Life Takes Over When You Have Other Plans

Submitted into Contest #208 in response to: Write a story about someone living vicariously through someone else.... view prompt


Creative Nonfiction Inspirational Sad

(This story has an indirect mention of child abuse)

Lynda had brought up three girls. One loved sport, running, art, and calligraphy; the middle daughter loved her friends, reading, sewing clothes, and staying at home; the youngest daughter loved to be at home but attended Art Classes with a lady just down their street.

Lynda, as a 6-year-old, attended Jazz-dancing once a week with the daughter of a family friend. Her father took her in the early evening each week. Not long after this, she changed to Ballet dancing which she preferred. Her father paid for it but couldn’t take her. He traveled away with his job and could be absent for a whole week or two. With two younger siblings and a pregnant Mum with no car, her father arranged for Lynda to go to another family after school and attend Ballet lessons with their daughter. It involved a short walk. The walk home took a lot longer. Initially, her father picked her up when he could. She loved Ballet, read books about it, and practiced her dance steps at home.

When she turned seven, she had no intention of stopping Ballet, but something awful happened. One day, as she walked home from school, her father drove past in his car. She waved frantically and felt disappointed that he hadn’t seen her. Imagining he would be at home waiting she tore home as fast as she could. When she arrived home, her father hadn’t.

“Hi, Mummy. Where’s Daddy?”

Her mother just looked at her, surprised, “Why?”

“I saw him on the way home. He’s back and I thought I’d see him. Will he be here soon?”

There was a silence, and Lynda’s face looked at her mother expectantly.

“Your father doesn’t live here anymore.”

“Then why did I see him? Isn’t he going to come in?”

“No, he isn’t. He doesn’t live here anymore.”

The bottom had dropped out of her world. She started to cry. “Wh..wh..when did it happen?”

“Your father packed up and left six weeks ago while you were at school.”

“You didn’t tell me! He hasn’t finished reading Gulliver’s Travels to me. Why did he go?”

“You didn’t notice. He was hardly ever home. We’ll be fine.”

Lynda didn’t feel fine. The tears rolled down her face as she walked away to her bedroom. She wanted to become very small so that the pain might diminish. She took off her jacket and crept into her bed. She wanted to feel a warm hug and being enclosed in her blankets felt safe. She sobbed as quietly as she could. Was she even supposed to cry? 

Her mother came in later to check on her. “Come on, Lynda, you’ll be fine. You’ve been fine all this time. Dry your eyes and get up.”

Her mother left the room, and Lynda had the strangest feeling that maybe her response about her father departing was wrong. Then why did she feel so much pain? She continued crying until there were no tears left. The pain turned to numbness. Numbness and anger, definitely anger at her father for not saying goodbye. Also, sadness that her pain had been dismissed as needless.

Lynda kept going to Ballet which she loved. Now she had to walk herself home every time. As the Summer turned into Autumn, then Winter, the night set in earlier and became colder. The long walk home became more tedious and uncomfortable. When arriving home, her dinner had been kept warm, and she ate alone. At times it rained on the way home. Finally, Lynda came to a decision and told her mother she didn’t want to go to Ballet anymore. But she still loved to tie on her Ballet shoes and practice her foot and arm positions. She also played at teaching Ballet to her younger sister . . . until her ballet shoes became too small.

Once she became an adult, she finally reasoned with her mother about the issues surrounding her parent’s divorce and how she felt. She had come to understand her mother better. 

“Mum. I know your father died when you were five. You had lovely memories of him even though you were sad and missed him. Your four oldest brothers took over as surrogate fathers. But if you think what happened to us is the same, it isn’t even nearly like what we went through.”

“How is that?” 

“Our father was still alive, he never said goodbye, he went to live with another woman and her daughter. He paid no child support, and we had a hard time surviving. He came into the house one night while we were away and robbed it. He even took the head of your bed so you couldn’t sleep. I kept thinking that maybe it wasn’t about us and that whatever happened to your fighting all the time must have got so bad, he decided to leave. You acted as if everything was so much better, and you were happy. You kept on telling me to be happy. I couldn’t be. I think if he had died, I could have felt happier. It wouldn’t have been his choice to leave. He chose to desert us. You wanted me to be happy about it which made me believe that if you had both pretended to be happy for the sake of us children, we could have been a happy family. I know now that it was more complicated. Back then I was a little child being told to forget the father I loved.”

“How could I have told you the truth. He had been in trouble with the police . . . I feared he may have done bad things to you and your sisters . . . he is a pervert.”

“When you eventually remarried, and he wanted to see us, you made me write a letter saying that we had to go out. My last chance to talk to him about it was gone. You made me write that we had gone out and didn’t want to see him anymore. After that, he got into so much trouble over all the child support money he had never paid. Dad, whom you married, offered to pay his debt on the condition that he be allowed to adopt us. Our father said yes. He sold us. Didn’t want us. 

“I wasn’t sure about being adopted and changing my name. I had already lost one father in a horrible way and didn’t want another father, but I also didn’t want to have a different name to my siblings. When your father died it was nothing compared to the pain we went through because our father lived. He didn’t love us, and when he thought he’d be better off, he sold us.”

“I’m so sorry. I never saw it as different from what I went through, but it is. At the very end when he wanted to have you adopted rather than pay his debt, I scarcely believed he could be so callous. You were better off without him.”

“Knowing that now is small comfort after all the pain I went through.”

“You should have told me.”

“Mum, how could I when you made it seem that my feelings were wrong.”


When Lynda’s family had become smaller, with the oldest son independent, three daughters married, two of them having produced grandchildren, and the youngest son being the only grown child still at home, the oldest daughter and her husband endured years of trauma. He eventually committed suicide. Shortly after that, her new marriage broke up after six months, and after no end of disastrous relationships, she gave birth to a tiny, malnourished infant in an emergency situation. Due to circumstances beyond her control, this little girl ended up in Lynda and her husband Tom’s care. They became her guardians. 

Lynda’s independent life turned into the life of a wife and mother with a baby again. Later, the little girl Louisa attended Playcentre and made friends with two other little girls, Layla and Daisy. Louisa hated wearing shoes and preferred to run around on her tiptoes. Lynda concluded she may be a born dancer, as she always danced when she heard music. She attempted tap dancing to faster music with a beat and danced slowly and gracefully to more classical music. One of the mums lived next door to a Ballet teacher. She wanted to start her three-year-old at dancing, and the three mums (one being a grandmother) thought keeping the three girls together at Ballet lessons would be lovely for them.

Lynda’s fondness for Ballet, and a little girl who was always on her toes, seemed great reasons to start the lessons. At the first end-of-the-year show, the girls danced as Sugar Plum Pansies. They looked so cute on stage. Lynda remembered what she had missed and glowed with pride at her little granddaughter doing something she had been deprived of, albeit her own decision at the time. The following year’s end show, they danced as little mermaids around a beautiful older dancer who played Ariel. The three girls continued to love Ballet. Once they turned 5 years, they attended different schools but remained friends due to their Ballet classes. 

Louisa, aged 5, went to a Podiatrist because it became clear that her feet had a problem. She had been born with flat feet and in-toed badly. Walking on her toes as a preschooler had been an action to enable her to walk without tripping over all the time. The Podiatrist concluded that she needed orthotics and special shoes to support and correct her walking. Ballet became recommended as sound therapy. She still loved her classes with Layla and Daisy. However, the teacher said she needed the slender feet of professional ballet dancers. Even at that age, it had become apparent that Louisa loved being on stage. She danced beautifully. Lynda had long concluded that Louisa had always gravitated towards more upbeat and dramatic forms of dance, so this did not worry her.

That year, the class of ballerinas played Sweets in the end-of-year show, dressed in pink and black. Two weeks before the show, the dance teacher got all the mothers together and said that she wanted the girls to wear large JoJo bows in their hair. She couldn’t afford to buy them and needed them made. She needed twelve. 

Lynda knew that two classes of girls from different centers needed them, so coordinating this task with mothers she didn’t know how to contact in such a short time would be a nightmare. How does one even make a Jo-Jo bow? Expecting everyone to make one each for their daughters could also be problematic as some would prefer to buy theirs, which ultimately wouldn’t match the others. As a sewer, Lynda concluded it would be much easier to volunteer and do them all herself. She did so.

Before the end of the two weeks, she had bought the pink satin, sewn it into wide double-sided strips, watched videos on how to fold them, folded them, attached them to either clips or hair ties, embellished them with ribbon and lace in their centers and presented them to each mother for their daughters. The icing on the cake. They looked great on stage. Lynda’s talent had been discovered by the teacher.

After that show, Lynda’s opportunity to watch her little darling on stage doing what they both loved, Ballet, became a gradually diminishing pastime.

The Ballet Teacher injured a shoulder and needed extra help to move and carry her boxes of costumes. Lynda ended up with boxes and boxes of costumes for the next show. Some in her spare room and some in the back of the car. That year, the girls also started Jazz-dancing, and among the dances they would present, one was danced to the Barbie song, “Come on Barbie, let’s go party.” A beautiful blond dancer with long hair would be the older Barbie at the front dancing with her partner. The whole stage would be filled with little dancing girls, mini-Barbies, some wearing red circular skirts and white leotards, the others in silver circular skirts and pink leotards. Their hair was done into two long pigtails with sparkly clips. The dance teacher already had silver skirts. As for the red-skirted mini-Barbies, theirs had to be provided on a shoestring. Lynda had meters and meters of red satin fabric at home, which she donated. The dance teacher asked her to make fourteen circular skirts. The teacher had enough red sparkly fabric on hand for two of them. A few more meters and all the elastic for the waists needed to be purchased. The three materials matched well enough. Fourteen skirts had been deftly cut out.

Her husband objected. She had no sewing room. The sewing machine became a permanent fixture on the dining room table. Cut-out skirts in various stages of being made were laying on the backs of chairs and on couches. Eight little old tutus were hanging up in multiple places awaiting magic fingers to mend and rejuvenate them for a dance where the three friends and their other classmates would pretend to be windup dolls. Tom, Lynda’s husband, demanded that others help her. Another grandmother, Florence, who brought her little granddaughter along, was recruited to sew four skirts. She was asked to leave each waistband open in one place in case the elastic needed shortening, and she had been told the length of each from waist to hem.

“Don’t worry, darling, I’ve delegated.”

Florence got the length wrong on two skirts and didn’t leave anywhere on the waistbands to retrieve the elastic and tighten them. In the end, not much time had been saved by assigning four skirts to be done by someone else.

Finally, the dance teacher decided that in the doll dance, the dolls would be bent over with throws over them until they were removed, and the dolls wound up by a fairy to start their dance. Lynda purchased meters and meters of strong vilene (fabric stabilizer) as it is very affordable, cut them, painted them with sparkly gold and silver paint, and then stuck glittery plastic gems on them. Eight of these lay all over the floor while they had paint applied. 

Her husband became more and more brassed off. He shook his head in disgust. “How much are you getting paid for all this?”

“I’m getting reimbursed for anything I buy. I don’t need to pay the $40 costume fee as I am making them. We will also get free tickets to the show except that I will be in the wings watching. I’m not doing it for the money. It’s for the girls and it saves the poor teacher so much money. The girls will look lovely.”

They absolutely did. Watching from the wings wasn’t so bad. The Barbie dance went off wonderfully. Finally, the girls chased the six young Ken’s off the stage, like fans running after their idols. The audience roared with laughter.

Lynda sighed as she remembered what she had visualized when Louisa started Ballet. Becoming a Wardrobe Mistress wasn’t in the dream. She wanted to sit in the audience, watch the dancers on stage, and pretend she had once been a dancer like them. Dreams are free.

Louisa is a natural-born dancer and has a presence on stage and in her dancing class. She will never be a prima ballerina. But Lynda wants her to have the opportunity to dance her heart out for as long as she wants.

At this stage, after seven years of Louisa’s dancing and Lynda becoming the Wardrobe Mistress for the entire dancing school, missing seeing the shows she works so hard to enable, with all the days and evenings before shows involving overwork, travel, and stress, she has decided to spend more time with her husband, in the audience, watching. Living vicariously had never been part of the plan. She will not remain in the dressing rooms or in the wings, fixing all the dancers’ unforeseen problems and all the wardrobe malfunctions. It has taken over her life. How did any of this happen?

The whole thing became a burden because Lynda made herself indispensable. Everyone else can watch their little darlings dance without interruption. She is in the background enabling it all to happen, being told it is what she loves doing. Ending up feeling used by everyone and missing what she really wants to do, which is to be in the audience. Not just seeing the show in a video afterward. Something has to change. Lynda knows she is one of a number who can do her job. There is no contract, and she isn’t being paid. Thank you cards and a small token of flowers don’t cut it anymore. She will make a stand. . .

July 28, 2023 08:49

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Ayesha Ahmed
06:39 Aug 03, 2023

Hi Kaitlyn. I was assigned your piece as part of the Critique Circle. It's a nice take on the prompt, and I especially liked how subtle the inclusion of it was in the story. Lynda's life was by no means all cupcakes and rainbows, but that didn't make her an entirely bad person. Yes, she was somewhat living vicariously through her daughter, but it wasn't really portrayed in a negative light. I also liked the very detached third-person perspective in this story, although the telling and not showing did feel very jarring at first. The only crit...


23:27 Aug 04, 2023

Telling and not showing. Valid comment. The problem is to include enough within the 3000 word limit. Telling can help with the inclusion of more. The past is what made the present all the more sad for Lynda. I wanted it to be included.


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Mary Bendickson
14:38 Jul 28, 2023

Hope she dances off with a victory.


05:07 Jul 30, 2023

I hope so too!


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Unknown User
23:56 Jul 29, 2023

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05:07 Jul 30, 2023

Thanks for that, Joe. I also wanted to put in some examples of the sorts of things which go wrong in the wings and back stage, funny things, but a max of 3000 words made this impossible. So it is a story with a message, I think, rather than being entertaining.


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