Image courtesy of Pixabay.
My son—my focused, responsible, deep-thinking son—loves to dance. Like, really, really loves it—but until a month ago, I had no idea.
His school throws dance parties for kids who pass school-wide math tests, and it turns out these parties have become a highlight of his life, after sports and Legos. At home when my girls suggest dance parties, he usually retreats to his man cave (a.k.a. the Lego table)—of course, the girls always go with Disney princess theme music, so maybe that’s the problem. Or maybe he realizes that our third child likes to punctuate her dancing with violent gymnastics, and he’s not a fan of getting kicked in the nose. Whatever the reason, his dancing gifts have remained mostly hidden at home.
But last month at a church party, I got to see my reserved son in all his rhythmic glory. The dj cranked up “Watch Me” (yeah, our church is cool like that). The lyrics demand confidence, command attention: “Watch me whip! Now watch me nae-nae! Watch me, watch me!” Cautious dancers need not apply. You either bring your A-game and your stanky leg, or you sit down. So when my son hit the dance floor, so did my jaw. This was serious business. Work-up-a-sweat business. Leave-your-heart-on-the-dance-floor business.
Dancing has always been a point of sadness for me, a small and stupid loss. When the beat starts, my heart knows what to do, but my body stiffens. If someone says “dance party,” my inner insecure twelve-year-old ducks her head and runs to hide in the bathroom. I’ve decided dancing is kind of like snow skiing—you have to learn how while you’re young enough not to know the dangers, not to fear falling. You have to take advantage of that blessed innocent stage where you think you’re awesome at everything, and assume everyone else agrees with you.
Thank goodness, my son is stanky-legging his way right through that window. Watching him is innocence incarnate. Childhood—no, humanity—at its purest. Unhindered by the feeling of eyes on him, unconcerned about how he looks or whether he’s doing it right, he just lets the music take him. That night at the party, I watched him whip and nae-nae and duff and bop, and right there on the side of the dance floor, I started fighting tears.
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Because I hope he’ll always dance like this: confident, joyful, bold. Right now in his eight-year-old life, he’s cocooned by loving people who keep him safe. Who celebrate and enjoy him. But I know the world, the way it turns on you—one day star-spangled, all wonder and kindness; the next dark-shadowed, all cutting and cruelty. Already his sister, one year older, is coming to know a harsher fourth-grade world, where insecure girls say things like “You’re down there, and we’re up here.” And I fear my son’s day is coming too.
Son, let me tell you something:
One day some sad, self-conscious person may make a sarcastic comment.
One day a friend may tease you, joking and provoking the way boys do.
One day you might see a group of girls pointing and laughing across the room, and you’ll wonder if they’re laughing at you. The truth is, they’re probably not even thinking about you, but even if they are, you keep dancing.
I’m sorry to tell you there are sad people in the world—lonely people, broken people, hardened by hurts—and they don’t know how to live life the way you live it, the way it’s meant to be lived. When you meet those people, you know what you do? You feel sad for them, but you don’t let them break you too. You pull a Taylor Swift and shake it off, then whip and nae-nae for good measure. If you have to, you go ahead and pull out the stanky leg too.
Keep dancing, son.
Do it for yourself, because it’s who you are and what you love.
And you know what else? Do it just a little bit for me, too. One day I want you to pull me out there on the dance floor with you and help me find the confidence and courage I need, the sauciness it takes to chant, “Watch me, watch me,” then go on dancing like no one’s watching after all.