The Secret To Parenthood I Wish Mine Had Known


“Everyone's filling me up with noise, I don't know what they're talking about ... You see all I need is a whisper in a world that only shouts.” ~ Passenger: Whispers

Last Saturday afternoon I attended a dance recital. We gathered in a hot and humid studio here in San Diego, with windows on three sides open to catch a cooling breeze coming off the bay.

My middle stepdaughter and ten other pre-teen girls had worked seven-hour days for two weeks preparing four separate pieces, each with a different choreographer.

Most of the girls are from the junior company of Malashock Dance; two others had been invited to be a part of the workshop and had traveled a long way to do so.

The choreographers’ interpretation of music in movement was spot on. The dancers’ realization of that vision seemed effortless, as if they had been dancing those four pieces in just that way many, many times.

To bring four dance pieces to performance level in two weeks is in itself an amazing effort. To achieve actual artistry with the performance in the same amount of time is astonishing.

For college students or adult semi-pros to do this would be mind-boggling; that these eleven young dancers did so with such grace and ease was exquisitely sublime.

The final dance was set to the song “Whispers” by Passenger. There’s a certain kind of mistiness that comes over me when music is absolutely perfect for the activity it supports. Every one of the pieces at that recital had the perfect music, but that one made me weep.

As I sat with the other parents I had to keep reminding myself that the little girl whose mother I married only a few years ago was dancing here and now at a professional level, and that, like her, every other dancer wasn’t yet in high school.

I knew that, right then, her bedroom would be a huge mess, that I’d be driving her to and from school for a few more years before she would ask to use the car, that, as her stepfather, I would be a part of the push and pull of her blended and extended family in beautiful, strange and sometimes difficult ways for the rest of my life.

I also hoped right then that I hadn’t done anything to interfere with her art. I’ve seen her dance before, so I also hoped I’d done and said enough things about her love of dance that were supportive, caring, interested — I hoped I’d given her enough praise.

I hope that the will she has to achieve what she showed us that afternoon continues to thrive, and that her passion resists any effort to break it — that mentors in her life support it.

And I realized the truth of the lyric that ended the recital. It was so obvious in the choreography. This world,  these dancers, you, me, all of us, our families, our colleagues, our friends don’t need more noise.

At the end of that dance, the last gesture was a simple, quiet, symbolic release — a girl, kneeling elegantly, extending one arm and gently opening her hand toward the audience to allow what had been held there to go free. (Your imagination will provide a visual when you hear the music.)

The truth is that we’ll miss that gesture if we’re shouting. We’ll miss it if we make too much parental noise. Whatever was set free at the end of that dance found all of us, dancers and audience, in an open, vulnerable and quiet place, like the moment before the Flamenco guitarist’s fingers touch the strings.

In that tension between silence and sound, the whisper happens — between the breathing in of what was and the breathing out of what is to come. I want to parent more in THAT space ... from THAT place.

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