Monday night, 7:30, mid-April, along with half a dozen other parents I’ve never met, I’m sitting in one of the many metal folding chairs lining the mirrored wall of a dance studio. I’ve got a nice social distance around me because in order to make sure dinner happened before class, I postponed my desperately needed post-run shower. This isn’t unusual (the shower postponement), but because I completely forgot it was Parent’s Night at our daughter’s dance studio, instead of waiting for her in the safety and solitude of my car, I find myself awkwardly sitting amongst strangers trying to mask my sweat smell and dry, prickly legs which are on full display thanks to the running shorts.
Feeling really great about my self-care and parenting, I enthusiastically jot down notes as the dance instructor outlines the details of the end-of-year recital — where to be and when, instructions on makeup and hair, song title — hoping the passion with which I take notes will help me earn back some parenting points and salvage the first impression I’m making. Then the instructor asks the line of parents for a volunteer to help backstage at the recital — essentially herd the sequin-clad cats, make sure they’re buttoned up in their costumes, and touch up hair and makeup.
Please understand that I am not “that” dance mom. Our daughter loves it, and she’s a brilliant dancer, but it is her own thing. I’m not the type to tell her to put more energy into her leap thingy on counts seven and eight. My ballet buns have never won awards. And I’m pretty sure when I did her makeup for photos last year, the instructor or another mom completely redid it. I’m not exaggerating when I say we showed up to her first recital with her ballet costume still wadded up in the bag it came in, and when I walked in and saw everyone else’s moms had fluffed their tutus, hung them in garment bags, and neatly bagged hair, makeup and tights in separate pockets, I knew I was the weakest link in that room.
I paint this three-paragraph story to explain why I did what I’m about to tell you. After three Mississippi’s of silence, I raised my hand. I volunteered to be dance mom or backstage mom or whatever it’s called. I did this not because I’m qualified. And I certainly didn’t do this because I have time just lying around — I didn’t even have time to shower on a routine Monday. In fact, there probably isn’t a worse time for me to take on a responsibility that is going to stress me out. The recital, as it happens, falls right smack dab in the middle of our PCS — literally right in the middle.
I absolutely did not need one more thing on my plate. But I did it, willingly. Why? Because after last year’s recital, our daughter begged me to be the mom backstage. It is something important to her, and she is important to me, so I am making time not only for her to dance in her last Virginia recital, but to get way out of my comfort zone to make it memorable for her.
And when it comes to those “lasts” leading up to a PCS — the goodbye parties, the “real goodbyes” to the close friends (which are becoming more dramatic with each year as we near the teens), and the last dinner at your favorite place, every parent will tell you that they run a tight race with all the lasts at the end of the school year — award ceremonies, field days, class parties, field trips, yearbooks, and thank you gifts for every last faculty member at the school (P.S. this last one should also be read sarcastically).
The packing and planning and house hunting and selling that go into a PCS — even one just five hours away to a place we’ve already lived once — take up a lot of headspace. And you know “a lot” is an understatement. When you have to dedicate so much memory and critical thinking to things as wild as, “Make sure to put a do-not-pack sticky note on the litter box,” or pulling the old towels out of the linen closet so you can use those after everything is hauled away and trash them on your way out, there isn’t a lot of brain power or energy left to dedicate to really being present (or presentable) at all these lasts. In fact, I just realized as I typed that last line, that I now need to not only figure out what a dance mom wears — recital-worthy dress or jeans and a t-shirt — but I need to also make sure whatever it is doesn’t get packed … along with all of our daughter’s dance costumes.
But here are a few lessons along the way that prove that while you might have 47 tabs open in your brain at all times during a PCS, it’s worth carving out time for the lasts before you pull away from your duty station for the last time:
- Your kids will remember what you made time for and what you didn’t. If you’re doing it right, your kids don’t know a fraction of the stress and strategy that go into PCSing. They just know that you didn’t have time for their game or awards ceremony or to set up a last hangout with their friends.
- You’ll always regret it if you don’t hit your favorite pizza place, curry place, park, running trail, or visit with a friend one more time. If you’re tempted to skip any of these, just remember how unfinished moves felt during COVID. If you didn’t move during COVID, ask someone who did. If I could travel anywhere right now for 24 hours, I would be back in Iwakuni eating eggplant curry, level six with garlic naan at Devi, and then I would spend the rest of my day buying up all the blue and white pottery in Yamaguchi prefecture.
- You’ll miss it when you’re gone. I don’t care how badly you want to leave a place; you will always miss pieces of it — whether the people you knew, the places you frequented, or just who you were as a family there. Don’t be so set on leaving that you deprive yourself of just one more memory.
Maybe you’ll look like a living public service announcement for the importance of self-care, maybe you’ll be distracted, and you’ll definitely be exhausted and unsure of whether you’re coming or going but show up. Do all the lasts. Soak it up. Make the time, take pictures, give hugs, make a few more memories for the road, and, if I’ve taught you nothing else, prioritize showering before leaving the house whenever you can.