Herding Cats

Today I took my daughter Olivia to her first dance class. She's all of four years old, but she already shows signs of talent in the music and dance categories, so this seemed like the natural thing to do. We arrived a little late, so there were already millions of little kids running around at full tilt. It didn't take very long to sort them into groups, and Olivia was soon lining up along a rail with about 20 other kids roughly her age. Mostly they were girls, but there was at least one boy. I say "at least one" because I am one of those out-of-it dads who can't always tell a little girl apart from a little boy--I sometimes have to rely on social cues, such as manner of dress, length of hair, name, etc. When those cues are absent or markedly different from what I'm used to, as they sometimes are in this multi-cultural town, I run the risk of being more than a little clueless.

There was much running back-and-forth across a wooden floor, lots of arm-waving, leg-stretching, and giggling. The giggling was just as exuberant as the running, waving, and stretching, if not more so. There was also stuff called by the instructor "skipping" and "leaping", but it was difficult to distinguish from the running and jumping. The instructor seemed to know what she was doing. Having no expertise myself, though, there is a genuine epistemological question here regarding whether I'm in any position to judge whether someone seems to know what they're doing in such a situation. When she told them to sit on the floor and point their toes at the ceiling and then at the floor, I imagined that she was introducing them to stretching exercsies but just calling it "pointing", and when she told them to stand up and imaging that they were big bubbles by moving their arms gracefully in circles around their bodies, I again imagined that it had something to do with introducing them to some rudimentary warm-up exercises and dance movements. But of course it could have been all about bubbles, for all I know.

One thing I know for sure, though, is that the whole affair was just about the cutest thing I've ever seen. Milan Kundera wrote about the unbearable lightness of being, but all I could think about was the unbearable sweetness of children, and how the whole process of growing from infancy to adulthood is, in Tolkien's phrase, a kind of "eucatastrophe". It is good, and indeed a necessary good, to become an adult, but it is a radical change, a turning away from something else, also good, which then seems to be lost forever. There is room for regret, so long as we don't dwell on it.

After the class we went to a local place called the Village Café for a root beer. (They also stock a fine collection of microbrewed regular beer, but I thought it better to share in the sweetness with Olivia while I had the chance.) The root beer she chose was called, I kid you not, "Hand-crafted Microbrewed Root Beer." Catchy brand name, that. I wonder if they have a jingle to go along with it, something from, say, Philip Glass. When I was a kid, A&W was a popular root beer, as was Hines and Barq's. They were all sickly sweet, but this one was made with a long and exotic list of ingredients, many of which were decidedly more like Bark than like Barq. Indeed, it really was a root beer, with sasparilla, vanilla, licorice, etc. It was good, though--just somewhat unexpected and, perhaps because of that, something of a challenge to one's view of what a root beer should be like.

When we sat down at a little table for two, with a vase of flowers to brighten the mood, I poured a serving for each of us into an ice-filled glass. She lifted hers to mine and said "Cheers!" It's difficult not to dwell on the fact that this moment in time is precious precisely because it is ephemeral. Not only will this moment disappear in the currents of time, but this little person sitting across from me will soon be gone, replaced by a larger, more mature version. My friend will not vanish into thin air, of course, but she will be transformed into something different, and perhaps a different friend. What makes her so sweet right now are precisely those properties that she will lose over time: her innocence, her silliness, her view of the world. (Aren't you glad I didn't say Weltanschauung?) But those properties will be replaced by other, more complex and presumably more interesting properties. Out with the sugar, in with the sasparilla.

Next week music--and more structure--will be added to the orderd chaos of today's workout. And parents are not invited to subsequent lessons (there will be a show for us at the end of the year). She'll be on her own--the begining of the long process of letting her go, to be herself, to be different from me. A beautiful process, to be sure, but filled with unexpected turns and challenges to what we have come to expect. As bittersweet as a microbrewed root beer.

Comments

MrsDarwin said…
I'm of the opinion that teaching dance (or gymnastics or what have you) to small children is usually just a form of organized babysitting, which in no way diminishes the cuteness of the activity. (I say this as one with two very small girls in "dance classes".) But boy, the end-of-year recitals are priceless and almost worth the price of a camcorder...

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