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Parenting, Act 1

As mom to two young girls, I know Act 2, their teenage years, will likely be quite different. But Act 3 will bring them back to me.

Gracia Lam

“Mom! We need you! Come dance with us!”

This is the refrain I hear most nights after dinner as I am clearing the dishes or trying to catch up with my husband for a few minutes to hear how his day was. It’s my 3- and 4-year-old daughters calling me from the next room. After a few minutes of pleading, most nights I join them. We put on the Pop Hits or Party Favorites selection on the TV and dance away. There’s a lot of jumping involved, some loud off-key singing, and crazy hair swinging. What we lack in rhythm we more than make up for in laughter, and I love to see my little girls this way: joyful, silly, and happy to have me around.

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I know it won’t last forever. I know a day will come when they will die of embarrassment to see me dancing and certainly will not in any way encourage me to do so. Like holding my hand, crying on my shoulder, or snuggling with me on the couch, these basic acts that are so instinctual for them now will, in just a few years, be something they scoff at.

I remember that as a young child I loved to dance with my mom, too. She didn’t partake in many “silly” behaviors, but dancing was something she loved to do. She’d sing in the car with my brother and me and dance in our family room to her favorite songs on the radio. I remember listening to stories, in my bed and hers, snuggling up and hearing her soft, soothing voice read Little Women or Little House on the Prairie. I remember going to the movies, craft fairs in the fall, and shopping trips to the mall.

But then, at some point, that all changed. I liked listening to my music in my room, preferred reading on my own, went to the mall with friends, found it incredibly annoying when she’d sing in the car, and dancing? Please . . . no.

And so I like to think of the time with my daughters now as Act 1 of our relationship. Act 1 is filled with dancing, laughter, holding hands, and cuddling. I’m (somewhat) prepared for the fact that what comes next, Act 2, may not be pleasant — and thinking back to what I was like as a preteen and teenager, I know that “not pleasant” may be a massive understatement. But I remain hopeful, because I remember that Act 3 was pretty special. It wasn’t the same as Act 1, but it had more in common with it than Act 2.

When I was in my early 20s and living in New York City, I went home for a long weekend to visit my parents in Maine. The dinner dishes were cleared, my dad had gone to bed, and it was just my mom and me sitting on the couch together, in our pajamas, chatting about what was new with her and me and her friends and my friends. I remember snuggling into her and her stroking my hair, just like she used to do when I was a child, as we talked and talked.

During Act 3, we went to movies again, went shopping, even went on road trips together — just the two of us — to various destinations. We talked most days, laughed often, cried some, too. By that point I was my own person, but as luck would have it, I had grown into someone who loved having her around, just as I had when I was little.

And so while I try to savor every hug, kiss, laugh, and sigh from my daughters, knowing that they’ll never be this little again and they’ll never again need me with the same intensity, I also try to keep in mind that with some luck, we’ll have an Act 3 where we can all dance together once more. I’ll be ready.

Laura Shea Souza is a writer in Stow. Send comments to connections@globe.com.

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