The dance starts before we are born.
Babies wait in the dark, moving in time to the beat of a mother’s heart and with the rhythm of her steps.
As newborns and infants, they curl, warm and safe in our arms. We hold them close and sway unconsciously from side to side, in the ancient, instinctive movement that soothes a child.
In a few months, when they find their feet, they jump and bounce, squealing with pleasure.
Of all the tender moments I have shared with my children, I think I’ll remember the dancing the most.
I loved it.
Supported by my hands around their sturdy bodies, they danced in my lap, pushing into the air. Their bright, round, full-moon faces smiled at me as they chewed on fat little fingers. Laughter bubbled up out of them.
Together, we took baby steps with lullabies and nursery rhymes.
As toddlers they reached up to me, stepped up on my toes and wrapped their arms around my knees or held tightly to my fingers as I waltzed around the room.
We giggled and wiggled with silly tunes from Sesame Street.
We boogied with pop music on the radio in the kitchen and danced jigs around the house listening to old bluegrass tunes and folk songs.
Some nights, they came to me quietly, slipped their arms around my waist, and we swayed to Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis, Etta James and Diana Krall, moving slowly around the living room. There was comfort – given and taken – in the embrace.
And love. Love set to music.
Occasionally, when we were feeling silly, we tangoed. Or we moved like Apache dancers across the room, dipping low at the finale.
We twirled and pirouetted to Tchaikovsky. We were the graceful Swans in Swan Lake.
Then, one by one, my children outgrew me.
One by one they let go of my fingers and my knees and my waist. Now my son towers over me. Even my daughters are taller than I am.
Now, only my youngest, almost 11 and almost eye-to-eye, will occasionally, absent-mindedly, step up on my feet and signal she wants to move.
I’ll twirl us around the room for a minute before she pulls away to go up to her room or outside to play.
I’m back to being a wallflower.
It’s OK. No one dances with their mother forever.
Or do they? When you think about it, it’s all a dance.
From the moment they’re conceived, we skip to the tune our children play. After they’re born, even when they’re standing on our feet, they’re really leading us.
Anyone who has raised a teenager knows how it feels to be outmatched; out of time with music you can’t even hear, trying to keep up with fancy footwork. As the years pass, as I grow old, the choreography will change but we’ll still be dancing.
Children grow up and away. That’s what life is all about. Making your way, holding on to others until you’re strong enough and steady enough, and the music comes through clear enough, to make it by yourself.
If you’re lucky, you find a partner. And it starts all over again.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org