Last night, I spent a wonderful evening with a lovely young lady: my 13 year old daughter. We went to her school's annual Father-Daughter Dance. The first time the school held it, she was 3 years old. We have been to every one of them (something we share with only one other father-daughter pair. We have our ritual: we go to dinner first, my daughter in a new dress, and me in jacket and tie (always a tie that matches her dress). I buy her a corsage. When she was smaller, the waitresses would always make a big deal over her (the corsage as big as her head let them know it was a special night).
It's always a fun night. There are lots of little girls there, 3 or 4 year olds from the pre-school class, dancing with their dads, which brings back nice memories. (I can't pick my daughter up for the slow dances anymore). And there are girls of all ages, up to 13 or 14, like my daughter. They don't dance with their dads quite as much as the younger ones do -- the teens are usually in a group, off in a corner, talking about something or other, while their dads line the wall and check the Yankees or Red Sox scores on their phones.
Except for MY girl, who did hang out with her friends a lot, but who also made sure that when the DJ called for a father-daughter dance, she and I danced. And boy, do we dance. (I hate to brag, but at one point, the DJ asked the girls to teach the dads how to dance. And then he switched songs to Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean," and asked the dads to teach the daughters. And he gave prizes to the best dancers. And yes, I won a prize. It was a Taylor Swift t-shirt, but heck, I can add "award-winning dancer" to my list of accomplishments. Of course, when we danced "The Robot" a few songs later, he offered us another prize if I promised to STOP dancing.....)
And as always, the evening ended with the song "Butterfly Kisses." My daughter held me tight as we danced. That was pretty nice. Especially seeing some of the other teen girls ignoring their dads.
I used to write about my kids a lot more than I do now. When I did it in the early days of the blog, if was because most of the people reading were friends and relatives, and the blog was a way of keeping them up-to-date about what was going on in my life, cancer-related and not. And then a bunch of things happened: Facebook came along, and my wife posted lots of news about the kids, so they didn't need to read my blog for pictures and videos. And then more people started reading the blog, people who weren't family and friends (at least, not the kid of friends who knew my kids). And my kids got older, and they didn't necessarily want their business put out on the web. So I stopped writing about them so much.
But they haven't stopped being awesome, by any means.
My daughter, as you can tell, is growing into a beautiful young woman. She's off to high school next year, which is a big change for her. But she's smart, and friendly, and talented. She loves to sing (had a good juicy speaking and singing role in her school musical this year). She still loves to bake and sculpt. And she's a good kid.
My middle son is in high school. He's our scientist. He's had a love of animals since he was a toddler (when we went for walks in the neighborhood, he would make us walk around ant hills so we didn't step on any). He still has that love of the natural world, and joined his school's team in a state-wide competition on environmental knowledge and problem-solving. With his help, his team placed 8th in the state, up from 23rd the year before. He's a straight-A student, plays oboe in the school band, and plays on his school's ultimate frisbee team. And he's really funny.
And my oldest has even more to brag about. He's a senior in high school, and made his college choice last week. He'll be off next year to a university that is perfect for him, in a vibrant city, with lots of opportunities. He's been on the school's Facebook site, making friends, connecting with people who want to start a band, who share his interests, and who are as excited as he is about their futures. He will have opportunities to learn more about his wide variety of interests, but for now, he plans to study music. He plays lead alto saxophone in his school's jazz band, along with soprano sax, flute, and clarinet, plus bass in another jazz band, and he's been known to beat out a rhythm on piano or drums if someone is desperate for help. He's tried his hand at arranging and composing, too. And he and some friends have a small jazz combo that plays cocktail parties and other events. We are immensely proud of him, and very excited about where he will go from here.
This is him playing sax on Count Basie's "Lonely Street" at this year's Berklee High School Jazz Festival:
And they're all really good kids. They don't give us much trouble -- nothing that would make the evening news, anyway.
I'm not saying all this to brag (at least, not JUST to brag).
Last night, when I was dancing with my daughter to "Butterfly Kisses," I started to think back about where I was seven years ago, when I was diagnosed. I've written about my kids before, and how hard it was to have to tell them I had cancer. And how dark things were then, worrying about my kids.
I remember, at one point, thinking that if I could just have 5 years, that would probably be OK. At that point, my kids would have been 16, 14, and 12. Not a great age to lose their father, but maybe better than being much younger. I remember the Father-Daughter Dances being especially important to me then, worrying if the next one would be the last one.
And I wonder if my daughter's tight hug during "Butterfly Kisses" comes from her having the same memories, and feeling the same things.
Sometimes I hear stories about people with terminal cancer who felt blessed to see their kids reach some milestone -- a graduation, or a wedding, or the birth of a child.
I don't think in those terms anymore. And I don't worry as much. Time helps to re-adjust the mind, but I also know that with every day, with every new treatment, we're a step closer to beating This Thing, or at least controlling it.
For now, I just enjoy the dance.