Donna was a dancer. She loved it and her weekly dance classes, started at age 3, were one of just a few opportunities she got to be just a kid. I remember her first class like yesterday. At the time classes started, Donna was not in any kind of active treatment. She had had her third craniotomy (tumor resection) just about six weeks earlier, but she was doing great. She had bounced back from that surgery like the old pro that she was. But cancer had taken its toll on her.
Donna could not run or jump like other three year olds. But somehow, she managed. And more than that, she was a great student. While she couldn’t do everything the other students could do (treatment had made running and jumping difficult for Donna), there were other things she did really well. She was laser focused and attentive, a great example for her fidgety classmates. And Donna loved her weekly classes. She loved her black tap shoes and black leotard and black tulle dancing skirt. I loved watching her.
I don’t think the other parents knew what we were going through. Hard to say. We were polite and said hello to one another, but there wasn’t a lot of socialization. Some parents watched and some parents read and some parents played on their phones. I watched, I marveled, I cried silent tears. My poor girl. She had been through so much and would experience much more during her time in dance lessons.
After Donna died, the first thing we did was set up a scholarship at the studio. We wanted other kids to dance and didn’t want finances to be the obstacle for them. Donna couldn’t dance, but they could. Lack of money shouldn’t stop them. The studio could not have been kinder. The room where Donna studied was renamed the Donna Quirke Hornik Dance Studio. A plaque and framed photo of Donna was hung above the door. A HOPE poster of Donna was hung inside the studio. Being there was always a comfort.
When Mary Tyler Son turned three we agreed that he, too, would take dance lessons. He was a natural in the kitchen, surely that would translate into the class, right? Ha! Well, a little, but truth be told, Mary Tyler Son is not Donna. He is his very own self. He likes to dance, but prefers the kitchen to the studio. That said, we will finish out the year and enjoy watching him on the recital stage this Father’s Day. Then, it seems, he will be hanging up his dancing shoes. There’s time to decide that later.
Last week, there was a photographer in class to take some candid class photos. I had a lovely and bittersweet flashback to Donna’s time in class. Just before the end of her year there, Donna’s teacher asked a friend to come into class and photograph the students. It wasn’t until later that I realized that this was a gift for us, Donna’s parents, to have these memories in photos. They are beautiful and bring lovely memories back.
Seeing Mary Tyler Son in class, dancing under the poster of his sister just moved me in a profound way. There are not many times that I get to feel like the mother of two kids instead of just one. As I have written before, our parenting almost feels like Groundhog Day. Right now, we have parented two separate kids to four years old, with just a few months of overlap between them. It is an odd feeling, sad, hard to articulate. Our boy is not an only child, but in many ways he is. In his experience, it is just him. He knows of Donna, speaks her name, knows her story, but for him, it is just a story. The memories are ours, not his.
I am so grateful for the moments where my kids, both of them, connect. Last week was one of those moments. My kids danced together. One was there, one was not, but still, they danced together. And I watched, I marveled, I cried silent tears. And then I went home with one kid, not two.
We miss you, Donna. Thanks for dancing with your brother. May your memories always bring us comfort and joy.
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