I am sitting cross-legged on the floor in the dressing room, waiting for Allie's dance number to be called. The cave girl costume has been donned, the jazz shoes double-tied, the hair pulled back, the requisite dab of lipstick applied.
There's nervous chatter and the clacking of tap shoes, punctuated by occasional thumps of bass from the stage. Silver-sequined dancers pirouette between groups of kids on blankets playing paper dolls, Uno or Angry Birds. A mom angles a long-lens camera over the shoulder of a little girl studying her face in a hand mirror. Click-click. A moment, frozen.
Neon tutus, metallic jackets and penguin suits hang from racks and hooks. Curling irons jut out of laundry baskets full of shoes and tights and makeup. Moms with clipboards poke their heads through the black curtains separating the hallway from the makeshift dressing room, shouting out names of upcoming numbers: "Alice!" "Kim Possible!" "Whip My Hair!"
Finally, it's my 7-year-old's big moment, and I take my place in the wings.
Fast-forward three months. Now I'm sitting in the bleachers at SUNY Oneonta for the Oneonta High School swim team's second home meet.
The girls are lined up on the starting blocks, and Abby is in lane two. The starter yells: "Take your marks!" and the swimmers bend forward, shoulder muscles taut, feet poised to spring. The buzzer sounds and they arc through the air, cracking the water almost in unison and kicking up froth as they glide to the surface.
I've never been a dancer or a swimmer, but these are my kids' passions, and so now they are mine.
I don't pretend to understand the ingredients of a perfect flip turn, but after four seasons in these bleachers, I've come to love the smell of chlorine, flip flops in January, the roar of the crowd during a tight race, and the smile on my daughter's face when she looks up at the scoreboard and realizes she's achieved a personal best.
Allie and I are both new to the world of dance. But from the first run-through of her first show, I could feel the energy, appreciate the artistry and enjoy the sense of being a part, however small, of something mysterious and fantastic.
That's one of the perks of parenting — we're learning all the time, stretching our comfort zones and being exposed to new things simply because they're the things that matter to our kids. Moms who never played soccer become well-versed in the rules of offsides; dads who never dreamed of picking up an instrument find themselves humming marches and arias.
Parenting itself is more dance than sport. There's no win, lose or finish line; just the constant push and pull, the unexpected grace notes in the tightly choreographed routines of a busy household.
The lunch boxes line up in a row at night, waiting to be filled; the papers shuffle from backpacks to kitchen tables and back again. At the middle/high school in the morning, one car pulls away from the curb just as another pulls up to deliver its precious cargo.
After you've done this dance for a while, the steps become familiar. But new routines are added all the time. Just when we've become adept at diaper changing, we're tasked with potty training. We succeed at getting our kids to feed themselves, chew with their mouths closed and finish their vegetables, and then their teeth start to wiggle, causing anxiety, foregone apples and inquiries into the Tooth Fairy's going rate. Then, the permanent teeth grow in -- and the orthodontic adventures begin.
We stumble sometimes, and we have our moments of grace. We look back often, even though we have no choice but to move forward -- and sometimes, it seems like we're going in circles.
I find myself, suddenly, with a daughter in high school (High school?? How did this happen?) and a third-grader who seems to grow taller and more independent every day. I know that my place in this dance will increasingly be in the wings and on the sidelines. That is as it should be.
The fact that they still want me there is all that matters.
Lisa Miller recently accepted a full-time position in the Office of Community Relations at SUNY Oneonta, and this is her last column. Look for her at dance recitals, swim meets and other community events. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.