A couple of weeks ago, a notice came home from E’s school asking for $8 from families who could afford it to help subsidize a hip hop dance program that was being offered. For two weeks, dance teachers came to the school and worked each day with each class on a hip hop dance routine. Yesterday, the school put on a performance for parents. I went there expecting to think E was the cutest thing ever and expecting that a little tear or two might sneak out while I watched her.
I cried the whole hour.
I cried, yes, because E was so stinking cute. Doing her ‘attitude’ pose. Jumping up at the end with all the other kindergarteners and yelling ‘hip hop!,’ so obviously pleased with themselves. I cried because my little baby girl is turning five in a couple of weeks and is so tall and is going to school and is growing up. I’m so proud of her, so amazed at the kid she’s turning into, so excited to see how she’ll grow and change in the years to come. Especially as I watched the older grades, I imagined E at 7, at 10, at 12. I can’t believe she’s mine and I get to be the person who watches her grow, who talks with her and laughs with her and learns with her; I can’t wait to know her at 7, 10, 12, 18, 30, even as I wish I could hold her still, here, forever.
I cried, too, watching the other grades and classes perform. Our school is downtown and has in the past been designated an inner city school. In the past few years, there have been more families staying downtown instead of moving to the suburbs, and so there are plenty of children in the school whose parents, like us, have made deliberate choices to raise their kids in the city. There are also plenty of children whose parents had much less choice, who are new to the country and who are struggling in different ways. The diversity in our school means that there is a large number of ESL students, as well as a large number of students requiring assistance for different reasons; because of this, our school routinely ranks near the bottom of the list of schools in the greater metropolitan area (including wealthy suburban schools and private city schools). Some parents I know have expressed concern about the school’s ranking to me and have wondered whether it is in their child’s best interest to remain there. As I watched those kids dancing yesterday I thought: this is what I want for E. I want her to know diversity. I want her to go to a school where she learns that not everyone is as fortunate as she is but where she also learns that everyone is just as special as anyone else. Watching those kids dance I saw on their faces how happy they were, how well they knew each other, how supportive they were of each other and how equal they all were in those moments. No matter what advantages or disadvantages any of them had outside the school, inside it they were all given this opportunity and they were all working together and enjoying it. I have always been a public school supporter, but yesterday I really felt like it was a bit of magic, and for that reason, too, I cried my way through each grade’s performance.
And, of course, I cried for my little A. I watched E jump and spin and kick her long, long legs and thought about how little she’d once been, how I’d cradled her in the crook of one arm. I watched the grade three and five and seven girls and imagined E getting taller, longer, more graceful and self-conscious at the same time. I checked out the little boys, imagining M as a kindergartener, knowing it will happen sooner than I think, and then as a gangly, pre-teen with the hint of a moustache. And I thought – as I always, always do – of that little body, swaddled in a hospital blanket, growing colder but still sweet as anything, soft as could be; that little body that never did and never will dance hip hop at a public school while her mom cried in the back row of the gym. A was so very real to me yesterday; too often, I feel like she was a dream-child, only the illusion of a baby; I can’t seem to believe sometimes that she was flesh and blood, that she did live, that she wasn’t only her death. Yesterday, as I thought about all the ways E’s body and M’s body would change over the years, I felt closer than I have in months to A’s body, to her body in my arms in that hospital room nearly two years ago, the only five hours I’d hold her. I’ve had nearly five years of knowing and loving E’s body. Five hours of A’s body was not enough, never enough, but it was something and yesterday all those happy, lively, dancing children’s bodies helped me feel closer to hers. It seems strange that this is so, and sad, but somehow it also made me grateful, made me smile.
This grief continues to be a mystery, as she is, and I can never predict what brings me closer to her, or what will tear me apart in despair. Eight dollars was a small price to pay for a performance that I’ve carried with me now for 24 hours, and which I expect I will linger in my mind and heart for days and maybe years to come.