Every year, my daughter’s school holds its “Little Ladies Dance”. All the father figures round up all their daughter figures and head to, what kindergarten dads believe to be, a basic run-of-the-mill school dance. They envision things like table settings and song dedications. I know I did. Standing in a clean suit for pictures alongside your little princess decked out in formal wear, the night ahead looks classy, to say the least.
Then you step in to the building and realize, within seconds, that you’re in for a terrifying evening of pure Little Lady Anarchy. It’s less like the Enchantment Under The Sea and more like the Purge – an insane combination of glitter, rainbows, and the pure, unadulterated chaos of a Scandinavian Death Metal mosh pit. Little girls running into, over and under everyone in their path, some screaming at the top of their lungs for the entire two hours, fill the room like lava bubbling over into the hallways. It’s a sustained madness from little people with energy that I don’t think I’ve ever even come close to having myself. I keep expecting to look up and see a tribe of howling nine-year olds in crude Unicorn face paint tying the principal to a stake and parading him around the room Lord of the Flies style.
The rules change the moment you step into this dancing death match. New parents in the outside world are constantly told to not lose their kid. For years, I would take little Olivia to the mall and hold her hand the whole time or, when walking through a crowd, constantly repeat, “Stay close.” But not here. Oh no. At the Little Ladies Dance, all bets are off. You walk in with your kid, immediately lose your kid, and pray to God you find your kid again before they shut the place down. You don’t realize how many little kids look exactly alike until you’re searching for yours by staring down on the tops of 400 little heads running around frantically on a cafeteria dance floor.
The first few years are an adjustment period. You mentally prepare to be by your daughter’s side in the days leading up to the event but quickly find yourself standing in a sea of other solo dads. You all check your phones a few hundred times and walk from one end of the room to the other with pretend purpose. Before long, you’re just left to stare straight ahead and ponder various insanity to yourself.
Where’d that kid get cotton candy?
I wish I could rock a bowtie like that dude.
What happens if there’s a seven-foot-tall girl in the school one year? Do they call it the The Little Ladies Plus One Giant Lady Dance?
I have to be clear. It isn’t that the event itself fosters this mayhem. If anything, those who put it together go through painstaking detail to make balloon towers and serve delicious hot foods. The dance, as a standalone event, is as classy as you would imagine and stands as an ironic backdrop to the mayhem. Balloon towers and Italian sub sculptures come crashing down like falling empires around us.
As the years have ticked by, though, things have gotten easier to anticipate and handle. I’ve gotten to know some great dads with some great kids and we get to engage in close conversations where we scream over Taylor Swift remixes while our daughters run over to occasionally hand us garbage. These dads, these kids, and most of their families have really been a part of our lives for years and I couldn’t be happier with the group my daughter has found. They’re good people and we’ve gotten to see them all grow and will be watching as they continue.
I completely understand that time is marching on. Soon this version of my little girl will be gone and replaced with the next incarnation. It’s a cycle I’ve become accustomed to since she joined our family. The baby was here. The baby was gone. The toddler was here. The toddler was gone and so on. It’s not constantly on my mind but the dance definitely drums up that reminder.
The reality is that after this year’s dance, Olivia and I only have one more left. After that, she’s just a regular-sized lady, I suppose. It’s hard to wrap my head around considering that in my mind, she’s still about five years old. I’m not kidding either. Here’s a story that literally just happened and proves it.
Last week, I went to the school plant sale to help Olivia “shop” for Mother’s Day plants. I know next to nothing about flowers but faked it enough to wind up on line and ready to pay for an armfull of planted things. As we approached the front, I held the cash in my hand and without thinking, turned to my daughter to ask a weird question.
Do you want to give the woman the money?
Olivia looked confused and offered a matter-of-fact reply.
You’re the parent. You’re supposed to pay her.
Still not thinking, I began to offer my reasoning.
Oh, I just figured you would want to give her the money because, you know, sometimes kids hand the cashier the money. You know, like at the bank or something. Then they’re like, “Oh, thank you.” And it’s like cute.
Silence. Blank stare. Realizing that the sight of my fourth grade daughter didn’t match my mental image of her as a toddler running from room to room, I felt ridiculous.
Yeah, well, I guess, that’s more something for like little kids. You’re too old for that now, huh?
Yeah. That’s a jolt of reality right there.
It’s not as painful of a jolt as you’d expect though. Whenever I think about her growing up and floating away into the real world, I just remind myself of how I felt that way many times before. When she was five, I couldn’t possibly fathom ten. Now as we’re on the cusp of ten, I can’t fathom what comes next. But it will come and, when it does, it does. It’s terrifying to think of now but it won’t be as terrifying when it happens. Nothing ever is.
We like to remind each other that we’re going to miss these moments when they’re gone. No one has to remind me. I’m fully aware of it. I know that I will definitely miss moments like this, especially after next year’s final Little Ladies Dance.
If I survive it.