When Emory hit the 15-month mark, he started to notice the world around him and that he was sharing it with other people. He went from a dancing, falling down toddler to realizing that people were paying attention. Instead of embracing them and pulling them in, he stopped dancing.
I told everyone around us not to laugh at him, not that anyone really had been. I just wanted to send him the message that it’s OK to carry on and that he shouldn’t care what anybody else thinks or that they’re paying attention at all.
It didn’t work. He just wouldn’t dance anymore. He became shy, and made strange yet adorable facial expressions letting everyone around him know that he knew they were paying attention.
And then one day one of his teachers informed me that some kids are just self-conscious. It came up because we were talking about music class and dancing and I said, “OH! Does he dance for you?”
She answered, “No. He marches, but he won’t dance.”
And while hearing that shouldn’t necessarily break a mother’s heart, it sent a splinter right through mine.
I don’t want my kid to be self-conscious. I want him to dance whenever the mood strikes. I want him to throw his hands up whenever he’s excited to see someone. Most of all, I want him to laugh at himself.
Like with most things having to do with how one goes about parenting, this probably has a lot to do with me. I was once the girl who didn’t care what other people thought. And I was happier for it. But at some point I turned into a self-conscious bore. My concern about what other people thought about me made me fearful. I became just another coward in the crowd, someone to skip over.
I became a girl just like any other girl.
I have since grown to know, accept and work with the new girl, but I do often mourn the old one. And I could sit here and blame everyone else for her departure—society does have a way of normalizing everyone—but I’m the one that let her go.
Recently, a couple of Em’s classmates have decided that he’s pretty great. They let him know as much by screeching his name whenever they see him.
And the sound of his name fires off motion in a moment of pause.
Emory stomps his feet, throws his arms in the air, takes his pointer fingers and bores two little imaginary holes into each of their bellies, and they become the greatest gifts he’s ever seen.
And they scream and he screams and everyone is screaming and I start screaming on the inside because she’s in there somewhere boring two holes into my belly because I’m the greatest gift she’s ever seen.
And then the whole world stops spinning and everyone is dancing and stomping his or her feet and listening to the lack of gravity of the situation.
Jubilance. Joy. A total disregard for everything that turns us into cowards, buffoons, and judgmental idiots—a total disregard for all that keeps us grounded and proper and therefore absurd.
So, the next time we see each other—you and me—no matter how much time has gone by—an hour, a day, three days, five years—my vocal chords are going give you the biggest standing ovation you’ve ever felt. They’re gonna stomp on the minutes that dictate your day like a steel-toed boot, and hopefully reduce you to a pile of laughter and a fit of screams.
Because that’s what we should do—you and me. That’s what we need to do.
My only hope is that you don’t blush.