Motherhood & Words

The last two nights, we’ve sat in a darkened auditorium and watched Stella prance onto stage and spin and twirl with a handful of other 6-year-olds in their line-up of Aristocats. As I sat and watched my composed daughter sashay and pirouette with incredible grace, I tried to keep the tears from my eyes.

Three years ago, after watching Barbie’s Swan Lake, Stella announced that she wanted to start going to dance class. I was dismayed. I even tried to talk her out of it. (Don’t you want to try a circus class? What about karate?)

Don’t get me wrong. I love to dance. When I lived in Costa Rica, I spent countless hours dancing. In fact, I heaved myself into the back of a truck (a truck that sometimes was cleaned of cow shit for the occasion, sometimes not) and held tight to the wooden planks of the cajón as we bumped and jolted our way along the dirt road to the nearest dance hall. And then I proceeded to dance until my toenails were chipped and my quads and the balls of my feet aching. I spent my Saturday nights for two years in this way, and when I came back to the States, I could salsa like I was born to do it.

But I never took dance lessons, and some of the girls I knew growing up who did take dance struggled with eating disorders. Even now, when I see the float of ballerinas at the annual Grand Ol’ Day parade, their ribs and collar bones protruding sharply, I feel so sad.

But three years ago, Stella insisted. “I want to take dance.” She would then point at Barbie on the screen, balancing on toe shoes, and say, “I want to do that.”

So, I did my research, scoured the web until I found a dance school that was “accepting of all body shapes and sizes” and was devoted to making dance accessible to all young people regardless of socioeconomic status. I called and spoke with the education director, who was warm and welcoming. Okay, I thought, we’ll try it.

But in the back of my mind, I thought Stella might dance for a year or two and then lose interest.

She hasn’t lost interest. She just finished her third year of classes and she’s talking about moving to the next level in the fall.

Dance parties are a daily occurrence in our house. I turn up the music and both girls spin and twirl across the floor, Zoë following behind Stella, trying to do everything that her big sister does. (Zoë has also taken to wearing tights and a leotard when she accompanies Stella to class every week. As she waits in the lobby, she performs for anyone who will watch her.)

The thing is that Stella not only loves to dance, she’s really good at it. And I don’t mean to brag. It’s just that I’m amazed by her, by this skill, this talent that has nothing to do with me. (I’m seriously lacking in the eye-hand coordination department. The bruises I often boast on my arms are evidence of my klutziness, which sometimes sends me into a door frame or chair. Maybe this is why running is my exercise of choice? Open space is good.)

One of my Mother Words students once said that you don’t raise kids; you wait for them to reveal themselves. This was years ago, and I remember thinking, oh, that’s an interesting way to look at it. But Stella was only two then, and I couldn’t fathom what she would be like in one year, much less four.

Last night, as I watched the older students from the studio leap and shimmy and fly into the lights, I could feel time fast-forward. And I saw D and myself sitting in that same auditorium ten years from now, watching a grown-up Stella leap and shimmy and fly into the lights, her arms and legs powerful and propelling.

Stella was not nervous before her performances; she was beside herself with excitement. And as I watched my composed and self-confident daughter move with such incredible grace across the stage, I realized that this is what my student had been talking about. Stella is revealing herself, and all we have to do is sit and watch her (and of course encourage and love her and cheer her on). I can do that.

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I have been teaching creative writing for almost twenty years. Reading about other women’s lives and experiences has expanded my world. To be able to walk in someone else’s shoes, whether it’s for a moment or an hour or a few days, is an incredible gift, providing me with insight into the human experience. It takes courage to write your truths, especially if it doesn’t seem as though anyone cares, as though anyone is listening. Let me tell you: your stories matter, I’m listening, and I’m here to help you find the heart of those truths, to get them down on the page, to craft them, and to send them out into the world. Together, we will change the world, one story at a time.


  1. Elizabeth on May 28, 2010 at 11:04 am

    Beautiful — and you're such a good mother to allow and watch this revealing.

  2. Rhena on May 28, 2010 at 11:13 am

    Lovely reflection, Kate. I love that idea of letting a child reveal herself.

  3. Katia Raina on May 28, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    Yes, the "letting them reveal themselves" part is so true. What I'm trying to get better at as a parent is learning to watch them on the sides, and not jump in and interfere. It's sometimes harder than anything!

    Thanks for a wonderful post!

  4. Sarah Irene Dye on May 28, 2010 at 8:49 pm

    Very sweet, and how wonderful that you're supporting her talent and the activity to which she is naturally drawn.

  5. Joy Riggs on May 28, 2010 at 11:12 pm

    Great post, Kate!

  6. cath c on May 29, 2010 at 12:01 pm

    wonderful, kate and stella!

    i was one of those dance girls, overly much so that i quit in a fit of knowing i'd plateaued, teen rebellion and a back injury – not dance incured.

    i bawled crying for every dance recital i attended of my niece, who is now about to graduate college and still loves dance, but quit formally after her kidney surgery when she was 17. she was really good, too. some kids just have it. she did stay with a dance team at school.

    but i wasn't necessarily crying for her or even for my memories of all those recitals, it was for all the little girls in tutus or jazz shoes or tappin with canes, and watching them in their moments of their dreams just beginning.

  7. The Blue Suitcase on May 30, 2010 at 6:17 am

    Tears sprung into my eyes with the last paragraph. How lovely–the girl, the mother, the relationship, the dance.

  8. kate hopper on June 2, 2010 at 4:50 pm

    Thank you, everyone! She's been spinning around and showing me new moves ever since!