I was sitting in the living room folding a load of laundry when I heard my 5 year old daughter in her bedroom.
“Hey everybody, thanks for coming out! Does anyone have any questions before we get started with the class?”
I stopped what I was doing and went and peeked in on her. Instead of getting shy when she saw me, she puffed right up. “Mama! Did you come to take MY Zumba class?” She showed me everything I would need. Two Barbie dolls, the stool from the bathroom, and a washcloth from the linen closet. “Alright. Let’s get started.”
Then she turned around, flipped on the radio, started with a little bounce, and then cranked the music up. LOUD.
She comes with me to the studios and gyms where I teach a lot. On Wednesday nights she colors, brushes her Baby Butterscotch, and occasionally naps on the couch while I teach a Zumba Toning class (which explains the Barbie dolls). On Thursdays she eats the dinner I pack her, and plays with another little girl while I teach Zumba Sentao (hence the chair). On Fridays she’s a student of my ZumbAtomic class, with 5 or 6 other children. And every day at home she’s my dance partner in the kitchen when I’m learning new songs. Our house is always full of music and something is always shaking or shimmying.
It’s such a lesson for me about the way our children pay attention, even when we think they’re not. I’ve heard her scold her baby doll about rolling her eyes. And tease her Gund cocker spaniel about being a smelly beast. Things she’s not even in the same room when I’m saying them she still hears and repeats. So, it makes me wonder where the other stuff is. The last year has been among the hardest in my life. She’s seen crying and heard arguing. Daddy sleeping on the couch and mommy sleeping with the dog. Days when I couldn’t even get myself out of bed, when she’d have to eat a string of snack foods – yogurts and apples and pieces of cheese – because I couldn’t make myself get up to fix breakfast. I know those things have to be swimming around in her thoughts too. So why haven’t I walked into her room to find her ‘playing’ with a half eaten bag of Ruffles and Lifetime movie, eyes swollen half shut from weeping?
I hope it’s because the me in crisis isn’t the me my kids see all the time. I hope it’s because, even during this hard year, what I’ve modeled for my daughter is how to move through hard times and come out the other side. Maybe I’ve shown her to find what works. Even though I tried the Ruffles and tears, I didn’t get stuck there. Maybe she won’t either. I know I can’t shield her from pain in her life, but perhaps instead of beating myself up for not always shielding her from mine, I can be okay about it because even though she’s seen me cry, she’s also seen me find ways to cope.
Of course, at this point in her life, she’d never describe Zumba as a tool for coping. She has no idea the medicinal effects of the music and the endorphins and the sweat and the emotional release. Maybe she feels some of those things, but at five years old I don’t expect her to be able to put words to any of that. Maybe someday she will. But for now, watching her teach an imaginary Zumba class gives me hope that I’m passing down something good.
Yesterday as I taught, she stood in the corner of the room and ROCKED OUT. I mean, she totally ROCKED THE HECK OUT. No holds barred, danced like nobody was watching (and also a little bit like people were. Again like her mama). And after, a student came over to me and said, “I just want to BE her. I want to tell her to stay just like she is. Because it’s AWESOME.” And I smiled so proudly, because I’ve gotten to rock out with her a lot lately. Once I put down the Ruffles and turned on some music.
Sue O’Lear is a licensed Zumba Fitness Instructor, Mom, wife and blogger at MrsFatass.com.