From the Vault: “Tiny Dancer”

Here’s a piece I did for my daughter during the Ozarks Writing Project Summer Institute in June of 2011. It’s one of my favorite pieces I did, but I hadn’t shared it here because you really have to see her dancing to believe it. As luck would have it, my wife later caught a pretty good sampling of her dance moves in the kitchen, and these moves are too good not to be shared.

Tiny Dancer

Little gal, you had me at hello. You came into this world and put the stranglehold on your father’s heart before you or he even knew what had happened. Perhaps it is more fitting to say that you became part of my heart, inseparable and imperative. I know this because when I heard you whimper or cry in the night those first few months, I was up and ready to do whatever it took to reassure you that you were cared for and loved.

Time has flown since your infant days, and it grows more evident each passing day that you are mine and I am undoubtedly yours. No longer a baby, you’re now a three-year-old, long-haired fairy with feisty opinions on fashion and an insatiable appetite for all things princess-related. Still, despite the overabundance of pink clothes and Tinkerbell paraphernalia, you gladly oblige your dada by returning my “M-I-Z” with the proper “Z-O-U,” giving life to my slim hopes that, like your precious jewel of a mother, you’ll care about football.

But that’s about me, isn’t it? Can I tell you, little lady, the things you do that I love most?

I love when you cock your head, bat your eyes, and melt my heart with your full-toothed grins. I love when you bull your way up onto my lap, forcing your brothers aside and claiming me as your own. I love when you instruct me on how a lady sits and ask me to follow your lead. I love when you ask for a stuffed animal before bed…and then another…and then another…and then ten more so that you’re eventually sleeping with a plush zoo.

But here’s what I love most. Sometimes you dance. And, trust me, your dancing is like nothing I’ve ever seen. Your movements are an eclectic mix: one cup Charleston, a dash of Mambo, a pinch of Ballet, a dollop or so of what the kids call the Stanky Leg for pizzazz, and a hearty measure of nondescript waggle…the perfect recipe. You gyrate, flail, spin until dizziness nearly brings you to the floor, and occasionally call to mind the Seinfeld episode where Elaine dances at the wedding (you don’t get that allusion now, but we’ll watch reruns).

The best part, though, comes in the middle. You typically close your eyes while dancing, but inevitably, you will pause, turn towards me, and, as if only to warm my heart, gaze back at me with an approval-seeking grin. And I want so badly for you to know that I do approve. I passionately and wholeheartedly approve of you in every way imaginable.

The truth is, sweetheart, that your dad has a Father, too, and I only wish I could dance recklessly about with my eyes closed, only opening them to check for Fatherly approval. Sadly, I spend too much time scared of what I might not see if I closed my eyes. Eyes wide open, I fearfully scan the room to gauge the disapproval my measured steps are receiving from the wallflowers who don’t even have the guts to look a young girl in the eyes at the punch bowl or are too cool to step on the dance floor. I’m nothing like you; you who is without pretense and has no knowledge of posturing.

I have a lot to learn from you, princess.

You’re too young to make a promise, but I want you to make it anyway. Promise me you’ll keep dancing. When you find out the world can be a scary place, dance. When you find out that friends are only human, dance. When people try to tell you your self-worth is determined by their asinine judgements, dance. When some young boy breaks your heart (likely causing me to do something that will offer me opportunity to start a prison ministry from the inside), just keep dancing. And if, for a moment, you open those big, beautiful brown eyes, promise that you’ll glance at me for approval because God knows I approve of you; completely and without reservation.

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