Looking into the sweet, blue eyes of 10-year-old innocence, I wasn’t sure how to answer the question Kaitlyn Ecklund asked.
“Jackie,” she began, “I still don’t understand why you have to retire. You can easily teach a few more years. I’m not ready for you to quit.” And then, with complete certainty in her tone, she added, “You’re not that old!”
On so many levels, she was right. Over the past 20 years, I’ve shared a lovely afternoon activity with more than a thousand children (1,800 to be exact). It was in 1992 when the director of Mountain View’s Dance Attack, Sioux Lehner, first offered me a job as a “baby teacher.” Being a sucker for cherubs still in diapers, how could I resist? That was the easy part. Imagining myself as an instructor was harder. At first, the idea left me incredulous.
While I’ve always loved to dance, at the age of 8, I was expelled from my class. Apparently, I was a behavioral problem. Already a free spirit in an arena of strict ballet, it didn’t help that I was an excessive talker. The combination did not sit well with the dance master in 1960. But with Sioux’s faith in me, and many private lessons, my comeback story began.
For the first 10 years, I pranced around the Dance Attack studio with feathers in my hair, plastic jewels on my arms and my first tutu. The latter 10 have been at the El Camino YMCA. There, I created a program that focused on expression, not perfection. Who cares about talent when you’re so damn cute? But like all lovely things that run their course, April 30 it became time to hang up my toe shoes.
This time of year we see an abundance of graduations, from preschool to college. It is the moment we celebrate the ending of something rich and rewarding so that a new phase can begin. This graduation season, I’ve been thinking about the true meaning of the commencement process and realized that this commemorative step shouldn’t be limited to our education.
In our youth, we graduated from school and entered the workforce. Next, maybe we married or traveled the world. And, no matter how hard we try to deny it, we must move on from our children as they get ready to explore their own lives, all while watching our parents make their final journey home. But, if we’re open to the possibility, wonderful things are waiting.
I have to admit, I’ll miss being told, “You look like a grown-up but don’t act like one,” or “You’re the silliest big person I’ve ever known.”
And when it comes to Stanford University half-time shows, where my babies flitted and fluttered across the court in bright colors and sparkles in their hair, I’m sure a tear will escape my eye as I watch someone else’s group take center stage. But in the end, I’ll carry the memory of each precious child who made me giggle, allowed me to be the nutty person I truly am without criticism and loved me without any hesitation.
Kaitlyn, you’re right! I am too young to retire. Instead I’m graduating to explore new adventures while filled with the love you and so many others gave me. I may be hanging up my toe shoes, but never my tutu. My inner child will remain alive and dance will always be a wonderful part of my soul.