They were absolutely right. I was there, at the end of their dance show, clapping and cheering and raising my arms in praise and applause. So proud of them; their courage in going onto a proper stage, in a real theatre and dancing their little hearts out, faces serious in concentration and bodies busy keeping up with the music and steps. So proud of the adults involved; the teacher who had somehow written the words, choreographed the moves, designed the costumes and organised the entire thing, ensuring her inclusive ethos allowed every student an opportunity to shine, to perform and to feel pride in their work, whilst also allowing those with real talent to showcase their abilities and justly celebrate their skill. A really special show that one couldn’t help but applaud and to ‘lift their arms’ as they did so.
And they were right, my eyes did shine. My love and appreciation of the children I have somehow been lucky enough to have in my life felt like more emotion than I could contain. So it shone from my eyes into the dimness of the auditorium, and they saw it and knew it for the beacon of love it was.
But, I also wondered, could they have possibly seen and understood the other emotions I was grappling with then? The intense urges to time travel and visit each stage of parenthood?
To return to the days of them as babies, when I felt I was failing. Failing to ‘do it right,’ stimulate them properly, respond to them quickly enough, full of the pressure of responsibility for these precious brains I may be setting off on the wrong path. When I worried that the hospital admissions for bronchiolitis and breathing difficulties meant a future without physical activity and being less able than their peers. To return to that mother and tell her – all will be well. They will dance, and join in and enjoy it! (And you will have slept enough to be able to sit and watch with both eyes open!!)
To return to their first dance show, when they were the youngest. When they tried their hardest but no one actually cared what they did with their feet – the applause was for their littleness, their sweetness and the mistakes they made. To go back and tell those girls how extraordinary their willingness to take part was, to hug that mother and let her know the late night and stage make up would have no lasting ill effects as she worried so hard about each and every act of parenting.
To stop the clock here and now, with children of an age to take a full part, and get full pleasure from that participation. Children who still want their parents to help them, and still include these parents in their excitement and nerves, but no longer have to be reminded to put their things away and can happily share their books and toys with their friends without squabbles.
To go forwards and see those girls with their friends, bolstering each other’s confidence and giggling over shared jokes and experiences. To join the mums who get sleep, and wear clothes they’ve chosen and put together as an outfit, and who drop their children at the stage door, free from anxiety that the child may wander off of head to the wrong room.
To leap ahead to the teenage years. To know your daughters are healthy and grown, confident and groomed, surrounded by friends, enjoying their activities and helping each to get ready, plaiting each other’s hair intricately while discussing plans for gap years and summer jobs, spreading their wings. To join the mums relaxing in the knowledge of a job well done, forging ahead at work, going for coffee and to browse the shops while children walk home with friends.
My children can’t have known the mix of emotions, the depth of feelings, the tumble of thoughts that sprung the tears I shed whilst watching them. But they saw my eyes shine and knew it was for them.