The three of us walk to Harper’s ballet class on what feels like winter’s end. “It’s hotter out here than it is in the house!” Hadley exclaims running ahead of us. Harper follows her, skipping. She’s wearing rain boots, pink tights, and her black leotard. Harper calls it a “leotart,” and I don’t correct her just as I didn’t correct Hadley when she used to call the library “wahbare,” or say, “ganks” for thanks. Hadley figured out the correct words, and so will Harper. I’ll keep the memory.
Harper’s underpants are smooshed and crinkled between her leotard and tights. “Harper,” I say as I dodge puddles the snow is leaving behind while it melts, “you forgot to take your underpants off!”
“Oh! Right!” She says as she jumps in each puddle splashing water up the length of her legs. “Don’t worry, Mommy,” she says climbing to the top of what’s left of a snow bank. “All the girls forget.” She’s standing a foot above me with her hands in the air like she’s rejoicing when she says, “Every week, we are all wearing underpants!”
We continue to walk and Hadley, who’s had a substitute teacher for a couple of weeks, says, “Our sub talks too much.”
“Oh yeah?” I say.
“Yeah. She’ll say things like, ‘Actually we’re actually going to open our books now.’ Why does she say ‘actually’ twice?”
“Maybe she’s nervous,” I suggest, thinking about all the times I’ve stood in front of a class with butterflies running amok in my stomach.
“Nervous?” Hadley is baffled. “What’s she nervous about? She’s the teacher!” We walk in silence save for the swish and splash of water all around us when Harper says, “When I’m nervous I think about the future.” She walks on leftover patches of snow, and what were once flakes now seep under her weight, and trickle down the street, joining the small streams that follow the path of the tar scars on the road.
Harper continues, “I think about what I could do in the future and that makes me brave.”
We get to class early and walk into the studio to wait. Hadley goes straight for the mirrors, flips her baseball cap backwards, and crosses her arms and leans back. Then she spins and jumps while her fists pound the air. Other girls start to walk in. They’re dressed exactly like Harper down to the crushed underpants they too forgot to take off, and I smile with a strange relief.
I’m tying Harper’s ballet shoes when she whimpers, “I don’t want you to go.”
The little girls gather around Hadley, who’s on the ground now performing a backspin. I feel like I’m in a really strange version of Breakin’ 2, Electric Boogaloo.
Harper looks at me and twirls her hair, a sure sign she’s feeling anxious. I kneel in front of her and whisper, “I’ll be back before you know it, and you know what?” I squeeze her sides to get her giggling. “I always come back early so I can see you dance.”
Harper’s teacher walks in and Hadley stops what she’s doing and stands next to the bar, watching. The girls begin to line up in the center of the studio as the music begins to play. Harper still looks sad and makes no move to join her classmates. “Harper,” I say, “remember what you said while we were walking here? About what you do when you’re nervous?”
“I think about the future.”
“Yes. You said it makes you brave.”
Harper nods, remembering.
“Do you think you can do that now?” I don’t know what I’m asking exactly. Am I asking her to wish this moment away? Is that what I want to show her about being brave? To wish for another time so that she can get through something tough? Or did she mean she imagines who she could be in that uncertain, scary time, and that makes her brave to live the moment she’s in? I want her to think the latter. I want her to see that what’s going on now is good: the snow that’s melting, the water that’s rushing towards spring, the music that’s playing overhead while I encourage her to prance and skip towards the center of the studio and leap to its beat.
Harper nods and I wonder what it is she is thinking. How does she see herself in the future? What does she want to become? And how do I express that she is perfectly fine right now? That she can be brave right now?
“OK” is all I say. “I’ll see you in an hour,” I tell her and give her a hug.
“Bye, Mommy,” she says walking onto the dance floor.
“What was that all about?” Hadley asks as we head outside. I explain what happened as we walk and Hadley is silent for a bit then says, “So, was that embarrassing for you?”
Wind blows and I instinctively cross my arms over myself to keep the cold out and then relish in the realization that I don’t need to do that. The breeze is warm. “No,” I chuckle, “it wasn’t embarrassing for me.”
The cars outside push the water in the street so it rushes faster down the pavement, sometimes splashing over the curb, landing back on what’s left of the snowbanks and joining the slushy flakes until it melts and tries again.
“I’m walking backwards so the wind doesn’t whip my hair in my face,” Hadley announces. She sings as she stomps backwards, a sure sign she is lost in her world. I walk to the beat she makes until she slips on an icy patch of snow and falls.
“Hadley!” I reach to grab her. “Are you OK?”
“I’m fine,” she says, hopping back up as quickly as she fell. “Woo!” she says dusting off her hands and shaking her head a little bit. “Good thing that wasn’t ABC gum I landed in. You know about ABC gum, right?”
“Yes, I know about ABC gum,” I say thinking back to first grade and how disappointed I was that it wasn’t some kind of alphabet gum. Perhaps bubble gum with a “C” or “L” imprinted on it.
“Or bird poop!” Hadley adds. “Good thing it wasn’t bird poop!” She hops on one foot over a puddle. “Now that would’ve been embarrassing.”
I ruffle Hadley’s hair, thankful that she’s still little enough for me to do that, thankful that we are walking around in the almost spring daylight, that Harper is learning her plies in ballet, that Hadley didn’t hurt herself when she fell, that I’ll hold onto this memory when the girls are older, and braver, and in the future.