The Dancer came into the world at exactly 1:00 p.m. central standard time on May 7, 1991. Born in Skokie, Illinois to two bumbling gits of parents who didn't have a clue what to do with her, I'm amazed at the person she has become.
It wasn't until hours later, while holding her and breathing in her newborn breath that smelled like a turkey on rye with mayo to me, I realized that I'd missed As the World Turns for the first time in ages. It served notice, though I'm not sure I paid sufficient attention to it at the time, that our lives would be completely altered by this child.
As I lay on the birthing bed, waiting to have my humpty dumpty put back together again and hemorrhaging dangerously without my knowledge, I squeezed MathMan's hand until his wedding ring cut into him. I didn't realize how hard I was squeezing him because my attention was on the eyes of my baby who was being cleaned, measured and tested. I swear that kid already knew the score because as she wailed her displeasure at being cold, naked, wet and manhandled by nurses, she stared right at me.
Reading my journals from that time, it's obvious that I wanted a baby because I was bored and lonely. I can't even conjure up a memory of what it feels like to be bored or lonely now. Back then, though, we'd just moved to Chicago after graduating from Indiana University. MathMan was a native. I was a foreigner. As a retail manager, MathMan worked horrendous hours. I was alone a lot. I had a job and a couple of friends, but the only other people I knew were my inlaws. I didn't really hang out with them, not because they weren't nice to me, but because, well, for one thing, they were my inlaws, and because they were busy with their own lives.
One day while shopping for our niece in Carson Pirie Scott, I noticed the baby clothes and, I swear, pastel pink and baby blue light shot from my eyes. I lost the ability to speak in anything but baby talk and I started dressing our male cat Phoebe in baby clothes and pushing him around the block in an old buggy I'd rescued on garbage collection day.
MathMan kept wanting to talk about timing and were we ready for a baby? I dismissed this as so many nonsensical words. I was a woman on a mission.
I wouldn't recommend loneliness and boredom as reasons to have a baby, but for us things turned out pretty well. While MathMan worked hard to keep us sheltered, fed and clothed, The Dancer and I got a hang of the mother/daughter thing by waltzing cheek to babysoft cheek in the sun dappled living room, me swirling across the ocean of blue carpet that covered the floors of the pre-War era apartment. I made up songs and sang them to her. She was a rapt audience until she discovered Barney the Dinosaur.
I watched her as she slept in her hand-me-down crib and whispered empowering words to her. I told her over and over that she was strong and smart and beautiful. I spoke French to her, read poetry and labeled everything as we moved through our days. That's a chair. That's a window. That's a blow up doll. That's an idiot who doesn't know how to drive......
In the middle of the night, I would sit in the rocker that once belonged to MathMan's mother and listen to the mingled sounds of her not so gentle sucking and the sleeping city outside the open windows. I would stroke her cheek with my thumb when she paused and fell asleep before her feeding time was up. Otherwise I'd be up with her and her empty tummy an hour later instead of three hours later.
I tried to imagine who she'd be when she grew up.
The Dancer knew that her charms were unrivaled when it came to her daddy. When MathMan came home from the store at night, she would lean so far over in her bouncy seat trying to get at him, that I worried she would topple. She lured him in with her feigned interest in high-level math as he held her on his lap and read his calculus text books from college to her.
Okay, so she's been selected to win the IB math award for the second year in a row. Maybe she wasn't feigning interest after all.
And here we are today. She's eighteen! What a time in her life. I could write pages about how it's all ahead of her and how excited I am for her future, but that's her story to write. I'm still reeling at the idea that this gorgeous, intelligent, talented girl is the product of my DNA mixed with MathMan's.
So about that college decision - I'm going to go full-tilt brag for a bit. She set a goal of being accepted to every school to which she applied. Mission accomplished. Tulane, University of Georgia, Indiana University, Agnes Scott, George Washington and Brenau University, a small, liberal arts women's college in Gainesville, Georgia. I couldn't be more proud.
Her decision was a lesson in the stark realities of life. It's about the money. Indiana University put her immediately into their honors program and even admitted her so that she could bypass their special freshman program. But out of state tuition costs made it impossible for her to go there. The other schools were financially out of reach, too, except for the University of Georgia, and she didn't really want to go there.
She chose Brenau for all the right reasons. As a Brenau Scholar, she has a full academic scholarship and an additional dance scholarship. She can double major in dance and political science. She'll be only two hours away so we can still complain about the obligations of having to go see her in performances at the school and with the Gainesville Ballet Company.
This is all very important you see, not because I can relive my young adulthood vicariously through her (she is vastly more self-disciplined than I was, so her experience is completely incomprehensible to me), but because that very first time I sat in a darkened theater and watched her perform as a four year old to The Lonesome Little Butterfly, I knew that dance was magic for our daughter. I had no idea that she might one day consider a career in dance, but I could tell by her glowing, smiling face and her natural abilities that dance was her thing. To this day, it still is.
Dance, like sports, is a fickle business, though, and I'm glad that she's planning another career path, as well. Currently, her plan is to follow up Brenau with law school to study environmental law. We'll see, of course. I mean, back in 1984, I was sent to Ball State to become a teacher.
This matters in the context of The Dancer having a successful and comfortable life. One of the reasons we insist that she take out only the very minimum in loans is because we don't want her starting out so far in debt like we did. The other value that we've preached about incessantly is loving and believing in what you do. She can observe her parents and see what a difference this makes. One of us has great passion for his career. The other doesn't. It shows.
It's not all parental altruism, though. The other reason why it's important that The Dancer achieve her goals and have a successful (and hopefully lucrative) career is because it won't be long before Reparations are implemented. And that will coincide nicely with the time we plan to launch the other two into the world. MathMan and I will be ready for the freedom we've been missing since that fateful day when I picked up the little box of baby booties and cooed "Oooh, we need a baby, MathMan. Aren't these cute? I wonder if they have them in ballet slippers......?"
Happy birthday, Chloe, for a million reasons and more, I'm so glad you're my daughter.