Thursday, June 2, 2016

My Youngest Child Is Graduating From Preschool And So Am I

When I was a freshman in high school, a book of short essays by the American pastor Robert Fulghum called "All I Really Need to Know I learned in Kindergarten," was published, and quickly rose to great popularity. The title of the book was taken from the first essay, in which the author explains how the world would be improved if adults adhered to the same basic rules as children, i.e. sharing, being kind to one another, cleaning up after themselves, and living a balanced life of work, play, and learning.

It was a lovely little book full of sage advice, and it gave me nightmares. 

You see, I didn't actually GO to kindergarten, at least not for very long. I think I attended for about a week, and then, at the teacher's recommendation, I was moved to 1st grade. The details of how it all unfolded are kind of sketchy- after all, this was 1978, well before helicopter parents staged a mass landing on the education scene. There was no social media, not that my mom and dad would have ever crowdsourced the decision in a parenting forum, or allowed a bunch of strangers to weigh in on whether or not their five-year-old was academically or socially ready for the challenge. I'm guessing the conversation went something like this: 

Teacher: Mr. and Mrs. Boulos, we've talked it over and we think it would be in your daughter's best interest to skip kindergarten. 
Mom and Dad: OK, thank you.

And off I went to first grade.

Second row, second from the right. Don't I look thrilled?

I never once second guessed their decision until that book came out, alleging that the one year I skipped turned out to be the lynchpin of the entire educational experience. What huge holes did I have in my learning as a result? Were the other 20 years I spent pursuing educational goals of various sorts a waste of time? Could I somehow make up the year, perhaps in a kindergarten online correspondence course?

All these years later, I think I've finally come to terms with my kindergarten deficit, mainly because I've spent the past six years in preschool. Technically, my three kids were the ones attending preschool, but after six consecutive years of thrice weekly dropoffs and pickups, six years of goodbye hugs of varying intensities, six years of walking (sometimes pacing, sometimes casually strolling) the hallways where my children grew and thrived, it felt like I was enrolled right along with them. And leaving preschool will not be easy.
September 2010

September 2012

September 2014
That's because in a world where adult expectations and activities are so quickly thrust upon children, a world where toddlers get professional manicures and first graders must decide which travel sports team might best suit their athletic needs, preschool has remained a place for child's play. A place that is colorful and messy. A place that feels safe and secure, where friendships form in a matter of seconds, hugs flow freely, and creativity lines the walls.

In many ways, time has stood still for us over these past six years. As our children, each two years apart, each spent two years in preschool, up until this point there has always one more behind them to immediately carry on the preschool torch. As our older kids have moved into the big, wide, world of homework, spelling tests, and playground drama, having one foot firmly planted in preschool has been a grounding force, and a way to connect not just to my children, but perhaps to childhood as a whole.

Over these past six years of preschool, my kids had the same teachers, took the same field trips, and even made many of the same projects. And at some point, their lessons became my own.

The more things change, the more they stay the same (except for my hair). 

In my six years of preschool, I've learned how difficult it is to let go- from letting go of a loved one's hand to letting go of control. But I've also learned how necessary it is.

From the dedicated teachers, I've learned what a blessing it is to allow someone other than yourself the opportunity to love and nurture your child. Someone who sees them in a different light, who appreciates things about them that even we as parents might completely miss. My heart aches with gratitude for each of them.

From my fellow preschool parents, I've learned that support, advice, and competition-free companionship are not just things we should offer our kids.

From the preschoolers I've learned that you should laugh- at yourself, at your friends, and at anything that seems even remotely funny. And you should cry, because you know what? Stuff hurts. And tears help. So there.

I've learned to dream, because when you're surrounded by a roomful of aspiring astronaut/princess/ballerina/police officer/garbage collectors, how can you you not imagine what you, too would like to be when/if you ever decide/are obligated to grow up?

So today my youngest will join his older siblings in walking across the stage to collect his preschool certificate. I admit- it's more than a little comical, seeing these tiny beings decked out in mortar boards, their goofy grins a stark contrast to the undue solemnity of "Pomp and Circumstance" as they parade down the aisle. In the past, it has made me laugh so hard I cried.

But this time, I might just skip the laughter and go straight for tears, because it is certainly the end of an era, and in many ways it feels like the end of innocence. This time, as my baby boy walks across that stage, I must force myself to accept that we are both walking away from these precious younger years.

Society has little time for childhood, and even less for adults with childlike spirits. While children are masters of the moment, the senses, and the pure heart, in little more than the blink of an eye, doing will overtake being, and thinking will overtake feeling.

So my prayer for my pint-sized graduate is that together we will always carry the lessons of these preschool years close to our heart, and not just because I have an entire jewelry chest's worth of macaroni necklaces.

Preschool has been good to us- I don't know that we've learned ALL we need to know, but I do know my child is ready to graduate to the next step. I only hope that I am, too.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Braiding Hair And Braiding Love: A Mother's Work

"Mama, will you braid my hair?" my little girl asks sweetly.

Truth be told, while my styling ability is minimal, I relish any opportunity I get to run my fingers through my daughter's silky-soft hair. Though she wriggles and complains as I pull at the knots, the mere act of brushing activates some sort of primal response and soothes me to my core. I wish combing the tangles didn’t hurt her. I wish my fingers possessed greater skill. But I still love the feeling of those dark strands dancing across my hands, tickling my wrists and arms like the velvet edges of a monarch butterfly.

And so I begin, parting her hair in three sections and twisting one over the other, pulling tight in between. Her eyes meet her reflection in the mirror and I see them dance with joy and the unabashed self-love of a 6-year-old.  I try to remember a time when my own child self, or my adult self for that matter, felt so happy seeing my face staring back at me. I braid those strands and pray that through the tugging and pulling, she will always feel God's love for her as she twists and turns and weaves her way through life. I pray that she knew as a baby, and knows now as a child, and will come to know ever more surely as a woman, that divine love comes not from how she looks, but from who she is.

As we continue, I am struck by the fact that I am better and more confident than I used to be at this braiding business, and perhaps at motherhood as well. But then I notice that the part is a bit crooked, and little wisps are beginning to escape from the sides. Pushing my own feelings of inadequacy away, I kiss the top of her head.

"There's a teeny tiny spot up here where I can see right though you and straight down into your beautiful heart," I tease.

Her nose crinkles as she smiles, but my hands now work more cautiously, timidly, as I think my own mother, who tugged at my hair as I pressed my palms against my head in protest. I remember the surrogate grandmother who lived with us throughout my childhood, and how her fingers flew through my hair like a skilled surgeon. It would be years, decades even before I truly understood the messages their fingers imparted.

"Mama, how do you even braid hair?" she asks, interrupting my thoughts.

"It's not hard," I tell her. "You just split it into three sections, and then take the left piece over the center, and then take the right piece over the center. Pull it tight in between. Just keep repeating that, and it makes a braid. See?" I show her in the mirror.

"Can you teach me how to do it?" she asks.

"Sure, go get your doll," I tell her.

So there we sit, my daughter in my lap, and her dollie in her lap, my hands on top of hers. We split the dolls hair in three sections and I instruct her, those tiny fingers moving slowly at first:

Left over center, then right over center. Pull tight in between.

At first it won't hold. Her tiny fingers can't keep the sections separate, and the strands tumble and tangle.

"It's too hard, Mama," she insists. "My fingers can't do it!"

"They'll learn," I tell her. "Just give them time."

We start over again. And again. And again. But eventually she gets the hang of it, twisting left over center, right over center, pulling tight in between.

The finished product is more than a little crooked, with strands rebelling at every curve, poking out in different directions.

"It's so lovely," I say, and I mean it.

Because this is what we do. This is a mother's work: combing out the tangles, weaving the past and the present, the good and the bad, one side over the other. Left over center, right over center, pull tight in between.

Taking joy from one place and sadness from another.

Mistakes and triumphs.

Regrets and delights.

Happiness and sorrow.

The impossible of yesterday and the dreams of tomorrow.

Starting over, but never from scratch.

Twisting one generation around the next.

Creating something perfectly imperfect, stronger than all its pieces, woven with love, and held together by the divine.

That's how you make a braid, my darling daughter.

Left over center, then right over center. Pull tight in between.

Friday, April 29, 2016

A Tale Of Many Easters, And The Time I Celebrated In August

The first time I ever celebrated Easter, I mean REALLY celebrated Easter, was in my living room on a hot, sticky Friday afternoon in August.

Let me back up a bit. I am what is sometimes referred to as a "cradle Christian" and consider myself a person of great faith. I've attended Holy Week and Easter services my entire life, usually doing double duty, celebrating the resurrection of Christ as it falls on the Western calendar as well as on the ancient Julian calendar according to the Eastern Orthodox tradition in which I was raised. Occasionally, my worlds collide and both Easter celebrations occur on the same day, but they can be anywhere from one to as much as six weeks apart.

The difference in dates was a great source of frustration for me as a child and even young adult. My scholarly father offered the historical explanation: that the Eastern Orthodox Church, in accordance with the Council of Nicea in 325 AD, adheres to a rule that Easter is to be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon, following the vernal equinox, but always after Jewish Passover; while Western churches do not use the astronomically determined date for the vernal equinox, but a fixed date (March 21). And by full moon it does not mean the astronomical full moon but the "ecclesiastical moon," which is based on tables created by the church and may or may not follow Passover. Got that? Me neither. My direct, to-the-point mom had a more Nike-esque answer: because the church says so, we just do it.

But I was still hung up on why we were feasting on lamb at the end of April, when my American friends had long since hunted for eggs and consumed all their jelly beans. Were we not "many parts, but all one body?" Why would we the whole body not be together in this holiest of holy days, the one that truly made us who we are? How could the love of Christ, which "surpasses all understanding" not surpass and transcend the political schism that put members of His family on opposite sides of the same coin?

But let's fast forward a few decades and return to my living room. There I was on that August afternoon, a brand new mom, home alone with my newborn son. My colicky, fussy, wanting-to-eat-all-the-time newborn son. If he wasn't eating, he was crying. Which meant that if I wasn't feeding him, I was probably crying, too.

I tried everything I could think of to comfort him. We went for long walks in the stroller. We snuggled. We swaddled. We bounced. But the only thing that consistently soothed him was music. More specifically, my singing. Now, I can carry a tune, but I am not someone you want to hear in solo concert all the livelong day. But since it seemed to pacify my little one, I did the only thing I could: I sang.

I sang nursery rhymes, children's song, pop music, show tunes- you name it. I sang church hymns in Arabic, church hymns in English, church hymns to which I couldn't remember the words, all the while praying that God would forgive me for my crimes against music and to be my soundtrack on this new and somewhat terrifying path of motherhood.

One day, during a particularly awful crying spell (for both of us), I picked him up, closed my eyes, held him close, and sang the chorus of a hymn that for some reason popped into my head:

We remember how You loved us, to Your death,
And still we celebrate, for You are with us here.
And we believe that we will see You, when You come,
In Your glory, Lord,
We remember, we celebrate, we believe.

At the end of that verse (the only one I knew), I cautiously opened one eye and peeked down at the tiny face clutched to my chest. He was silent...briefly...but after a few seconds, the crying began I sang it again. And again. And again.

I'm not sure how long this went on, but at some point, he fell asleep. I set him down in the swing, buckled him in, and collapsed to my knees. Tears flowed from my eyes as a realization set in: this child had made me into someone new. Someone fiercely protective. Sacrificially giving. Unconditionally loving.

As I knelt down, I looked closely at him, and for the first time, I knew deep in my bones, that should the need arise, I would die for my child.

I watched him swing back and forth and thought about how much I loved him, and how that love was giving me a glimpse into God's heart. How my feelings for this innocent baby were a mere whisper of the love God has for me, and for all His children.

Hot tears stung my eyes and ran down my face as I thought about how He could sacrifice his perfect Son on a torturous cross for the sins of humanity.

I cried that day as I thought about it all: pain and suffering, sin and salvation. I cried for motherhood, and for the Mother of us all who watched her son die. But mostly, I cried for love beyond all comprehension. The love of a parent for a child. The love of the Father for His son.

I cried for Easter.

And all the while, the words from that hymn ran through my head:

We remember how You loved us, to Your death,
And still we celebrate, for You are with us here.
And we believe that we will see You, when You come,
In Your glory, Lord,
We remember, we celebrate, we believe.

I never spoke of that day, not even to my husband, who returned from work to find both of us still asleep: the baby still swinging, and me at his feet, exhausted but at peace on the floor. An ordinary, but extraordinary Friday.

I still pray that one day all of God's family will celebrate Easter together, on the same day- Lord knows we need each other now more than ever. But the different dates don't bother me nearly as much as they used to, because now I truly understand that what matters more than Easter on the calendar is Easter in your heart.

And every time I hear that hymn, every time I see my kids, every time I feel that tug in my heart,

I remember
I celebrate,
I believe.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Three Funerals And A Wedding: On Love And Loss

The movie Four Weddings and a Funeral came out the year I graduated from college, and I distinctly remember wanting to jump through the screen and be transported directly into that world.  It was a place where somewhat awkward British singles were navigating the complex world of love and loss, all while attending lavish social occasions and overnighting in castles and pubs. This was Hugh Grant at his quirky, bumbling, finest- pre-Divine Brown self, surrounded by a group that blurred the lines between friends and family. It seemed, at the time, to be the perfect portrait of a group of ordinary people dealing with the extraordinary burden that can only come from genuine love and heartache.

Fast forward more than two decades and I am happily married to my very own floppy-haired dreamboat with no scandals that I'm aware of. We have three children we love, a large, loud, extended family that brings us immeasurable joy and just enough crazy to keep things interesting, and a circle of friends, both old and new, we can count on for both laughter and support. If I had to sum it up in movie terms, I'd say our life is My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Egyptian version meets Steel Magnolias, Midwestern Edition, with heavy notes of Toy Story drizzled on top.

But last week, my wish to dive into Four Weddings and a Funeral almost became a reality...just backwards. In one of life's stranger plot lines, I found myself having to attend three funerals and a wedding, all within the span of 5 days.

First, I heard of the passing of my friend's mother who had been quite ill for some time. Then, two days later, another friend's mother was laid to rest after a brave battle with Alzheimer's. The next day, I learned that a former colleague had lost his wife. I became fearful of even logging on to Facebook, since my newsfeed seemed to be stuck on heartbreak mode.

To say the week was a bit strange is like saying Gigli was a bit of a bummer. I'd spend a typical summer day with the kids, delivering them to swim practice, Vacation Bible School and the like, all scramble to get my own work done, and then quickly shed my "Mom uniform" of shorts and a tee for a simple black dress the minute my husband came home. As I headed out to watch two daughters, now moms themselves, say a final goodbye to their own mothers, my eyes filled with tears as my own little girl hugged me tightly and said, "Come right back, Mama."

In one of the most bizarre moments of the whole week, we actually stopped at the third funeral on the way to the wedding. Within the span of one hour, we witnessed one man promise to love, honor, and cherish until death do them part, and another one grieve that it had done just that. It was a circle of life that would leave even Mufasa, in all his Lion King glory, feeling dizzy.

As my husband and I sat, hand in hand, at the wedding, it occurred to me that I haven't actually been to a very many funerals in my life. My grandparents and other close relatives died overseas. My parents lost close friends as I was growing up, but the funerals were always adult affairs- not something often even discussed around kids.

I come from a culture that is very good at celebrating love. We LOVE love, as was evidenced by the 500+ people (an average-sized crowd for our peeps) that had gathered to eat, drink, and be very merry alongside the bride and groom. From heaping platters of food to live music and belly dancing, we are VERY good at weddings, not to mention engagements, bridal showers, baby showers, and random Thursday nights. But loss? That one we struggle with.

In recent years, I've been to funerals described as "Celebrations of Life." It's a difficult concept for me to understand, because when the cloud of grief descends over our community, everything grows dark. There is not a lot of laughter, or light, and certainly no celebration. In the funeral homes, there is often silence, punctuated only by weeping and fervent recitation of prayer. Widows and close family members of the deceased will traditionally wear all black for one full year after their loved one's passing, and sometimes for the rest of their lives. Perhaps when you love with every ounce of your being, the loss of that love leaves too deep a wound to ever close. But is there a way for love and loss to coexist?

The poet Rumi believed that sorrow and joy were deeply intertwined. He wrote, “Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart, so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots, so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place.”

I thought about that quote the day after the final credits rolled on Three Funerals and a Wedding. That morning, I attended church with my family, after which my youngest insisted we light a candle. I held his hand and together we dipped the long match into the flame of an already lit candle, and touched it to a new wick.

I watched his face light up as he saw it spring to life, the back-and-forth, in-and-out, flickering all reflected in his warm, brown eyes. It was like that instant your favorite movie comes to life on the big screen, or the moment it fades away.

The place where ever so briefly, light and darkness dance together.

Friday, March 11, 2016

My Dad, The Egyptian Astronaut

When I was five, I was relatively certain my dad could fly and was living a secret life as an astronaut.

Though he was a mild-mannered Egyptian immigrant who worked as a radiologist by day, around that time he began disappearing more frequently in the evenings and weekends. He claimed to be at the hospital, but on multiple occasions I overheard him tell my mom he was needed at "the satellite." Once I even caught him admitting how difficult it was to be "moonlighting." That's right- MY dad was in charge of illuminating the moon. No wonder he looked so tired in the morning! I searched his briefcase and car diligently for his space gear, but all I found were pamphlets about the hospital's expansion plans. 

But that's not all. On Sundays we'd gather with our extended family after church (even space travelers observed a day of rest), and I'd stand behind the living room door to eavesdrop on the adults locked in heated conversation. The words flew by in a blur of English and Arabic, and though I had no idea what a "visa" or "naturalization" was, you'd better believe I understood exactly what it meant when my dad mentioned "aliens." ALIENS! 

He didn't exactly fit the profile of an astronaut: he wasn't tall or muscular, he wore thick, horn-rimmed glasses, and had no flight experience aside from Pan Am's JFK-Cairo route. Still, there was no denying the mounting evidence. And clearly there was life on other planets- life with broken bones and herniated discs- because my dad was out there treating it. 

I was bursting at the seams to tell someone, anyone, about his forays into other galaxies, but I swore myself to secrecy. My only communication on the matter took place late at night when I'd sneak out of bed, gaze skyward, and bid him good night. 

Every morning, he somehow landed back in the kitchen, standing over the stove, brewing an extra strong cup of Turkish coffee with his typical serene gaze. I would simply nod, too afraid to speak, hoping to silently convey my admiration for his otherworldly exploits. 

Eight years ago my dad was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease, a cruel twist of fate for a man who devoted his life to neurological science. In that time, I've watched his muscles slowly betray him, his movements become involuntary, and gravity imprison him in its grasp. But despite the pain and frustration I know he must feel, he's never once complained, never once questioned "Why me?" 

Today, I am 42, and as he looks at me with that same serene gaze from his wheelchair, I'm more certain than ever my dad can fly. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Thoughts On Tradition At Christmas

I think I was about eight years old when I first saw the musical "Fiddler on the Roof." Aside from being a classic production, it is my very first memory of a live theater experience. My dad, a big fan of the arts, had taken me on a special outing to Detroit's Fisher Theater, where I was awestruck before the show even began. Mesmerized by the the intricate tiled ceiling, the colorful murals, and the shimmering gold-plated walls, it was clear this was a place that held great things within its walls.

While no doubt the storyline resonated with my immigrant father, I was probably too young at the time to grasp the underlying issues: a father struggling to maintain his religious and cultural heritage as outside influences encroach upon the family's Orthodox life. But the show was still every bit as magical as I had anticipated. I held my breath with wonder as the dancers twirled by with their swirling peasant skirts. laughed as Tevye belted out "If I Were a Rich Man," teared up during "Sunrise, Sunset." I never wanted it to end.

But when it finally did and we walked out of that colorful, melodic world, one word repeated throughout the show, the one that is even the title of the opening song, echoed in my head: "Tradition!" I don't know that I could accurately define it at that age, but I could, and certainly did hum it, sing it, and reenact it on my canopy bed stage for months afterwards.

Tradition. It's a word I alternately embraced and shunned in the years to come, particularly during the holiday season. My parents, who left their home country a few years before I was born, walked the difficult path of assimilating into this new land while holding on to what they could from their past. That meant that like so many first generation children of immigrants, I grew up straddling two very different worlds. Never was this more apparent than at Christmas.

Let me be clear- it's not like my parents were unfamiliar with Christmas. Devout Orthodox Christians, each year they eagerly awaited the celebration of the Savior's birth in much the same solemn way their ancestors have done since about the middle of the first century.

But Christmas in America isn't just about Jesus' birthday; it also comes with a hefty hankering for hot cocoa and Bing Crosby, tales of flying wildlife, a spiral sliced Honeybaked ham, and a jolly albeit obese man who breaks into your home bearing gifts. That part, they struggled with. And so did I.

While my American friends were feasting on chocolates, gleefully singing carols, and making out their Christmas lists, we were observing the 40 day Nativity Fast, sacrificing all animal products in an attempt to temper bodily desires as well as worldly ones. Not only did we celebrate Christmas on the wrong day (January 7th according to the ancient Julian calendar), it felt like we celebrated it in the wrong way.

Don't get me wrong- when it came to gifts, we wanted for nothing at Christmas or any other time of the year. My parents were, and continue to be, beyond generous, with presents piled higher than the tree. But the things I wanted most at the time, they simply weren't able to provide.

I craved holiday songs from yesteryear, not hymns from centuries past.

I longed for heirloom ornaments passed down from generations.

I hungered for Santa-shaped cookie cutters and sugar cookie dough, not flaky phyllo pastry and pistachios.

I thirsted for mugs of eggnog, even though I hated the taste.

In short, I wanted traditions we didn't have, and rejected the ones we did.

Mostly, I just wanted Christmas to be over so I wouldn't feel quite so different.

It's taken me decades, and the experience of raising my own family, one additional generation removed from the Motherland, to reconcile these feelings and weave them into what's become the  patchwork quilt of traditions and culture I now pull close around my heart. Because now I see things differently.

I see a stream of refugees fleeing their homeland, making that painful, arduous march toward a new life, and realize how incredibly brave it is to leave all you have and all you know behind.

I see hatred and fear rising all around us, and I recognize that we are called to be simultaneously stronger and gentler than the voices of intolerance and ignorance, both with ourselves and with others.

I see that what makes us different is what makes

And I see that our most powerful tradition arrived in a form many rejected: a humble infant, offering love and hope to all.

So now I sit back and watch as my boys decorate their Egyptian parents' Christmas tree, gently lifting out the ornaments that have become heirlooms. I place my hands over my daughters' as we roll out cookies each year, both in late December and again in early January. I watch my husband in the candlelit glow of a golden sanctuary filled with icons, singing hymns of praise in a language he does not speak.

I look at my family and see bits of the past and hope for the future, and I know that tradition isn't about recipes or objects or any one particular time of year.

It's about keeping the light alive.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Dancing Through The Pain: Thoughts on Coping With A Loved One's Illness

I can't say that I've ever been a big fan of Mondays.

Sure, sometimes Mondays are a bit of a relief- a respite from the craziness that more than 48 solid hours of sports events, social activities, church, family, and general togetherness can bring. And as someone who works from home, by Monday morning I desperately need everyone to vacate my "office."

But like a bad airplane flight, the reentry into the work/school week is never without a little bit of turbulence. No matter how smoothly you sail through the friendly weekend skies, come Monday morning you'd better fasten your seatbelt because things are about to get bumpy.

After using the jaws of life to separate child from mattress, Monday mornings will typically bring spilled milk (and the inevitable albeit useless tears), runaway permission slips, phantom homework assignments, and/or...Surprise!...3-hour conference calls that magically appear on your schedule.

As if Mondays aren't difficult enough, they also happen to be the one day of the week when we have simultaneously overlapping child activities, resulting in a life-sized version of Parental Taxi Twister: Put your right hand on cross country practice at the park, your left foot on dance class across town, now just contort your entire upper body into a lovely pretzel shape as you streeeettttccchhh your left hand over to the crockpot to make sure everyone somehow gets fed. Now grab the spinner and see what homework awaits should you ever get out of traction. By the time chores and baths are done on Monday night, I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry, and I usually lack the strength to do either. Everything about the day leaves me feeling drained, constrained, and often, pained.

But my daughter, on the other hand- she LOVES Mondays, and not just because she's six years old and first grade is pretty much the best thing to ever happen since...well, kindergarten.

For her, school is just the appetizer to Monday's deliciousness. The main course is served at 5:30pm, when she has ballet. Every week at the appointed time, I marvel as my shy little flower is totally transformed, shedding all her normal inhibitions and putting on some kind of invisible coat of armor along with her leotard and tights. For one perfect hour, I watch her blissfully twirl and swirl across the room, and I wonder what it's like to feel so free.

I wonder if my dad, whose movements are no longer his own, remembers what that's like. Do his muscles, now ravaged by disease, hold deep within them the memories of carefree walks on the beach? Do his limbs, now subject to spasms and tremors and forced into a wheelchair's submission, ache to be stretched and glide on their own?

I wonder if I could twirl fast enough or leap high enough to escape my own sadness over his plight, or my guilt of not being able to make everything better.

I wonder how to shield my little girl from the sheer heft of certain situations that can stop us from even leaving the ground when we try to leap.

I watch her spin and find it hard to imagine there was ever a time I moved through life with such joyful abandon, unburdened by the weight of life. Did I once whirl fearlessly through my days, never fearing what was around the corner?

Watching a parent suffer from a physically debilitating disease means learning to appreciate life in a different way. In the absence of movement, you must find the beauty and joy in stillness. It's always there, but sometimes, you can't help but wonder what it would be like to dance again.

A few months ago my daughter performed in her very first ballet recital. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon when she took to the stage, and through a miraculous combination of divine intervention and modern wheelchair transport service, her grandfather was there to see it.

As the house lights went down and the spotlight came up, the music started and I felt myself truly exhale for the first time in months. For that one brief hour, there were no thoughts of hospitals, therapists, wheelchairs, or medications. No dark, scary tunnels in the mind. No pain or suffering. There was only music and dancing. Lightness and light.

So now, when I start to feel myself sinking deep into a case of the Mondays, that's where I go: to a place filled with movement and freedom. A place where we soar and we leap. A place not bound by gravity or any other worldly force. A place where the dance never ends.

And I know I'm not alone. As she slides her tiny feet out of her pink slippers at the end of class my little ballerina looks at me with sad, tear-filled eyes.

"Mama, I don't like it when it's time to stop dancing," she says.

Then I see a twinkle in her eyes as she leans in close and whispers in my ear.

"That's why I dance in my dreams."