The Nutcracker

From the beginning, Elena always knew the perfect places to nap. In the summer it was a warm sunny day in the grass after finishing a bowl full of strawberries. Winters ago it was on the couch while the Bengals lost their most recent game. From our first weekend together to our last, it was our shared tradition: her head in my arms and shoes off.

Not that I had a hard time sleeping. Between Mom and the girls, it was commonly known that Dad could sleep through everything. Even without Elena’s help I’d fall asleep in the theater, in the car and even in the restaurant waiting for the waitress to take our order. I’d claim it was because of work, yet they knew I was lying. I was just lazy.

In truth, after Elena’s diagnosis I could sleep no more. So I’d feign exhaustion, waiting for the moment that Elena would nod off to sleep, only to spend the next hour marveling at her silky hair, her soft cheeks and her peaceful smile. Somehow sleeping could wait.

So when Elena suggested that we go to the Nutcracker, everyone immediately suspected that Dad would never make it out awake. In truth, I even had my doubts. For years past I’d thought of every excuse to skip the ballet. When Elena asked the first year, I told her we didn’t have the money. When she asked the second year, I told her we didn’t have the time. When she asked the third year I had no more excuses to offer. And this time saying “no” meant that we may never have another chance.

Now ballet is an art. A refined art that demands the utmost skill, balance and beauty of the performer. And for the audience you should expect no less. This I did not anticipated. There were elaborate dresses, elegant hair and lipstick – and this was all for Elena. From six in the morning until two in the afternoon, Elena was quaffed, manicured and doted on by an army of stylists and grandmas, all eager to offer their own suggestions and ideas. And before it was done, she was complete, all the way down to her sparkly ruby red shoes.
Even her smile sparkled. This was Elena’s night to shine – a night I wished we’d had years before. And as the curtain opened so did her heart.

Now I’d love to tell you she was enchanted; that for the next two hours we reveled in the majesty of the nutcracker and feared the return of the mouse army. Instead, before the very first entrance of the sugar plum fairies, it was Elena who fell asleep in my arms while I stayed awake for the entire show. Still, if you ask about the ballet, I couldn’t tell you what I saw; my eyes watched my little girl sleeping ever so softly against my shoulder.

To this day, if you look on our mantle, a lone Nutcracker keeps watch over our home. It is the one Christmas decoration that remains throughout the year; a constant reminder to capture the memories that we share as a family and never to let them slip between our fingers; no matter if it is the ballet or even a simple nap on a Saturday afternoon. As I said before, Elena knew all the perfect places.

Happy Birthday Elena!

4 Responses to “The Nutcracker”

  1. Mikey says:

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY DEAREST ELENA!!! I remember reading the part of your book where miss Elena fell asleep when she had been so excited to see the Nutcracker. It made me smile ear to ear knowing how cute your daughter was to see it, then fall asleep in the middle of it.
    I remember when i was younger my family went to six flags and we were waiting for the whale to come out and splash us, (IT WAS SO HOT THAT DAY!) and the minute we got wet, all 3 kids screamed at the top of our little lungs. I didnt stop until I was home and had had a bath and fresh clothes on.
    I know it must be hard on Elena’s birthday, so I wish you all the best on this hard yet happy day. And… Thank you Elena, for changing a part of this cold heart of mine.

  2. Steven says:

    Happy Birthday Elena…..I’ll NEVER forget you………….

  3. Happy birthday Elena!!! I am sure you will never be forgotten by many many people.

    A mom in the Netherlands

  4. You inspired me to take the day off of work and go with my 6 year old and her 1st grade class to see the Nutcracker. Time with my family and away from work is my priority in 2010.