I’ve been a dance dad for nearly 5 years. Throughout the course of my life, I’ve spent my fair share of time at dance competitions, recitals, and conventions. However, in these pictures, while you may see our little girl nervously make her way on stage for the first time, what I saw, through teary eyes and my lens, was much more.
Aivan Lane Branscum was ready to make her entrance into the world earlier than we had planned. At Tara’s final checkup, 2 full days before we were scheduled to be induced, our doctor discovered Avi was ready to make her grand entrance. This, we now know is vintage Avi; impatient and demanding. She was born, start to finish, in 16 hours, half the time it took her big sister to make her way into the world. As I watched her come into the world, I saw what we, as parents, all fear; the chord was around her neck and she wasn’t breathing well. Dr. Robb snipped the chord, the nurse quickly gave her oxygen, and once the color returned to her, they draped her across Tara’s chest. I felt every emotion imaginable, from one end of the spectrum to the other, at 3:23am on September 28th, 2012.
I’ve seen, heard, and read about parents telling their kids they love them all the same. I don’t. *GASP* Hear me out… I love all my kids differently, the way THEY need my love. I feel we all know this, intuitively, as time passes, watching our children be built from the foundation up, with the building blocks of nature AND nurture.
At home, before her rehearsal, she was excited and ready to go. I remember taking her picture in the front yard before we left the house; she was wearing her pink, high-top Chuck Taylor’s with this costume. Never has an outfit matched her personality so perfectly.
You see, on the exterior, this little doll of ours is tough as nails; however, she uses that tough exterior to protect her fragile, gigantic heart. She is full of emotion; her little body cannot contain it. She is strong yet incredibly vulnerable. I see her. I know the feeling. I know what the world will be like for her. I love this most about her.
It was just the two of us there for dress rehearsal that day. Tara dropped us off at the entrance of the auditorium. I could feel the tension radiating from her as we got closer to the doors. We walked through the doors, I flashed my pass, and we found her group. She was clinging to me, I could feel her swelling with what she didn’t have the words to describe. Her heart was beating out of her chest. I knelt down, eye to eye, and said, “talk to daddy, babe,” and that was it. Bawling and burying her face into my neck to shield herself from the overwhelming stimulus of cartoon colors and time management in motion.
After she was born, it took 4 months for Avi and I to bond. This hurt me to my core. With Rylin, this part was so easy. With Aivan, for those 4 months, she wouldn’t let me hold her. It was the hardest 4 months of my life. I will forever remember the night she fell asleep in my arms for the first time; I felt as if I was holding the Holy Grail with chopsticks while wearing oven mitts. I was paralyzed in fear yet flooded with relief. Looking back, it felt as if we both held each other that night.
This was it…time was up. Stop. Read that sentence again. I ended the first sentence of this paragraph with a period instead of an exclamation point for a reason. I felt what happened next would be swayed one way or another by the tone of my voice. Her going through with it or not was balancing on how my spoken words would be read from a script. At this time, she is latched onto me like a koala bear in a wind storm while wringing her beautiful little eyes out on my shoulder. I was fully prepared to walk out on stage with her so she would feel comfortable. As we moved backstage, Miss Heidi, having seen this before, I’m sure, started comforting her, matching my tone and pace with her (forever grateful for her role here). I could feel her words reaching Avi, her grip on me began to loosen, her tension started to dissipate. She trusted us; she felt safe, heard, and taken care of.
As you’ve seen by now, she walked out on stage that day. I remember watching her walk out as if she was on a tight rope. I waited on bated breath, in the wings on stage left, to catch her from a fall she never took. She had a bobble or two, sure, but she gave me the opportunity to use my love for her to get her through this, the way she needed in that moment, not some preset I have in my mind. Every piece of my heart was on stage with Avi during this 30 minute rehearsal. I was so proud of her.
To this day, it is one of the most memorable moments of our special little relationship.