I dreaded the dance. I saw it as an awkward mother-son performance in front of a room of spectators, but of course I said yes when my son asked me.
I had grown up attending weddings of friends and family, but I think I can count only two — my daughter’s wedding and one other — that included DJs and dancing. I had never danced with my own father, and the tradition of father-daughter and mother-son dances was rather foreign to me. And I liked it that way.
When the wedding dinner was announced immediately after my son and his new bride danced the first song, I thought maybe we weren’t going to do the father-daughter and mother-son dances after all. I breathed a sigh of relief.
I had looked at this mother-son dance as a dance. A self-conscious performance in front of a crowd of people who had nowhere to look but at me and Stephen. We hadn’t so much as talked about the dance, let alone practice it. The conversation we did have indicated that Stephen was honoring his biological mother, who had died of melanoma when he was 7, and that I, who became his mother when he was 9, was dancing with him in her place.
It’s not easy being someone’s second choice. It didn’t help that everywhere I went in these wedding festivities I was introduced as Stephen’s “stepmother.” Thanks to Walt Disney and fairy tales galore, I have a strong aversion to the term. While it is technically accurate, I don’t believe it reflects my heart, in which I am merely Stephen’s second mother.
But at the same time, I understood the need to include Mary Lee, Stephen’s first mother, in this significant event. Stephen was her oldest of four children and knew her best. Stephanie, my daughter-in-love, had stationed a table near the entrance honoring those who couldn’t be with us at the event — including Stephen’s maternal grandfather and his mother and several of Stephanie’s relatives. It was a precious tribute.
The dinner progressed — barbecue in a barn while the rain poured outside — and then just before the dancing resumed, the rain calmed, the sun took its rightful place in the evening sky, and the cooler air invited the barn doors to begin opening. Most of the evening would take place against a backdrop of setting sun or moonlight or fireflies and clouds and mist and mountains. The DJ called for the father-daughter dance. It was while I watched Stephanie dance with her father that I was reminded of my husband dancing with our daughter.
What had he said to her while they danced?
“I took it as an opportunity to tell her how proud I was, how proud we were of her, to let her know we loved her, to give her some advice,” he told me. “Tell Stephen how much we love him.”
Suddenly, the dance became an opportunity. Rather than dancing in front of an audience, I had an audience with my son. And as I poured out my love to him, the tears began pouring out as well — and not just on my face, but on the faces of those who were watching.
I told him how proud his father and I were of him, how much we loved him and his bride, how happy we were for them. And knowing it couldn’t have been easy for him when his father remarried, I thanked him for accepting me as his mother those many years ago.
“You mean back when I was a butt?” he asked with a smile.
“Well, I am glad to be on this side of it,” I responded.
And then I asked if he could please turn us around so that my back of my beautiful hairdo was to the crowd rather than my tear-stained face.
We talked and danced and then suddenly, it was over.
I had once envied my husband in that we had only one daughter — thus only one father-daughter dance — while we had four sons. But after the dance with my oldest son, I fell into my husband’s arms for a couple’s dance, and I rejoiced.
“I get three more!” I said to him, completely thankful.