A few days ago, I walked into my room to find my kids playing with my laptop and Fountains of Wayne's “Radiation Vibe” playing from it. Of course, the children were reprimanded, but that song puts me in such a good mood that I didn't get too mad. That song reminds me of being 16 years old. When I was 16, everything was still possible. I was smart, hopeful, talented, and blessed with parents who were actually considering letting me pursue a ballet career instead of attending college.
My sixteenth year was my senior year of high school. I skipped the eighth grade as a homeschooler so that I could attend classes at a specialty math and science school run by our public school system in Amarillo, the Amarillo Area Center for Advanced Learning, or AACAL. I was still thinking I wanted to be a doctor then (cardiology, specifically). I made choices to impress and to attempt to live up to the potential I knew I had. I enjoyed making good grades and knew it was reasonable to expect academic success at whatever level I decided to reach. Ballet was my after school activity. At dance, I felt most challenged and felt the most pleasure, but I still didn't exactly understand how one would have a life in dance. So, I was going to be a doctor. I was a big dork at the magnet school. I was one or two years younger than the other kids and was the only homeschooler. I remember being teased for wearing my dad's old letter jacket which I thought was super cool. I was still loosing teeth (lost my last one my junior year... not. cool.) I managed to make friends, though. I love friendship. I have had so, so many wonderful friendships and find them to be my greatest sources of fun and energy. My AACAL friends were no different. We had a great time competing in medical spelling and biomedical debate at our Health Occupation Students of America competitions. I know, I know: dripping with cool.
Maybe it was to make up for all the extreme lameness I felt I was at AACAL or to try to become the big city kid I knew I really was somewhere inside, but the main things I learned at AACAL (probably an exaggeration!) was how to look like I was actually smoking a cigarette and how to casually drop a curse word or two. I never got in trouble for these activities, though I was nearly caught several times. It was easy to talk my way out being an ace student and the goody-two-shoes homeschooler that I was. After about 6 weeks of this silliness, though, I confessed all to my mother in a tell-all expose of my newfound bad-assery. I swore to never do it again, and I didn't. Though, I did drink half a wine cooler or two at some dancer parties a couple years later... shame shame. My little rebellious phase was great for me in one particular way: it gave me a way to stop and decide what I really wanted. I don't think my parents were too thrilled with AACAL in the end, so I had the option of choosing to go hardcore for dancing rather than medicine. By that point, I knew what I had to do if I was going to actually make good on what so many little girls tried to claim and become a ballerina when I grew up.
The classes and rehearsals that I wound up being committed to at the West Texas A&M Dance Department were a lot of work, but it felt like Heaven to me. I belonged! No one thought I was lame. In the dance ensemble, I was 3-5 years younger than everyone, but I was treated so sweetly, like a little pet, and with respect because I could keep up. I loved everyone so much. I still do. We had friendship like I have never experienced outside of dance. There's just something so bonding about changing together, sweating together, exhausting ourselves together and even trusting each other for our lives. One thing that I think has attracted me to childbirth and my current “job” as a doula is the closeness with other people. My relationships at the Lone Star Ballet, as we were called, were great too because there wasn't this huge element of competition that existed in every other context I experienced. We just wanted to dance together and get as great at it as possible. I have many wonderful, hilarious stories to tell from my days with the Lone Star Ballet.
For a year and half, my poor, poor family had to drive me back and forth to the university in Canyon, Texas twice a day on weekdays and once on Saturdays and Sundays. I especially loved when my dad would come pick me up at night. We didn't get to see each other very much because he worked a lot, and so did I. I loved trying to convince him to drive through a fast food place. Once, we each got about half way through our cheeseburgers and halfway back to Amarillo before we realized that they hadn't put any meat on them! Delicious. My poor little sister lived much of her life in the back seat of my mom's car waiting for me to get out of ballet.
But, then, the magical day arrived when I received my license. I looked absolutely beautiful in my license photograph- tan, wearing a cerulean blue scoop neck t-shirt, made-up with silver eyeliner that I got from my grandmother's make-up stash with lipstick, gloss, and more gloss. Even at the time I thought it was a good picture- how lucky is that? That license was the ticket to a new chapter in life. I kept the windows down in my red, Saturn station wagon and the radio up. I loved music. I was very in tune with what was happening in indie music and worked hard to learn the names of all the songs and bands I liked. We had two absolutely fantastic college radio stations, and I had them on at every possible second. When I did my school work in the mornings (alone), I would keep the clock-radio (that I still have) on my desk playing very quietly. If my mom came into check on me, I would reach for the eraser that I had strategically placed on the snooze button and turn it off. My goal was to get all my favorite songs recorded on my many mix-tapes.
Each day, I would blow through my school work as quickly as I could. “Yeah, yeah, yeah: math, history, science. I get it. Absorbed. Get me out of here.” It wasn't that I didn't like academics. I wanted to be smart and well-read, but I loved being with people and working on dancing so very much. I was red-blooded and alive in the studio. Around 11:40, it was finally time to get in my car and leave. That 20 minute drive was such a happy part of my day. I felt like myself. I wasn't a loser trying to fit in at the magnet school (even if my last tooth had finally grown in!). I wasn't trying to impress anyone. I was wearing lots and lots of lipstick and earrings because I loved them. I listened to my music loud and dreamed about all the dancing to come. Even the landscape became more and more interesting the closer I got to Canyon.
I have changed a lot from that 16 year old self, but she is still in here somewhere. She's the one that wants to throw parties. She's the one who still practices double attitude turns in the living room and checks to make sure I can still do the splits. She's the one who still loves Fountains of Wayne and is teaching the children to ask for Beck and Flaming Lips albums by name. She's the one who makes sure I've got my lipstick.