When J was growing up, he had a mother.
When J was two and he danced in the living room,
in his diaper, to Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies”—when he
dropped down low so the diaper skimmed the floor,
and then he stopped, waiting for applause—
his mother took note. (How could she not?)
When J was three and he peeked in the window
of his sister B’s ballet class, when he said he would
like to take ballet, too, J’s mother asked around
and found that in their neighborhood, ballet was
mostly a safe and OK thing for boys. There were
several boys in B’s spring recital, so J’s mother
began to dream, and she signed J up in the fall.
Then, J’s mother and his sister B would peek at J
in the window when B was on the way to her class.
It is true that J would barrel around on his muscly
sausage legs and crash to the floor, and make faces
in the mirror, and pester all the girls. But it is also true
that J was often up on his toes, spinning, moving
differently from in his everyday life—and that many
of the girls seemed to enjoy his pestering. When people
commented here and there about whether ballet was
really an acceptable thing for boys to do—for J to do—
J’s mother firmly shut them down. What about
Baryshnikov?, said J’s mother. And, It takes a lot
of muscle to lift those ballerinas. J’s mother was glad
she had chosen J’s father so well: a large, masculine,
kindhearted man who never doubted that J should
take ballet, and who was even less open to comments
about it than J’s mother was. Before the next recital,
J and B’s mother chose pale pink roses for B and
fire-tinged roses for J. Two children dancing.
Two rose bouquets. J and B’s father held the
bouquets as their mother took pictures, and as
people in the audience said, “Awwww” at the sight
of little blond J in his black tights and ballet slippers,
white T-shirt and orange vest. One lucky girl linked arms
with J and danced with him onstage while the other girls
danced with each other. At the end, J looked straight up,
dazzled by the lights. As the other, older groups danced,
J’s mother took note of all the boys, their roles, what might
lie ahead for J. That’s as far as J’s mother can dream
this particular dream. She knows that dance can be cruel,
and that dancers, even boy ones, sometimes end up broken.
She knows this is folly, anyway, projecting a future that
might not work out, that might not even be wanted,
after all. She’ll just say this: When J is all grown up,
he’ll have a mother—J’s mother hopes—
and she’ll love him no matter what he does.
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