I walked into the vast gym and stared at the way the dancers moved, confused. Nothing about their movements looked remotely familiar. Some dancers spun alone, lost in their own rhythm. Other dancers' bodies twisted around each other, pressing fleshy bits into bony bits until a lift happened, a leg took a ride on a shoulder, a head rested heavily on the crook of an arm. There was no noticeable step.

"You must be J. You're in the right place," a woman said striding toward me. I figured she was the dance company director that I spoke with on the phone. I had called everyone I could find in the phone book in a desperate attempt to find dance in western Maine and this was the best fit, a collegiate improvisational dance company which was open to members of the surrounding community.

"So this is improvisation."

"Yep. Jump in when you're ready."

I had been dancing for 18 years at this point, studying ballet, modern, jazz, and flamenco, performing for audiences large and small. I was comfortable with the dance I knew: there was a right and a wrong way to do things. I liked to know where I stood, even if where I stood was Not Measuring Up.

I couldn't remember the last time I had improvised anything. Maybe when I was four and dance class included scarves and moving to music however you wanted. All my training since then had been about molding my body into shapes specified by someone else. The counts mattered, the height, the speed, the rhythm, everything was specific and precise and external. Not mine.

In the gymnasium, surrounded by strangers, I started dancing by myself. I tried to move however I felt. I felt..... self conscious. Weird. Incompetent.

Without much thought, I started to fall into choreography I knew. When I glanced up at the director, she smiled knowingly at me.



E was a few weeks old. When I laid her on the bed to change her poopy diaper, I made a startling discovery: we were out of wipes. OUT. OF. WIPES. As in: not a single wipe in the whole entire house. Not in a car. Not in a tree. Not in my purse. WIPES, WHERE CAN YOU BE? (Sorry. Too much Dr. Suess.)

So I did the only logical thing: I sat down and cried and tried to imagine taking E to the store to buy more wipes with orange newborn poop oozing all over her car seat and I cried some more.

I had never run out of wipes before this. Ever. I viewed motherhood as some sort of long-winded boy scout test- I would always be prepared.

But this was during the first few weeks of a new baby, the first month of two kids, the first week of my husband back at work. What I'm saying is: this juggler was suddenly dropping many, many balls.

Then CG gently pointed out that we could just use moistened paper towels, as they are quite similar to wipes.

"But you are supposed to wipe babies with WIPES," I wailed, because I had read the books and followed the rules and knew the facts.

"Lots of people don't have wipes," he said, handing me a wet paper towel.

"Oh. Right." Right.


When I entered the dance studio, the first thing I noticed was the smell. Perhaps "stench" is a more appropriate word? When you read the words "dirty hippies" do your nostrils fill with the memory of unwashed armpits and dirty feet, with a lingering aftertaste of patchouli? Then that's about right.

Some dancers ringed the sides of the studio, sitting, drinking water, watching the action in the center. The action looked like... well, it looked like what I imagine an orgy looks like. People pressing into each other, hair and sweat and skin intermixing in strange and possibly unhygienic ways. Bodies were tumbling over one another, leaving, coming back, flinging themselves at a new partner. It was a dazzling, dizzying mess of dance.

This was my first Contact Improvisation jam in San Francisco. But I had done this before! Last year, in Maine! I could do this!

Before I even sat down, I was immediately invited to dance by a particularly sweaty man.

Um, is this how it works here?
Like a cotillion? Oooookaaaaayyy.

He started right in, pressing into me, giving me his weight, nudging me to give mine. I can do this, just goooo with it, I repeatedly thought as I rolled around with him, and also this: Whatever you do, don't press your face into his crotch.

When it was over, I smelled of him and, him of me, probably.

'You're new here," he declared, not a question, he was sure.


"Well, welcome. Enjoy yourself and don't worry so much. There's no right way to do this."

"Right." Right.


When I became a mom, I knew I had more than my fair share of anxiety about motherhood. But I was sure that my conscientiousness, my preparedness, my lifelong need to plan out a schedule, consult experts, bring small packages of snacks and water and tissues with me everywhere would all finally be put to use.

I mean, there were good reasons friends had jokingly called me "Mom" for years.

What I didn't know was that all my preparedness would be beside the point. That my small forays into dance improvisation had taught me more about motherhood than a lifetime of carrying snacks in my purse.


I was excited and a little nervous to take class with a new teacher from Europe. I liked her warm, easy manner right away and only flinched once when she told us the second half of the class would be improvisation. I had, after all, been improvising for several years by now.

I opened up under her kind gaze. She encouraged me to reach beyond anything I had done before.

At the end of the first week, she approached me after class. Would I like to work with her company on a performance piece? It would be loosely structured, mostly improvised.

"Yes, yes I would," I said, not having to think twice.


For the last three Wednesdays, Z and E and I have set out on Adventure Afternoons. I got the idea from a tweet of Backpacking Dad's where he mentioned it being "Adventure Day" and asking his daughter which direction they should drive.

I thought, well doesn't that sound like something a spontaneous, flexible, improvisational parent would do.

Too bad Z and E don't have one of those.

But I want to be one of those parents. And why can't I be?

I told Z we would start the next day: Adventure Afternoon. She could chose the direction we would drive and then we'd set out, looking for new places to go, new things to see. North, South, East, West.

Of course, I couldn't help myself: I researched it all first. I made lists of possible places in each direction, found their addresses and phone numbers, filled a bag with water, snacks, a camera, crayons, changes of clothes, WIPES.

First, Z chose South. Turns out, if you drive due South of us, you don't find much but farmland. But off we drove anyway.

Both hands on the wheel, crazy lady.

Just when things started to get a little hairy (There may have been whining about BOREDOM from the back and hissing about FUN from the front.), we happened upon the most beautiful little plant nursery complete with an awesome wooden ship and train for kids to play on. The girls exclaimed over brightly colored plants and became "fairy pirates" and shared some local apple/cherry cider.

Fairy Pirates still walk the plank.

Z exalted as we got back in the car: "We never would have found this without Adventure Afternoon! What will we find next?!"

Our next adventures (West and East) included trips to a roller rink, the best playground I've found in our area, an inflatable bounce gym, running through outside sprinklers and enjoying ice cream smoothies even though it was right before dinner.

I know this is the way some people live every day. I'm sure there are plenty of parents who don't need to set aside a specific afternoon for Adventure with a capital A. But for me, it's been a revelation.

I can still carry snacks and wipes and addresses but we don't have to know exactly where we're headed. We can follow our nose and whims, our intention clear and open.

We can improvise.


Nik-Nak said...

Just. Plain. Beautiful.
You write so amazingly well.

Doing My Best said...

You have such a way with words! This was inspiring; thank you!

pamela said...

So beautiful. You are such a talented writer. And this is SO me. I am always thinking Right and Wrong. Wasn't it Rumi who wrote, "Out beyond rightdoing and wrongdoing there is a field. I'll meet you there."

Still trying to find that field ... thanks for a beautiful post.

twisterfish said...

Great post! And you've inspired me -- I'm going to have adventure afternoons too! Thank you.

Beyond Diapers said...

This is my favortie CBHM post so far!

Stephanie said...

I love this, and I need to hear this, too. Because even in the midst of summer, I am still trying to Structure. I just read another post (can't remember where) about someone who instituted Chooseaday, where the child gets to choose everything about the day and the parent agrees to say yes to everything. My eldest is having a sleepover at the grandparents' next week, and I think it's going to be Chooseaday for my youngest while she's home alone with me. You are an inspiration!

shannon said...

What a gift. Thank you AGAIN, for sharing with such honest, pure love. You are making the world a better place, one blog at a time.

This weekend, my 2 year old daughter fell 4 feet backwards off the back of the kiddy slide onto her back/head on the concrete at our neighbourhood pool, under my (hypervigilant) care and despite my every effort to "hold on while letting go" (my greatest struggle as a mom). I was horrified, terrified, and have been reeling ever since with the realization that NO MATTER WHAT I DO, I CAN'T CONTROL EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENS!!! Your post has shone the light on the beautiful side of that reality... life is out there waiting to live - the joy, the pain, the experience. That's why we're all here. Thank you for reminding me CBHM.

clueless but hopeful mama said...

pamela- Thanks for that quote, I love it! Putting it in my (offline) journal now!

twisterfish- Blog about it!

Stephanie- I LOVE the idea of chooesaday! I think we might have to institute that when we get back. Though I will have to set parameters. If I know my girls, it would be "eat three ice cream cones and watch tv all day"!

shannon- OH MY. My heart goes out to you. I hope that your daughter is okay, though I know just how horrific such incidents are no matter how fine our kids are minutes later. I still have flashbacks to each and every one of the big falls my girls have had. *big hug*

Craftstress Kira said...

You are awesome! Wish I could come on an adventure day with you gals! (actually it's looking like I'll be in DC for a bit in late September...please tell me you'll be around!) Love and miss you! -K

B said...

Great post! This is one of a million reasons I love summer- the adventures! It is such a coincidence that I read this now, actually, because we just got back from a similar impromptu adventure where we discovered a field of cows and a small farmers market! Now we have delicious locally grown fruit for dessert tonight. I LOVE SUMMER :)

Alice said...

i don't even have kids and i want to go on an Adventure Day :)

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