After three weeks of isolation, today I finally lost it. Not because of the lockdown with no one to talk to or because my freedom’s been taken away. Not because I haven’t seen my four kids since this all began or that I won’t be in Austin for the birth of my second grandson as once planned. And, while the enormity of lives lost due to this pandemic is enough to create a meltdown in all of us, today it hit me on a personal level. Like all teachers around the world, I was denied the opportunity to give my students a proper goodbye.
For the past thirteen years, I’ve had a sideline dance gig at the El Camino YMCA where I taught children the art of expression, not perfection. In other words, we loved to mimic the late Isadora Duncan, creator of modern dance, as we flowed, strutted, and wiggled our way around the studio with no inhibitions. Rather than move to a specific beat in the music, we let it speak to our souls, and we reacted in kind. And, while I loved every moment, this was to be my last year.
Let’s face it. There comes a time in every job where a changing of the guard is needed to bring new life to the work. When the kids were guessing my age as much higher than it actually is (I’m 67), or that I occasionally needed a four-year-old to help me off the floor (two hip replacements and a fractured pelvis can do that to a person), I knew they didn’t need just new life, but someone young who could still move with ease.
But despite my physical limitations, it was a magical time just the same with fifty dancers ranging from three to nine years old. Each month, a new routine was introduced, and they practiced their little hearts out, leaving me breathless with their progress. Okay, maybe it wasn’t Twyla Tharp breathtaking, but watching their precious faces smile and sing along with the music left me feeling all was right with the world, even if only momentarily. Then, without warning, it was all stripped away. One day, we were skipping around the room, giggling, the next – nothing. There’d be no last time for one more hug or kiss goodbye. Even worse, I wouldn’t be able to tell them how much I loved them as I ushered them out the door.
Just like other teachers, I was diligent in mapping out the entire year. I took great pride in what I did and always wanted my classes to go smoothly. I also wanted each to be magical. The tunes were picked for the children’s enjoyment, the choreography specifically scripted so each tiny dancer would feel successful. Then, there was the treat box filled with little surprises to end each class. And, because this was to be my last end-of-the-year show as well, it was designed to be the best one yet. Now, there’ll be no show. This was not how I wanted my dancing career to end.
As I sit with this momentary sob-fest, and think about what this pandemic is making me miss (as if I’m the only one it’s touched), my thoughts turn to the children. Not just my students, but all children. Every child is missing out on some lovely milestones. There’ll be no graduations, kindergarten or otherwise. The activity of a mother and daughter searching for a gorgeous prom or senior ball dress is now just a sweet concept, for there’ll be no dance. All sporting activities, school plays, talent shows, music concerts, and signing of the yearbook came to a halt as schools shut down for the rest of the year.
But I’m comforted knowing children are resilient. Despite the severity of these times and the havoc the pandemic has created, one day, the children will look back and remember this as a tough time that passed. They’ll move on, especially if surrounded by love at home. Parents are a child’s safe harbor and their ultimate teachers for rebounding.
Considering the children brings me right back to the faces of my sweet students. Okay, I confess—if we’d had our show, believe me, I’d have cried then as well. Saying farewell to those innocent faces has always been difficult, but it’s a grieving process I’ve learned to handle. Not being able to say goodbye is much harder, for I had things I wanted to tell them. So, the question now becomes, how can I take some control back from this uncontrollable situation? Perhaps the perfect venue is right here.
To all the parents who trusted me with your child, I thank you! Each week, I was able to take a break from my adult life and be reminded of all that is pure and beautiful in the world. I know it wasn’t always easy to get them to class, so I want you to know how much I appreciated the effort—and how much I appreciate you. Because of your loving guidance, each week the girls and boys came not only ready and willing to learn, but with an attitude of sincere kindness and respect for each other.
And, to your babies, please let them know that while I’m not one hundred (yet), there once was an aging woman who adored them. My heart is the sacred place I reserve for the special people in my life, and your child will forever be held there. The earth will continue to revolve on its axis, and one day we’ll get back to a “new” normal, but the love and joy we shared in dance class will remain forever in my memory—and for that, I’m eternally grateful. And, one last thing: Please, tell your child I’ll miss them, and that I love them.
These are such tough times. What unfinished business do you have. Maybe write them a letter