A Waltz With A Pint-Size Partner

From the day my son was born, he and I were steady dance partners. Whenever he was awake, I would lift him out of his crib and sway to whatever music was in the air. I could spend hours twirling around the living room. Joshua's small body was a cozy weight in my arms. When he was small we would dance slowly, my hand gently cradling his head.

In those days, Josh would fall asleep as soon as the music started, and I would usually find myself performing a solo.

As he grew, though, he became a more active participant. He would look me in the eyes and smile broadly as we sailed around the apartment. When I led us in a spin, he'd lean his head back and shriek with glee. During the slow dances he would rest his cheek against mine and wind his chubby arms around my neck as we dipped and spun.

When he was old enough to walk, Joshua developed his own style of dancing. His frenetic gyrations required the constant movement of every one of his limbs. With appendages flying in all directions, he would shimmy and shake his way from one room to the next.

The only way I could get him to curb his pace was to put on some slow soulful music and get down on my knees. Then I would put my left hand on his waist, hold his right hand up, and join him in our own two-and-a-half-foot-high version of the fox trot.

I began yearning for the opportunity to dance with Joshua in public. Some of my favorite childhood memories are of dancing with my father at family weddings or parties.

Although Father had to be partner to not one, but three women - my mother, my sister, and me - he never complained, but moved steadily from one of us to the other without missing a beat.

Whenever my turn came, I would feel as though I was more his equal than his daughter. His attention on the dance floor made me feel special in a way that nothing else could. I wanted to give Joshua the chance to experience that special feeling. I wanted to use dance as another way to let him know how important he was to me and how much I loved him.

Since my husband didn't have any childhood memories of dancing with his mother, he didn't really understand my fixation. As a recalcitrant dancer, though, he couldn't have been more happy to share me on the dance floor. We waited for our chance.

Around the time of Joshua's fifth birthday we got a call from my cousin. She was to be married in the fall, and wondered if Josh could come to the wedding and be the ring bearer in her bridal party.

I told her that he would be delighted. Then I told Josh the good news.

``Will you dance with me at the wedding?'' I asked him, after I had explained a ring bearer's duties.

``Oh no, Mom,'' Josh replied. ``I'll be too busy dancing with the flower girl.''

I had lost him already - to a four-and-a-half year old he had never even met.

On the day of the big event, Josh looked wonderful in his miniature tuxedo and bow tie. Jessica, the flower girl, was a pint-size beauty in a long, red velvet dress with a satin bow.

The children squirmed with excitement as they awaited their cues. When it was Joshua's turn, the faces of all the guests erupted into smiles as he walked solemnly down the aisle, the red velvet pillow clutched firmly in his hands. And after the ceremony, when Joshua and Jessica spontaneously joined hands for their journey back up the aisle, everyone chuckled.

Later, at the reception, when the band leader called the bridal party to the dance floor, Josh and Jessica were the first to respond. They eyed each other solemnly, put their arms in all the right places, and began working their way around the room. Every few feet they would stop so that Joshua could lift his arm and let Jessica twirl under. They looked perfect together.

I resigned myself to dancing with my husband and forced myself to keep my distance from Josh.

They spent most of the evening together, dancing every dance. I could see that Josh was becoming more and more smitten. He couldn't have been happier - until Jessica climbed into her father's arms, put her head on his shoulder, and fell asleep.

Josh was heartbroken. He sat down, looking lost. I moved my chair close to his.

``What will I do now?'' he asked.

I put my arm around his shoulder and whispered in his ear, ``Will you dance with me?''

``I'm very tired, Mommy,'' he responded. ``Would you hold me?''

Josh wrapped his arms around my neck as I gathered him up. His legs wound around my waist. He settled his head on my shoulder and started swaying rhythmically to the music. He felt weightless in my arms.

The crowd and the band seemed to disappear. We felt as though we were the only ones on the dance floor. And when I spun him around, he leaned his head back and shrieked with glee.

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