Lessons from an elementary school dance

A few weeks ago

I was standing in a pack of parents

In the dark, hot gym of my son’s elementary school

Watching my son and his kindergarten friends

Get down to the latest Top 40 hits

At the annual dance and “fun-raiser.”

And as I leaned against the stage,


Something occurred to me:

I was having




Just watching Victor and the other kids

Get crazy on the dance floor,

Their small bodies twisting,

Arms flailing,

Faces upturned to the D.J. on the stage,

Hoping he would toss a glo-necklace or

Mardi Gras beads their way.

At that moment,

There was nowhere else in the world

I wanted to be than in

That sweaty gym,

Watching my kid lose himself utterly to a

Katy Perry song.

I had



Parenting could be this fun.

I remember in my 20s

Making absolute proclamations:

“I’m never having kids!”

Realizing with existential wonder one day that

Kids are just

Small human beings,

Not another species.

Cautiously hypothesizing to my dad that,

If I did end up having kids

(Big “if”)

I wouldn’t change my life much.

“I’ll just take the kid with me

Wherever I go.

They can just hang out.”

(I think my dad just chuckled,

Didn’t even bother to respond.)

For me,

The desire to have kids came on like a

24 hour flu:

One summer day in 2004 I didn’t want kids,

The next morning I woke up


To be pregnant

That instant.

A year later,

The kindergarten dance phenom was born.

It took me a few years to

Learn to



I adored my son,

Cheered his accomplishments and

Squeezed his small body with a ferocious kind of love.

But get inside his experience?

Lose myself in his sheer joy of physical movement

And discovery?

I was kind of too busy.

I would take him somewhere,

The zoo, say,

And optimistically bring along a magazine

Hoping to relax in the old way

With him just

There, too.

Victor disagreed with my methods

And rarely allowed me to read.

“Oh, okay,” I would think as I eased myself down on the floor

To play a seemingly pointless game of

Car chasing or

Block-tower stacking and


15 minutes was about my limit

Before I would contrive a chore:

Gotta get dinner ready,

Or vacuum,

Or make a phone call.

“Two more minutes, Buddy.

Then Mom’s gotta go.”

Change happened through my campaign to just

“Be in the moment,”

That hippy-dippy phrase that’s the subject of

Books in the New Age section of the library

And shares in my 12-step meetings.

Go on someone else’s timeline.

Slow down.

Shut up.

Busy yet bored nearly all the time,

I thought, “What the hell,”

And gave it a shot.

Planned only through the rest of that day,

Then the next hour,

Then the next five minutes,

Until I got there:

The moment.

Instead of coming up with an excuse to

Sit on the pool deck in a chair

While Victor swims and asks me

Over and over again

To get in the water,

I just get in the damn pool and splash around and get my hair wet.

Now one evening a week after work,

I try to just

Hang out with Victor,

Whatever he’s doing–

No phone,

No laptop,

No book–

Instead of rushing him through his evening routine:

Dinner, bath,

Stories, bed,

So I could have “me time” before I went to bed,

Which usually consisted of aimlessly surfing the Internet.

We were leaving the school dance–

Victor wanted to leave before I did!–

And we walked down the hallway where

Chairs had been set up for parents.

A few were doing that bored-waiting-parent thing:

Leaning forward,

Elbows on their knees,

Tapping around their smartphone.

Every few minutes,

They would sit up straight and stretch a bit,

And heave a deep sigh.

Done it.

Still do it.

But for that one night,

I managed to relish this

Whole new experience I’ve discovered,

That I can have,

When I want it,

If I let it,

As long as Victor will have me.