author Jackie Madden Haugh graduates in lifeLooking into sweet blue eyes of 10-year-old innocence, I wasn’t sure how to answer the question Kaitlyn Ecklund asked.

“Jackie,” she began. “I still don’t understand why you have to retire. You can easily teach a few more years. I’m not ready for you to quit.” And then, with complete certainty in her tone, she added, “You’re not THAT old!”

On so many levels, she was right. For the past 20 years, I’ve enjoyed a lovely afternoon activity with hundreds of children (1,800 to be exact). It was in 1992 when the director of the Mountain View Dance Attack, Sioux Lehner, first offered me a job as a “baby teacher.” Being a sucker for cherubs still in diapers, how could I resist? That was the easy part. Imagining myself as an instructor was harder. At first, I found the idea incredulous.

While I’ve always loved to dance, at the age of 8 I was expelled from my own class. Apparently, I was a behavioral problem. Already a free spirit in an arena of strict ballet, it didn’t help that I was an excessive talker. The combination did not sit well with the dance master in 1960. But with Sioux’s faith in me, and a lot of private lessons, my comeback story began.

For the first 10 years, I pranced around the Dance Attack studio with feathers in my hair, plastic jewels on my arms, and my first tutu. The latter 10 have been at the El Camino Y. There I created a program that focused on expression, not perfection. Who cares about talent when you’re so damn cute? But like all lovely things that run their course, on April 30th it became time to hang up my toe shoes.

This time of year we see an abundance of graduations, from preschool to college. It is the moment we celebrate the ending of something rich and rewarding so that a new phase can begin. This graduation season, I’ve been thinking about the true meaning of the commencement process, and realized that this commemorative step shouldn’t be limited to just our education.

In our youth, we graduated from school and went onto the work force. Next, maybe there was a marriage or traveling the world. And, no matter how hard we try to deny it, we must move on from our children as they get ready to explore their own lives along with watching our parents make their final journey home. But, if we’re open to the possibility, wonderful things are waiting.

I have to admit, I’ll miss being told, “You look like a grown-up, but don’t act like one,” or that “You’re the silliest big person I’ve ever known.” And when it comes to Stanford University half-time shows, where my babies flitted and fluttered across the court in bright colors and sparkles in their hair, I’m sure there will be a tear that escapes my eyes as I watch someone elses group take center stage. But in the end, I’ll carry the memory of each precious child who made me giggle, allowed me to be the nutty person I truly am without criticism, and loved me without any hesitation.

Kaitlyn you’re right! I am too young to retire. Instead I’m graduating to explore new adventures while filled with love you and so many others gave me. I may be hanging up my toe shoes, but never my tutu. My inner child will remain alive and dance will always be a wonderful part of my soul.