Challenge #4: The Baby Dance

Requirements:

1) A child. Ages newborn-12 years old.

2) An awkward breast-feeding contraption appearance.

3) Dancing.

4) The phrase: "You know. The females in the preying mantis population tear off their mate's heads. Just letting you know."

5) Heartbreak. Can be central, can be a passing thing.

No:

- mentions of "swaying hips" or "strong jaws"

- dialogue, at all. This means, no spoken words. Written messages are allowed, but it must be realistic. If you've ever watched the episode "Hush" in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the whole episode was played out without words at all. They mostly wrote on dry-erase boards and made hand motions.


Daddy Daughter Dance

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I hate Mother's Day.

Laura had spent all of yesterday cutting up red and pink and white colored paper into lopsided hearts to glue all over the giant card she had made out of poster board. In her scratchy six-year-old handwriting she had scrawled "Happy Mother's Day, Mommy!" on each of the jagged hearts, and in the inside of the card she had used a fat, black marker to write "You are the best Mommy in the world and I love you forever and ever. Love Laura" in big, bold letters.

She had been sitting on the front porch since ten in the morning, barely swaying as she clutched the over-sized card tightly to her chest.

I tried to say something a few times. I would come up next to her and open my mouth to try to explain, but then she would look up at me with those big green eyes, Julia's eyes, and Christ, I just couldn't do it. Watching her sit there, her little hands denting the card with her tight grip, her expression so hopeful, her eyes so desperateā€¦it fucking broke my heart.

I probably should have told her Julia died. Maybe it would have been bad to tell a five year old that her mother died when she didn't, but at least she wouldn't be holding onto this dead hope for almost a year that her mom was coming back.

I know I messed it up. I know I did it wrong. But when Julia just left, packed up her things and took off and only left a note saying this wasn't the life she wanted, I couldn't think straight. I couldn't pretend to be OK, not even in front of Laura. And when I told her that her mom left and she asked me if her mommy loved her anymore, I said I didn't know.

The look in her big, green, Julia eyes when she looked at me still gives me nightmares.

I watched Laura from the living room, her white-blonde hair tickling the middle of her back. I should probably bring her to get her hair cut soon, or at least put it in bows, but Christ, I don't even know how. I tried once, but Laura got upset and said that it wasn't how Mommy did it, and she cried so hard that I called the school and said she was sick that day. After that I would just brush her hair and didn't try the bows again, and Laura never asked me to try again either.

There are so many things I won't be able to do for her.

I can't style her hair or pick out the right clothes. I can't chat with other moms at her school and arrange playdates with their kids. I won't be able to show her how to use make up so that she doesn't look like a clown or show her what kinds look good on her. I won't be able to explain to her what's happening when she gets her period and I won't know what kinds of pads or tampons to buy her. I won't be able talk to her about boys or friends or anything that's bothering her, because I'm not her mom, and she'll want her mom for all of that. And she'll hate me for not being her mom, and she'll hate me even more when she realizes that it's mostly my fault that her mom left us.

Julia always blamed me for getting her pregnant. It wasn't like it was rape or pressure or anything, but we were in college and we were too drunk one night and I forgot a condom, and when she found out she was pregnant, she said it was my fault. She wanted to put it up for adoption but I talked her out of it, and whenever something went wrong with Laura or things were hard, she always reminded me that this was my idea and she never wanted this. She was moody and unpredictable, and sometimes she would just scream or cry and I would always be the first to go take care of Laura in the middle of the night, but I didn't mind because I loved them both. I wanted both of them to be happy.

And we were happy, I thought. Around when Laura turned two Julia stopped having meltdowns and tantrums, and she ended up getting a job too since my job was barely keeping us afloat, and everything seemed fine. Julia played the mom part well, and I played the dad, and Laura was just perfect. Everything seemed perfect. But, looking back, I don't think Julia had changed. I think she just hid it well, for Laura's sake- maybe even my sake too. Sometimes I would catch her when she thought no one was looking, and she had that blank, sad, aching look that had clouded her beautiful face for the first two years of Laura's life, but when she realized I was watching she would automatically snap out of it and smile and kiss me on the lips and Christ, I just forgot everything and wouldn't remember to ask if something was wrong. Her effect on me was enormous: blinding, crippling, and and left me helpless and defenseless against reality.

You know, the females in the preying mantis population tear off their mate's heads. Just letting you know.

Laura finally stood up from her spot on the front porch. She brushed off her dress that she hated to wear but did anyway because Julia loved it, and she walked slowly back into the house. She looked at me, and then she looked at the giant card clutched tightly in her fist, and we both watched in silence and she opened up each of her little fingers and let the card float to the ground. I expected her to run away or cry or both, but she didn't, and I could only stand there, frozen, her Julia eyes staring at mine with such pain and hurt that I felt my knees go weak. She stared at me for a few moments and then, without saying a word, walked over to me and hugged my legs tightly. Then was probably a good time to say something, or do something. I should have gone up to her and picked her up, held her close to me and told her that she did nothing wrong, that Mommy was just different now, and that I loved her more than all the butterflies and bunnies and lady bugs in the world, and that I would never, ever leave her. But I couldn't. I was still frozen, my knees still threatening to give out underneath me, and all I wanted to do was hold my baby and cry and kiss her soft little cheeks, but I couldn't even move.

But then she held onto my legs tighter and carefully picked up her little bare feet and placed each of them gingerly on top of my own. And my body still felt frozen and numb, but my feet started to move without my brain's help, and I felt Laura press her soft little cheek against my jeans. We danced in small circles, my feet moving slowly on their own, her grip never loosening, her cheek warming my skin through my jeans, and I started thinking about all the times Julia had cried because of Laura: when our baby woke up at two a.m. and gave Julia a migraine, or when she hurt her foot after stepping on one of Laura's toys, or when her delicate skin had sores from the breast pump that we used to fill up Laura's bottles. Julia cried and screamed when Laura spilt her food off of her highchair, or when she spit up on Julia's shirt, or when Laura was sick and needed constant care. Julia cried and I felt guilty because I thought the tears were mine and Laura's faults.

I could feel tears start to soak through my jeans and burn my skin, and I gently pried one of Laura's hands from its grip on my leg and held it in my hand, using my other hand to softly smooth her silky hair. I lifted our connected hands a bit, my other hand rested on her upper back to support her, and I started to move my feet myself because I wasn't numb or frozen anymore, and I danced in bigger circles with my daughter to no music, thinking about how selfish Julia had been. I used to think about the things that made Julia cry and feel so sorry for Julia and the things she had to go through for Laura, when I should have felt so sorry for Laura and the things she had to go through for Julia. Because she had to witness her mother cry and scream every time Laura took a breath, and she had to feel guilty for those tears and those screams. And all the things Julia hated about Laura I loved: how quickly she would fall asleep in my arms after she woke up crying as a baby, or how much warmer and happier the house looked when Laura's toys were strewn about, or how hilarious it was trying to figure out exactly how to use a breast pump, because Julia and I were just kids without a clue how to raise one. I loved the way Laura laughed when she spilt food off her highchair, or the way she would smile at me in that adorably innocent way after she spit up on her shirt, or the way she relied on her parents when she was sick because she knew that no one else loved her more than we did. I loved Laura when Julia could not, and Julia left not because we didn't love her, but because Laura and I loved her so much and Julia could not love us back- not enough, anyway. And Julia had no one to blame for that but herself.

Her tears stopped as we continued to dance, and I hummed a made-up tune to match the steps of our feet, and I thought again about how there were many things that only her mom could do for her that I would never be able to fully make up for. But, there were also things that her daddy could do that no one else would be able to match, not even her mom: dance with her when she was sad, make her feel safe when she cried, be the one person who stayed when the rest walked out on her, and love her more than all the butterflies and bunnies and ladybugs in the whole world.

And that's more than her mom could have ever done for her.

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