The Battle of the Craft Project

craft projectMy son is two weeks into kindergarten and we’ve gotten his first assignment. Naturally, it’s a fun craft project that mom, dad, and child can all enjoy.

So naturally, it was a fucking nightmare.

Backtracking for a second: I love Lucas’ teacher. She rocks. She’s no nonsense. She’s firm but fun and she gets the littles. She’s not forcing homework down our throats but is also encouraging home activities and strong parental involvement. So, yay! Win for us.

She sent home a note with parents last week letting us know that we’d be helping our wee ones with making their book box, a shoebox they’d decorate and show to the class. It’s a place to store their homemade books that they’ll create throughout the year. Cute.

We grabbed a box and literally every paper, pen, marker, crayon, colored pencil, cloth, ribbon, button, piece of lint, balloon, feather, sticker, paint, straw, errant Cheerio, yarn, loom, and kitchen table we could find. We displayed it all on the, you know, kitchen table and turned on some tunes to get our son motivated.

We were like the parental equivalent of the creepy old Six Flags dancing man.

Us: Luuuucas! Check it out! All these fun crafts? Do you believe it? Let’s decorate your book box for school!

Lucas: I’m gonna go play with my fans.

Us: Noooooo! Forget the fans. Look at all this cool stuff! Wanna write your name on the box? You can…you know…write your name on it? And put some stickers….on….it???

Lucas: Ummm…no, I want the fans.

Us, getting frustrated: Lucas! This is for class. Your teacher wants everyone to make a book box. You don’t want yours to be blank. Now let’s try something! Some…stickers? Or how about…you know…this OTHER sticker?

Lucas turns on and off the chandelier light above the kitchen table.

Us: Come on, buddy. This is fun! Right? This is totally fun! Like…crafts! Crafting! It’s…great! Let’s do this!

Lucas picks up a marker, lazily writes “Lucas,” and walks away.

I was so angry with my son in that moment that I wanted to shame him. Shame him for not wanting to participate in something FUN like CRAFTS and instead go play with something he actually enjoys like (for some God forsaken reason) setting up a series of fans to blast air at each other and make curtains move. But then I realized something:

I fucking hate crafts.

My dislike of crafting is severe. Construction paper makes me weep. Glue sticks are just cylindrical booger canes. Glitter might be the work of the devil. And my son just might share my total disregard for scrapbooking, knitting, or chalkboard signs wrapped in burlap sold on Etsy.

God I love that kid.

Are You There Blog? It’s Me, Wendy

WendyFunny thing happened this summer. I died.

It didn’t happen suddenly. It was a slow death I should have seen coming. A series of events, one after the other, that combined to take me away, piece by piece.

It started when I went to Massachusetts with Lucas and left my husband behind for 10 days. Despite being on vacation, a feeling of unrest followed me throughout my stay. No partner to tag in when Lucas worked my last nerve. No warm smile to share across the table.

Then I came home to California and left my son back in Massachusetts with my mom for 12 days. I knew he was having the time of my life, so that kept me going. But a week went by without my child. Then almost two. Without him, the world stood too still. The house was too clean. I felt nothing inside of me stirring. I tread water, barely keeping my head, as waves of loneliness washed over me. I felt myself fading.

During that time, I ran out of the painkillers that I rely on to deal with chronic back pain. I went two and a half weeks without them, powering through just-under-the-skin raw inflammation and bone deep dull joint pain. I had been tested emotionally—now it was time for the physical. My head dipped below the water but I fought to stay afloat.

Then I managed to return to what felt like a hostile work environment—one that threatened to swallow me whole. A particularly hellish two weeks tested my capacity to handle challenges with grace and fortitude. I drowned in work and stress reached a fever pitch.

Then something happened that killed me dead. I’m a writer by profession, but despite cranking out hundreds of words a day, I  stopped writing.

This whole time, I haven’t been me. I’ve either had too much or too little. And my blog, this microcosm of me, has sat at the back of my mind like a tiny nuisance, a phantom hair tickling my arm. How could I write for fun when I had nothing important or funny to say? When my heart was in two different places or my body was exhausted from fighting back pain or my brain was spent from juggling copywriting and product updates and work politics and board of director bios?

A week went by without writing for fun. Then two. Then a month. I thought about giving it up for good. After all, it would be one less thing I’d have to worry about. It made all kinds of logical, practical sense. Why am I even doing this, anyway?

Then I took a huge, gasping breath and felt my heart beat in my ribcage again. It’s faint, but it’s there.

Some things happened this summer that made me forget who I am and what I want. They weren’t big things, which is why I couldn’t tap into grief or anger or frustration or any kind of identifiable emotion that I could capture here on this blog. Little things that conspired to make me give up on my creative pursuits. To doubt in my ability to do or be something more than I already am. I knew I wasn’t content. But for the first time, I was purposefully not pressing forward.

And to me, that might as well be dead. So I’ll keep trying, even though it feels like trudging backwards and in heels through molasses. I’ll put words on this blog, if only to remind myself that I’ve got to find something else left.

My family is back together. My prescription for painkillers has been refilled, and relief is here. Work continues to be stressful, but the worst of it seems to have let up (for now). All is not right with the world, but I’ve got to make it right.

And the first step is talking to you, dear blog. Are you there? It’s me. Wendy.

What I Did For Love

IMG_6492Kiss the date goodbye
And point me toward the bathroom
I did what I had to do
But I’m going to regret
What I did for love, what I did foooooor looooooooove!

Those of you who aren’t fans of A Chorus Line are probably scratching your heads. But I’m about to tell you a story about how far a mother’s love can go…and to what depths it can plunge you.

Depths of, say, the seventh level of hell—otherwise known as taking your kid to the public restroom.

Walk with me as I take you through a most terrible journey.

It was Saturday evening in the bougie district of Santana Row in San Jose. It had been a long day for five-year-old Lucas. Having fought off sleep until 11pm the night before (and then waking at 6:30am), he was in rare form. We went grocery shopping. He played outside in his plastic pool for a couple hours. We went to a friend’s house-warming party. By the time dinner rolled around, kid was RIPE.

He had asked Alex to take him to the bathroom to pee two times in 10 minutes. The third request was for poo. Alex turned to me with the “your turn” look. So off we went.

We entered the first level of hell: public restrooms with bathroom attendants. What was already an awkward bathroom experience (taking a borderline too-old child into the ladies room) became exponentially so, since I knew bathroom attendant lady would have no choice but to stand next to me while I waited for my child to drop a deuce. With a painfully cheerful smile, she pointed us to the largest stall. Thank you, bathroom attendant lady. Without you, I never would have found this place.

But I was indeed thankful. Thankful that I could hide out in the stall and not have to make bathroom small-talk with a woman for whom I had no spare cash for a tip.

After wiping the toilet seat down, Lucas sat upon his throne but something wasn’t right. The lighting. Apparently now we need proper lighting for taking a dump. Welcome to my fresh hell, otherwise known as level two. We left the stall and, like Goldilocks, he tried all the other stalls until he found one that was juuuuuust right. Since it was the tiniest stall, I pulled up a spot next to bathroom attendant lady and decided to get chummy. Figured, what the hell, let’s see if I can’t make an awkward situation even more uncomfortable.

“Sooooo….I guess he’s real particular about where he drops a twosie!”

She didn’t respond. But her way-too-happy-for-a-person-who-hangs-out-in-the-bathroom-all-night smile remained firmly in place. Level three.

I started to shut the door to Lucas’ stall when he shouted back at me. “NO, NO, NO! Door stays open!” Negotiations took place to at least move the door to an acute angle. I flashed crazy-eyed bathroom attendant lady the “so sorry you have to witness this” look. She didn’t move a muscle on her face. Level four.

Then the bathroom “front door” opened and two girls in impossibly tiny dresses with stripper heels and Kardashian extensions flounced in. Lucas slammed the door shut and locked it. Good. I waited for five minutes, standing in tight quarters next to bathroom attendant lady, who at this point should have at least offered me a mint.

Finally, Lucas declared he was done. He tugged on the door but it didn’t budge. He couldn’t get it open. Cue a blood-curdling, Satan-is-pulling-my fingernails-off-one-by-one scream. The child was paralyzed with fear because he couldn’t figure out how to unlock the door. I tried talking to him, instructing him on how to pull the latch over to the side or push it down. I did my best to peer underneath the stall door, but it was too low to the ground. Bathroom attendant lady helpfully did absolutely nothing. Level five.

So I did what any mother would do in the name of love. I laid down flat on my belly on the public restroom floor and seal-shimmied my way into the tiny stall. Ladies and gentlemen, this was still only the sixth level of hell. Why?

Because when I got into the stall, Lucas hadn’t gone to the bathroom yet.

I Can Haz Write Stuff

IMG_6597
I’m mad as hell but can still sorta take it because what the hell else am I supposed to do.

Things have happened in the world. I have felt sad about them. Sometimes, I’ve felt angry. Other times…nothing.

Things have happened in my life. I have felt happy about them. Sometimes, I’ve felt proud. Other times…shrug.

Things have happened to Lucas and at work and to my family. I’ve thought of things to say about them, but I’ve brushed them aside because I don’t know exactly how I feel. Most of the time…numb.

I thought of writing about the sorry state of political affairs. How everyone’s nerves as are frayed as the ends of my old iPhone charger. How so many of us can’t bite our tongues anymore. But I bit my tongue anyway.

I thought of writing about tragedy. Of unspeakable tragedy and how we process it. How we distance ourselves from it. How we comfort ourselves with the idea that it could never happen to us. How we know deep down that’s not true. I decided not to. Too painful.

I considered speaking out about rape and the culture that permits “normal” white guys to get away with the complete disregard of women’s bodies as their own, the complete disregard of women as legitimate, as worthy, as anything other than holes that, if not kept explicitly shut, are asking to be fucked. I couldn’t do it. The victim herself could. I couldn’t.

I’ve thought about homophobia, misogyny, racism, guns, religion, public shaming, animal rights, women’s rights, human rights. How all of it is not right.

I’ve started and stopped so many posts because what do I say? Why add to the din? What could this possibly do for anyone? I shrug and shut my computer. I’ll write something another time, I think.

I go about my life as a little less of a person. Each piece of news more devastating than the next to the point where I pick up my phone, read that 50 people have been mowed down, robbed of life, and then feel…nothing. I sigh and put it back down. Then I go about my business like it’s any other day.

Because at this point, it’s any other day. And that’s something I’ve just, what…grown to accept? Have you?

I can write things about it, sure. I can go to my tiny corner of the Internet and talk about how unfair it is and get a few people to like my post, maybe even share it. Then I feel better about myself, like I accomplished something. Look, isn’t this cathartic? Let me tell you how I feel about it, Internet. Because you so desperately needed to know. And now the world will be a better place.

Things have happened in the world and I’ve felt bitter. Bitter that this is our reality. Bitter that as much as things change, they don’t just stay the same…they get worse. In one hand, Mexico legalizes gay marriage. In the other, 50 gay people are slaughtered by a semi-automatic gun obtained legally by a known hostile ISIS sympathizer. And because those two things exist simultaneously, many of us can no longer make sense of the world.

What, exactly, do I tell my son? Hey, you’re a mixed-race child in America. Half of you is someone who could get away with raping a girl if I don’t make damn well sure you understand how exactly NOT OKAY it is to touch a person who clearly hasn’t told you or shown you she (or he) wants to be touched. The other half is someone who could get deported or targeted for violence or rounded up and shipped out of the country to go build a wall.

I can write about all this stuff. I can shake and get angry and put it out there for you to also shake and get angry, maybe even at me, but also with me, and we will congratulate ourselves on being “brave” to talk about these things out loud.

I am not brave for writing this. I am selfish. Because I was ready to explode. I wrote this so I could feel better. Maybe it helps you feel better too.

Because, really, what else can we do? We can pick up our phones and sigh. We can make half-hearted attempts at outrage on social media. Then we can go about our lives as a little more of a person because we gave a damn for half a second. We can write stuff.

One Step Closer to 40

Can't complain about this, though. #meday #treatyoself
Can’t complain about this, though. #meday #treatyoself

It was my birthday yesterday. Meeeeeeeeeeeeeh. I realize in the grand scheme of things, I’m still comparatively young. I’m not here to complain about that. (Okay, I’m a little bit here to complain about that.)

What’s hard to stomach is…I’m one step closer to 40.

I thought 30 was a little daunting, but for the most part I welcomed it with open arms. Everyone says, “Your 30s are great! You’ve figured out who you are, you make strides in your career, maybe you start a family. No more drama and upheaval like in your 20s!” (I beg to differ, but okay. I’m following.)

What they really mean is “the year 30 is great!” Every year after 30 is one step closer to 40. Thirty-one and you’re still basically just 30. Thirty-two and shit starts to get real. By the time you reach 35, you realize middle age is just a thinning eyelash away.

But 36…36 takes you over that threshold. I now round up to 40. Okay, granted, I technically was supposed to do that at 35, but suck it, math. I held onto my early 30s as long as I could.

So here we are, 36. Crow’s feet and all. Greying baby’s bangs and all. Slowing metabolism and bad back and general sense of defeat and all. Are you a glimpse into the “I give up” 40s? Should I just go ahead and give up now?

There was that awesome meme that circulated around Facebook a couple weeks back. About how Harrison Ford was still a carpenter at age 30 and Samuel L. Jackson didn’t land his first movie role until he was 40-something (and then he didn’t stop saying “yes” to any movie he was offered after that). I liked it. At 35, it spoke to me. At 36 I’m like….meeeeeeeeeeh. That’s so much WORK.

Because if you want that kind of success in advanced age, you really have to stay the course. You’ve been told “no” over and over and over and over and over. You’ve tried and failed so much, it’s just the expected outcome now. But you finally wear people down. And that’s when it hits you.

That’s what that meme was saying, right? Don’t give up, even when it’s socially acceptable to give up! But I’m so close to 40, the age when no one expects you to do anything else with your life. The age when you’re supposed to start living vicariously through your kids instead. Can’t I just give up now and call it a day?

Every bone in my slowly aging body says yes.

But as I inch my way closer to 40, another small voice, likely to be squashed by this gaping apathy brought on by another birthday, says, “Hey. Hey you. I’m not done yet.”

Sigh. Okay, little voice. I hear you. It’s why I write this blog. It’s why I still say yes to freelance projects even though I don’t technically need the money. It’s why I needle around writing a book I have no idea how to get published.

One step close to 40, eh? Who cares. I’m gonna keep doing my thing until either nothing happens or something happens. I hope it’s something. But if it’s not, at least I gave it a try.

The Tango Lucas: A Bedtime Routine

IMG_6364The Tango Lucas is a complicated dance. It starts at 7:30pm. It starts that early because, if we’re lucky, it’ll be over by 9. That’s a long time to hold a rose between your teeth.

You want to learn this dance? It’s not easy. But let me teach you.

First it goes, “Time for bed, Lucas!”

Then it goes, “Just one more minute, Mama.”

Next it goes, “No, let’s go buddy.”

And then it goes, “Just one more very very one more minute!”

We sashay into the bathroom where we begin the brushing of the teeth. We wrangle over the toothbrush, the toothpaste, how long to brush, keeping the faucet running, turning the faucet off, spitting in the sink, spitting down the front of his shirt. We finally do a hop-skip into Lucas’ room.

In the second section of this dance, the power struggle amps up a notch. While I try to slow things down into a waltz by reading a book, Lucas keeps me on my toes with a hundred and one questions about the fan, the Bandaid on his leg, how come cups don’t breathe underwater, and why can’t he touch Mama’s boobies? It’s like we’re doing two different dances at this point.

Try and keep up because the third section of this tango is where things get really spicy. Just when you think the dance is going to end, Lucas surprises you with requests for water, having to take the randomest 8:15pm dump, or picking his nose and danglinng the booger above your face. I call this part the “backwards tango.”

Finally, the finale. I lay down and pretend I’m dead. Literally don’t move a muscle because if I do, that’s cause for starting the dance all over again. Better not have an itch on your nose. It’ll result in, “Mama, what’re you doing?” Better dare not check your phone to see what time it is. The glow from the screen will roll you back to the intro, and you were just getting excited about the idea of pulling those thorns out of your mouth.

Now here’s the trick to this whole routine. Just when Lucas has finally stopped whirling around and whispering to himself, just when you’ve had about three minutes of quiet, just when you hear what you think are the slow breathing sounds of sleep, just when you get ready to step forward and take a bow, that’s when he gets ya.

“Mama, I’m hot! I need to change.”

What an exciting tango! The audience is riveted. I, on the other hand, have thrown in the towel. Go ahead and put me in the corner. The only reason this dance ends is because I end up passing out before my son does in his bed.

To My Classic Italian Mom on Mother’s Day

Dear Mom,

Where to begin? I know you’re not one for doling out the sentimental stuff. I also know that you secretly love it when other people do. That’s the dichotomy of you, and that, at the heart, is what makes you a classic Italian mom. You’re not a one-note dish. That’s also what makes you the most phenomenal mother.

How to explain? How do I describe a person who’s been my everything for 35 years? Who has simultaneously frustrated me and been my lifeline through every difficult and joyful experience? How do I thank the person who’s at the core of every good—and maybe sometimes bad—decision I’ve ever made?

Ma

To start: You, more than anyone in my life, have challenged me. You have pushed me to my highest potential and you’ve never accepted less—from me or anyone else for that matter. When I might settle and get comfortable, you rattle my cage. Every call that I’ve made outside of my comfort zone has ultimately paid off. And each time I made that call, I was able to do it because you gave me the courage.

But here’s where you take that wonderful quality and double-down. Because for every time that you’ve challenged me, you’ve also given me unconditional support. Even when you disagreed with every bone in your body. Even when I came to you with a degree from an expensive college and said, “I want to be a professional dancer.” Even when I called you and declared, “I’m going to move across the country for a man I met in Las Vegas.” You questioned. You made sure I thought it through. And then, when you realized I wasn’t budging, you let go. Why?

Because you lift people up, Mom. That’s what you do.

MeandMa

The most beautiful thing about you is that every single thing you do is with love. The way you care for those around you. The way you cook your (most, most delicious) meals. The way you nudge and poke and prod us to death. You drive us crazy. You do it because you love us. And although Alex might call you T1000 and Dad might say you can be cold, all of us know that your heart is pure, molten gold.

Our relationship is complex, yes. But that’s what makes it so fulfilling. And when I take a step back and think about the kind of mother I want to be, the classic Italian mother, I realize I’m setting the bar for success by what you’ve already achieved. You made me a better person. You let go so that I could grow. And you made me feel so very loved.

I love you, Mom.

Who’s on First? Convos with a Five-Year-Old

IMG_6417Ever get caught in a vortex of a conversation with your child that only ends in more confusion? You mention something in passing and it puzzles your kid, so he inquires further, only to find that each of your answers makes less and less sense. In fact, by the end, you, too, are thoroughly lost.

I call these the “Who’s on First?” convos.

Last night while putting Lucas to bed, he asked about the names of the people I work with. So I explained that Eric is my boss, and I work with Ann and Rob and Kirstie who are designers, and David and Nino are programmers, which means they tell the computer what to do and get the designs and words up on the screen.

You’d think he would have gotten tripped up at design and programming, but my child ponders for a second and launches into a series of questions that basically undoes my entire understanding of the English (and Spanish) language.

Lucas: You work with Nino?

In Spanish, Nino means godfather. Lucas’ Nino is Ozzy, and he calls him, simply, Nino.

Me: No, Lucas, there is a person here who’s NAME is Nino.

Lucas: Nino’s name is Nino?

Me: No, no. Nino’s name is Ozzy. THIS Nino is named Nino. Nino means godfather in Spanish.

Lucas: You work with my godfather?

Me: No, Nino is your godfather. I mean, Nino Ozzy. This Nino is not related to us.

Lucas: So what’s this Nino’s name?

Me: Nino.

Lucas: ???

Me, attempting to distract Lucas from the mess I just made: Hey! You know what? I work with TWO Davids!

As you can imagine, that did not help. At all.

On Being Incredibly Out of Shape

There’s a difference between gaining weight and being out of shape. Once upon a time, a year after I had Lucas, I got down to my college weight. But was I as in shape as I was when I was dancing and working out 15 hours a week in college? In the words of the great Kanye West…

HELLLLL NAAAAAW.

So the point here is that being out of shape is defined by not your weight but your strength, endurance, mobility, and flexibility. All things that have slipped away from me like a trout sliding out of the hands of a sloth.

Once upon a time, I was strong in body and mind. Now I’m incredibly out of shape. I’d consider it a workout if I did the mom stroke, which is essentially hopping on one foot in an above-ground pool while wearing a skirted one-piece and getting only the bottom of my hair wet. The only way I could be in less shape is if I just threw in the towel on walking altogether, getting wheeled around in the half-Segway, half-mall massage chair I was rolled down the hospital hallway in after giving birth to Lucas.

Lucas is also not thrilled about working on his fitness.
Lucas is also not thrilled about working on his fitness.

Recently (last week), I decided it was time to get back in the game. In the words of the immortal Julia Roberts: Big mistake. Big. Huge. I started with taking a real Vinyasa flow class, as opposed to the restorative yoga I’ve been dabbling in, which is basically paying $20 to take a nap. At one point in the class, my body seized up six ways to Sunday and I thought, “Nope. You can’t do this.” I stood there and did nothing, pretending to be enthralled with a spot on my mat. That spot, it turns out, was from a tear that I cried during downward-facing dog.

Two days later, I joined three of my coworkers in a light Crossfit training (oxymoron, I know). There’s nothing like huffing and puffing your way through a jog around the perimeter of a room next to a couple of able-bodied 20-somethings to give you perspective into how truly, absurdly out of shape you are. A couple sets of lunges later and everything inside of me was screaming. In fact, five days later, and my quads were still like “YOU STUPID BITCH” every time I tried to sit down.

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to take either advanced yoga or gentle yoga. Those in their mid-to-late thirties can relate to my dilemma. At a certain point, you reach a precipice. Your mind remembers being able to do great things with your body. But your body has given up. Alex and I were at the park playing with Lucas on the monkey bars this weekend. I, in my newfound fitness euphoria, attempted to do a pull-up. You can only imagine how that went.

So yeah, I checked into the geriatric-friendly gentle yoga.

The sad thing about being incredibly out of shape is that only once you start trying to get back into shape do you realize how bad things really are. When you haven’t tried, you still believe you can do those things. Nope. Jig is up. You can’t. You won’t get back to able-bodied 20s fit either. Your muscles are thin and ragged and they really hate you right now. But at least you can try.

Would You Keep Reading My Book?

Last month, I asked you all a really important question: would you read my book? Like, if you bought Misty Copeland’s biography on Amazon and saw my book in the “You might also like…” section, would you click on it?

The overwhelming majority of you said yes, which is encouraging. The rest of you kept your mouths shut, which I also appreciated, because only jerks would write in and be like “No, your book sucks. And you suck. And your book sucks.”

So since I got the encouragement I was looking for, I pressed forward. Now I need to know: would you keep reading my book? Here’s a little taste of the second chapter, which is an introduction to the competition dance scene. Enjoy!

dancingwendy

I’m standing backstage in a huddle of blue and sequins. Sixteen anxious girls smooth their buns and try to keep their twitchy feet still. Two more numbers until we’re up. I squeeze my eyes shut and go over the routine in my head. Shuffle ball change, shuffle ball change. Our teacher, Ann-Marie, gathers us together for one more pep talk before we take our positions behind the curtain.

“You guys will be great. Just keep doing everything you’ve been practicing. Stay sharp, lots of energy, and don’t forget to have fun and smile! I’ll be down in the audience cheering you on.”

We nod, we smile, some of us clap tiny silent claps, and then we break off into two groups. Eight of us stay stage right while the other eight make their way behind the backdrop to the other side of the stage. We stand, single file, waiting for our cue. As the MC begins to announce our number, “From the Charlotte Klein Dance Centers, competing in junior large group tap, this is…”

I peek out from the curtain to survey the crowd. The stage lights temporarily daze my eyes and the audience, a dark blur, politely cheer in the long pause between the end of the MC’s introduction and the start of our music.

Waiting, waiting, waiting. My chest thumping, my stomach tightening and releasing. Adrenaline rushing to my fingertips, to my toes, straight into my heart. Then the music. And out into the blazing light.

Before I know it, the dance is over. I hit all my positions, the audience claps in all the right places, and everything felt as though it clicked into place. We take our bow and flap ball change off the stage into the wings, where we cluster together into an ameba of giggles and high-pitched whispers. We nailed it.

And now the long wait. Hours go by as other studios and groups perform in different age groups and categories. I see soloists pirouetting over and over, and large groups of teenagers performing in production numbers with props. I see girls much younger than me in full makeup, dancing across the stage with the poise of a professional. I hear whispers in the audience. Dance moms with their own scorecards, ranking the numbers and gossiping openly about which studio owner is sucking up to which judge.

What world is this?

Finally, it’s time to announce the awards. All of the competition dancers cram onto the stage in tight circles amongst their own studio members. Each dancer holds some kind of good luck charm—some dancers, I can see, are already decorated with ribbons and medals from routines completed earlier in the day. Others clutch teddy bears in tutus, anxiously awaiting the results. The MC strolls onto the stage, mic in hand, and congratulates the participants on a job well done.

What I quickly learn about dance competitions is that there is no single winner. Each routine is judged independently of the others. Judges award points on a scale for choreography, technique and execution, performance quality, and even costuming. When you add the points up, you can receive anywhere from a bronze (for this, kids would cry, and not the good kind of tears) to a gold, with awards such as high bronze and high silver in between.

As the MC announces results, groups of dancers stand and cheer, and they send a representative from the team to wade through the tangles of competitors to receive their awards. Our little huddle of blue-sequined dancers grows quiet as the MC begins to bark out the results of our category. As he calls the name of our studio, we grab onto each other (a leg, an arm, whatever we can find) and squeeze our bodies into a tight wad. Our toes are curled, our fists clenched, our eyebrows are burrowing down into our noses. Finally, anxiety reaches a fever pitch until we hear:

“High silver!”

I open my eyes wide and release the tension in my body. High silver! I think I’m thrilled, but I look around to the other girls to confirm. Many are openly cheering and hugging. But a couple, the more seasoned competitors, only smile politely and clap. They’re happy, but a twinge of disappointment seeps out of the corners of their mouths. Once you’ve earned a gold, only another gold is good enough.  

After a fellow dancer returns to our circle with the medals, she passes them out to the group. A heavy silver pendant is etched with the name of the competition, Terpsichore, and the shape of a dancer goddess arched in a graceful back bend. I turn the medal over and over in my hand, studying the engravings, the shape, the weight. I vow that next time I compete, I will win a gold.