I unzipped the garment bag and released an explosion of white, feathery fluff.
"Is this it?" I wondered trying to recall the catalog photograph the dance instructor had shown us months ago when she’d decided on a costume. This puff of polyester seems a little too small, a little too sheer, a little too … risqué for a student recital.
As Ittybit stepped into the bodice, I helped work its straps over her shoulders, trying to figure out where the feathers are supposed to go. I was about to give up when another parent motioned in pantomime … 'Oh … over her head.' ..
Tongue out and holding my breath, I struggle to get the thing into place.
When I step back to check my work it just seems … wrong. Had she really grown that much? I wondered, trying to tease out a little more length from the tiny dance costume.
The mental picture I ended up with was from a different sort of catalog.
Immediately, I close my eyes, blotting out the light.
"Don’t go there," I tell myself. "Just let it go."
Think "happy," think "pretty," think "they are just having fun" thoughts.
Truly, it has been difficult for me to think happy thoughts when it comes to dance class.
I try to be positive but I stumble over the business model and the months-long preparation for recital.
I don’t really care about the details and I make no pretense of hiding my disinterest. In not caring, though, I know I am as bad as the mom hissing angrily to her child from backstage: "Pay closer attention to what you’re doing."
Have I learned nothing in these years? I don’t care about dance, but I don’t want her to think I don’t care about her.
"She is what matters," I think to myself as I write a check for the studio … and the costume … and the photographs … and the $12 per ticket for the recital … we need six, I think.
On this particular day, however, the torture for me is standing by as she has her pictures taken by someone else. Because I know when it arrives in our mailbox in four to six weeks, I will barely recognize the girl in the photograph. She will be wearing a smile I only see through the glassine windows of large envelopes. They are smiles she gives to other people.
But I’m not jealous.
It’s just a mindset. It’s just money. It doesn’t matter if you don’t let it. Breathe in. Breathe out.
I tell myself those things, too, before I open my eyes again.
She is twirling, flicking her legs from one side to another. Jumping up and down.
She happily dances to the beat of their drummer, but I know she’s more likely to get lasting joy from the tunes playing in her own head.
I don’t need to worry.
She may have gotten taller, more muscular, but inside she hasn’t changed. Ittybit is still the sweet and curious, little girl with wildly mismatched clothes and hair like an unmade bed. She’s still asking questions and figuring it all out for herself.
When it’s her turn to go before the camera, she tells me she feels silly in the dress.
I wonder whether she’s seeking reassurance or trying to reassure me.
"Well you don’t look silly," I tell her. "You look like an angel with wings."