he was more upset about the screw or about Mommy whipping him off the changing table and upside down while smacking his back. All I knew was that the screw was still in there. I turned him over once more, gave him one more tap, and — thank Heavens — the screw came out. I’ve read plenty of stories about kids passing these things, but he’s pretty little still and this was a biggish screw. Very pointy. Very… well, dammit, it was a screw. Not made to be swallowed by an 18 month old.

Anyway, I watched him like a hawk all night for any crying, difficulty swallowing, choking, etc. I think he’s fine. I am reminded how easily things can go wrong and how delicate these tiny lives that I’m responsible for can really be. Hug your kids tonight and revow to keep them safe.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

100 Years…

This is where I give you some good excuses for being totally silent for the past two weeks. Besides a hurricane and it’s long and drawn out aftermath, I have none. I’m a West coast girl, and I was not prepared for the likes of Irene — even if she wasn’t a “real” hurricane, as I’m told by all the veterans out this way. Nonetheless, she was a bitch and I’m glad to be finally done with her. Kids are back in school, the yard is starting to look normal again, and I may even be back in the office soon if they get that sorted out. But this is not a hurricane post.

I don’t know if its the rainy weather today, or the fact that I’ve had more than a week at home with my kiddos with their school shut down for repairs, but I’m feeling a little sentimental. The one thing that I work on a lot — in the personal realm — is trying to enjoy the moment, especially with my kids. I spend a lot of time moving around, cleaning up, organizing, and it eats up many of the precious moments when they’re busy being little boys. It eats into the time when I could be just sitting and hanging out with my husband, too. That guy who lives here. Sometimes I spend so much time doing these “important” things, that I feel like I am missing everything really important. Afterall, on my deathbed, will I recall that on September 5th I did a really thorough job of cleaning the kitchen sink — that it smelled clean and shone like new? No. Definitely not. But I might remember the fact that this was the day that Lunchbox said his first “sentence” — “I eat.” (Appropriate, no?) And I almost missed it. I’m lucky he said it in the kitchen while I was scrubbing the sink. What else am I missing while I’m off doing busywork and my kids are growing up?

My grandmother has Alzheimer’s disease. My mother is her only child, and I’ve watched for the past five or six years while this has torn her apart. Grandma was doing okay for a while — she grew up in a world that dictated that women should always be polite and put on a good face in front of strangers, and her professional life dictated that she be always proper. That served her well in covering the fact that she didn’t remember meeting my husband before and wasn’t sure who my kids were. Sometimes she wasn’t sure who I was, but usually she knew me and just subtracted a few years from my age and had me back in college. But now she doesn’t know me. And she sometimes doesn’t know my mom, which I know is killing my mom. Mom says that she said goodbye to Grandma years ago, and that this woman is not her mother. Nonetheless, she feels obligated (is obligated, I guess) to visit her weekly, make sure she is safe and as happy as is possible. She takes her to lunch and doctor’s appointments, to get her hair done… and Grandma always went happily. Until recently. Lately she’s forgotten to be proper and polite, and she has been mean. So things have been tough for Mom.

And last week Grandma fell and broke her hip. She had surgery to relieve some of the pain, but odds seem good that a full recovery is not in the tea leaves. Mom believes that since she has basically stopped eating, won’t take her medicine and refuses physical therapy, that the end is in sight. And that will be a blessing and a great loss.

I look at what is happening to my grandmother and feel devastatingly guilty for not appreciating every single second that I’m living this life with these amazing little people to keep it interesting. I feel guilty for ever being in a bad mood or not being 100% present for my husband or my kids. What else is there? In the end, what are we but the sum of the relationships we’ve had and the memories we’ve created?

I heard that song by Five for Fighting on the radio this morning — 100 years. And I thought about the message — maybe I do have 100 years to live. My great-grandparents demonstrated some longevity. But I wonder how much of it I might be aware of, if Alzheimers really does run in families? I’m at 38. That’s less than half. I could turn it around and live in a way that I can be proud of every day for most of my life if I start right now. I’m going to try. I don’t think I’m quite old enough to join the Red Hat Society, but that’s what I’m angling for…