The three dancers skipped over the hardwood floor of the gallery, pretending to catch fireflies. They reenacted childhood, creating through their choreography moments of joy and wonder. I was there showing two of my collages as part of the show The Artist’s Childhood. Each of the exhibiting artist showed work that represented a window into their past. I showed my pieces Blueberry Queen complete with princesses, witches and toads and Recipe for a Fairytale with wolf and moon and dreaming child.
My two-year-old niece Ellie was there representing childhood first hand. She was mesmerized by the dancers and sat quietly throughout their dance. After, however, she was happy to grab my hands and flit around the dance floor. “See my tutu,” she said grabbing on to her tulle skirt.
The dance brought me back to the days my grandfather would walk us down the dirt roads by his schoolhouse, jars with punched lids in hand, and allow us to catch the lightening bugs with glowing rumps. It was like catching enchantment in a jar. But these were only memories of childhood, hidden but close to the surface, easy to recall. The next evening I spent a moment in childhood, touring the realms of imagination with Ellie.
After dinner she insisted on visiting Best Buy, entering the store with the declaration “Let’s check out what I want for my birthday.” She then ran down the car stereo aisle, pressing every button and turning every dial. She stopped at every camera instructing me to “say cheese” as she lifted one eye toward the lens. She made me say “cheese” at each and every one.
Then we hit the painted circle in the middle of the store. “This is my swimming pool,” she declared, getting down on the floor in her pretty green dress, hiking it up and exposing her pull-up.
“I think it’s a store, Ellie,” I said, “you should get up,” feeling like I at least owed her parents an attempt at keeping her off the germ-ridden floor.
“Nope, it’s a swimming pool,” she declared. “Wiggle, wiggle,” as she kicked her legs and moved her arms, swimming on the dirty floor.
“Let’s do yoga,” she said next, reaching her hands to the sky. Soon she was leading customers and staff in downward dog. “It’s a swimming pool,” she said again, dropping to the floor. And, it didn’t end, not quickly anyway. And, in those moments she stole me from the adult world, away from the realm of responsibility and memory in which we remember childhood from afar. Better than any magician or any choreographed moment, better than any picture or recipe I could concoct, she whisked me into her world of spontaneity and freedom where there were no stores, no dirty floors, just endless depths of possibility waiting to explore.