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Tap Dancing for My Mom

Published on: May 07, 2014

I recently went back home to Minnesota for a few days and was able to spend some time with my parents. It was extra special because I went by myself so we had uninterrupted time together. What a joy.

During this kid-free visit, I also wanted to get my hair dyed, so I used the opportunity to pamper myself without trying to figure out child-care.

My mom and I wanted to maximize the time we had so she accompanied me to her usual salon. She pulled up a chair next to me as her stylist began to color my hair. Mom has been her client for years, and it was fun to see her so excited for the two of us to meet.

Her stylist is a very sweet woman. We compared notes about raising boys. Somehow, the subject of my chance encounter many years ago with Maya Angelou came up. My mom was pushing it, but I quickly realized that her stylist had no idea who Maya Angelou is.

I tried to brush it off and say it was no big deal but my mom just kept prodding. “You know, she is a famous African American poet? She read one of her poems for Clinton’s inauguration?” When she was still getting zero recognition, mom got desperate and tried, “She’s like Oprah’s second mother!”

The woman was sweet and listened, but I could tell that she still had no clue. I felt like the story was pointless, but my mom kept pushing, “Tell her, Steph! Tell her how you got her autograph! Tell her how you talked with her!”

This is when my I felt my inner teenager start to kick in. Isn’t amazing how mothers can do that? One push too far from her, and my first instinct is to shut down, roll my eyes and distance myself. I wanted to shy away from her just like I used to when I would hang back a step or two at the mall.

I was instantly transported back to the days when she would make me tap dance for my relatives. That might sound like a metaphor, but it’s not. I mean it literally. I was a tap dancer for nine years, and she would always beg me to put my shoes on and dance when she had friends or relatives over. I remember dutifully doing so, but the older I got, the weirder it felt. My shoulders would slump and my eyes would remain fixed on the ceiling as I tapped around our kitchen, avoiding even a glance at whatever visitor was watching.

I had the same wash of embarrassment now, but this time there was a difference. The difference was that I get it now! Becoming a mother has pulled back the curtain on some of the behaviors that used to mortify me.

I understand wanting to show your kids off. I am her investment. Now I know what it feels like to pour thousands of hours of time and attention into a little vessel and hope, just hope that it will pay off!

She’s proud of me. It’s fun to have other people see what you’ve done with your life. She spent years trying to mold us into functioning human beings, and now she can sit back and let others enjoy her work. Only as a parent myself have I begun to understand what that truly means.

Also, my oldest son is 9 years old now and he is beginning to show his first signs of shying away from us. My corny jokes are now as likely to be met with an eye roll as they are with a laugh. He asks for fewer hugs, and I am just beginning to feel the chill of the teen years between us. I know what lies ahead.

My, oh my, empathy can do wonders for a bad attitude!

So, I looked over at my mom as I sat in that stylist’s chair and my embarrassment turned to understanding. I saw her prodding me and I made up my mind. I decided to dance for her.

Instead of pulling back, I jumped into my story with both feet. I told the whole thing in long form. I carefully described my favorite part about how Dr. Angelou’s voice sounds like a lioness in real life, just like on TV; imitating her as best I could. I spared no detail. I even told the stylist how the poem that she pulled out of her purse and signed for me will be handed down to my boys someday, and I hope that they will cherish it as much as I have.

My mom beamed. She nodded as I did my lioness line that she has heard several times before. It was the same smile that I used to see as she nodded along to my tap routines in the kitchen. But this time, I wasn’t 12 and I wasn’t embarrassed. The bonds of motherhood have given me the grace of understanding.


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