We sit in the car as long as possible. Dance class is the longest hour of the week and I see no reason to spend more time inside than necessary. Noelle latches on to my ring and pinky finger as we cross the parking lot. She jumps up onto the curb in her bedazzled galoshes, and abandons me to join the other little girls on the floor. The waiting room is already full of overbearing mothers and tag-along siblings, so I opt to stand just outside the door. Savannah Epson, mother of a precocious little four-year-old, motions to the empty seat next to her, a blinding smile on her face. Being the aloof single father has gained me more of a following than I’m comfortable with. The more I ignore them, the harder they vie for my attention. And most of them are married with kids. It creeps me out.
Mrs. Vanderwall flounces into the studio, clapping her hands to bring the girls to attention. She sees Noe’s boots, her mouth forming a hard line. Every day Mrs. Vanderwall offers my daughter a pair of loaner slippers, and everyday my daughter declines. I have to admire the teacher’s persistence. I gave up trying to get Noe out of her boots a long time ago.
Vanderwall leads the girls through a measure of exercises. In her hoodie, tutu, and sparkly rainbow boots, my daughter is athletic, but far from balletic. She is in sync with the rest of the class, but her boots clunk and scuff the floor, and her hood flaps clumsily around behind her.
But the introduction of batons spells disaster. When Vanderwall’s attention is elsewhere, my daughter uses hers as a sword. She’s Peter Pan, fending off an invisible Hook. Noe’s boot accidently taps the end of another little girl’s baton, knocking it out of her hand. Noelle picks it up and apologizes to the other little girl, but Mrs. Vanderwall has clearly seen enough. As Noelle tries to ask if her victim is okay, Vanderwall steers my little terror away by the shoulders, to the far front of the class, minimizing any more collateral damage. And when Noe adds a few parrying thrusts to the routine, Vanderwall simply pretends not to notice.
The moms shoot me dirty, covert looks. As long as Noelle doesn’t know they’re judging us, it doesn’t bother me. As class ends, the mother of Noelle’s latest victim turns to me, lips pursed.
“You know, a few etiquette classes could go a long way to taming that little rascal.”
“Probably,” I answer diplomatically. She narrows her eyes at me and moves on.
Mrs. Vanderwall catches my eye, waving me onto the studio floor. Noe clomp-clomps around the empty studio, content to wait for the adults to finish talking.
“I’m afraid Noelle was a bit of a disturbance again today, Mr. McCarthy.”
“Please, it’s Ryan. I’m aware. I apologize, but today was better than most, I think.”
She returns my sad attempt at a smile. “I guess.” We watch as Noelle pulls a handful of pebbles out of her pocket and sets one on the studio floor. The girl is forever plucking rocks off the ground. At least a few go through the wash each week. “I’m afraid Noelle just isn’t quite ready for dance class. Three years old is quite young.” My daughter lines up her tee and uses the baton as a golf club. The pebble goes whizzing by, bounces off the far wall and clatters along the floor. Noelle giggles, and I bite down on my lip to keep from smiling.
“Understood. It’s too bad though. She enjoys it.”
Vanderwall gives me a dry look as Noelle lines up another shot. “Maybe try tumbling? Noelle is clearly going to be an athlete. I’m just not sure she’s cut out for ballet like her mother was.” I smart at the mention of Eve. I signed my daughter up for these classes because I want Noelle to have something of her mother to hold on to. “She reminds me so much of Eve,” continues the older woman. “And when I saw her name on the list, I was glad you’d brought her here. Eve was one of the most talented dancers to walk through these doors. But I’ve been doing this long enough to know when a student’s heart just isn’t in it.”
Another pebble goes whizzing by, close enough to make us both duck. Vanderwall gives me a sardonic look, and I know my little girl has just sealed the deal. “I’d be happy to have her come back in a few years. As long as Eve McCarthy’s daughter wants to dance, I’m not going to give up on her.”
She pats me on the arm and turns to Noelle, who has the baton drawn like an arrow across her invisible bow. She runs her hand over Noelle’s chocolate brown curls, a genuine smile on her face. “It was good to have you, Noelle. I hope I’ll see you around.”
“Okay, Teacher,” agrees Noelle.
I get my little rebel buckled into her car seat and we head home. “Hey Noe?” I glance at her in the rearview mirror. “Are you ever going to take your boots off?”
“No, Daddy. I not go barefoot.” Her practical answer makes me laugh.
“But what about getting some tennis shoes? Or sandals?”
“You like my boots, Daddy?”
“I like your boots, Noe.”
“I like ice cream. You like ice cream?”
Even though I know where this is going, I answer. “I like ice cream.”
“Me too! We can has some.”
“It’s too early for ice cream, Noelle.”
“But we can go.”
I look at her in the rearview, wonderfully unaware of my failure as her father. The kid’s got no clue what her life is missing, even though I remind her of Eve everyday. So I turn the car in the direction of the nearest Mr. Freeze.
Kelly Castillo is a college student from Southern California. Writing is her creative outlet, and her favorite escape from her civil engineering studies.