Kitchen Dance: A Parent’s Legacy

By Jan Larson and Karl Christenson | December 21, 2021

  • Couple dances in kitchen (phlubdr CC-BY)

Couple dances in kitchen (Photo by phlubdr)

Listen Online

Have you ever been at a wedding and caught a glimpse of your parents slow dancing? Maybe you marveled…or maybe you cringed, but I’m willing to bet you felt…something. Jan Larson shares a story about how watching her parents dance in the kitchen brought her comfort as a child, and now as a mother as she watches her children forge their own affections.


Kitchen Dance

The legacy parents leave their children isn’t always easy to spot. On those rare occasions when we get a glimpse of something good, it is oh, so sweet.

As a child I delighted in my father’s nightly ritual. He would sneak up on my mother as they cleared away the dinner table or wiped down the counter tops and what was our kitchen transformed into their private ballroom dance floor.

“I only have eyes for you,” he crooned tenderly as he wrapped his arms around her, his face nestled into that space along the back of her neck and shoulder. Gently, he twirled her around, ignoring her mock protests, and swept her into his arms in a glide across the linoleum floor. The moment was brief, enchanting, and one that left a young child certain of her parents’ love. All was right with the world.

Some years later, I met and married my own darling. And then — one night while tidying the kitchen — I felt his arms wrap around me, hands turning me to face him as he guided me in our own dance across the hardwood floor. Happy tears pricked at my eyes as he twirled me, pulled me close and then, finished with the “big dip.”

Lauran and Jan Larson dancing in their kitchen. (Courtesy of Jan Larson)

Lauran and Jan Larson dancing in their kitchen. (Courtesy of Jan Larson)

As toddlers, our children squealed with pleasure at Daddy’s strength and the light in Mom’s eyes. As teens they offered eye rolls, shoulder shrugs and the predictable, “Get a room.” To which we replied, “We have a license (marriage, that is) to do this.” But underneath the playful teasing, our children, too, were certain of their parents’ love. And, again, all was right with the world.

Not too long ago, our eldest son stopped in for a Saturday brunch. As logs crackled in the fireplace and music filled our home, I busied myself in the kitchen. The little boy who once reached up to me, now a young man, put his hands on my shoulders and turned me to face him, pulling me toward him for his own dance. As we swayed to the music he looked down. “I want to be like you,” he said.

Stunned, my response was brutally honest. “Why?”

He tossed his head back in a brief laugh. “I just do.”

All my mistakes, all my flaws flashed through my mind. This would not do. I did not want to waste the moment. But what to say?

“Take the good, but leave the rest,” I fairly pleaded.

Another light laugh.

“Okay, Mom.”

I realize now, I don’t need to fear for my son. He knows my flaws, yet finds reason to love. Perhaps in following his father’s example — taking our dance and making it his own, he already has claimed the best we have to offer.

If the legacy of children being certain of love is what we leave behind, then sweet is the knowledge that all will be right with the world.

Jan Larson

Jan Larson

Jan Larson is a professor emeritus and the former Department Chair of the Communication + Journalism Department at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
Karl Christenson

Karl Christenson

Karl Christenson is a producer at Wisconsin Public Radio. He enjoys taking his family on cross-country holiday road trips to theme parks and eating bologna sandwiches and parking in the last spot so he can get out of there first.
2021-12-21T10:17:41-06:00Tags: , , , , |

Sign Up Form

Sign Up for Our Bi-Weekly Newsletter

Get your favorite Wisconsin Life stories, meet the crew, and go behind the scenes.

Our Favorite Collections

Storyteller Rodney Lambright II's comic series about the rich relationship between a single father, his young daughter and his retirement-age parents.
For the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, we discover how Wisconsinites experienced the war both at home and on the battlefield.
Ice, cold and winter are an integral part of what it means to live in Wisconsin. "Ice Week" explores the many ways that ice defines us.
Food plays a central part in many holiday traditions. This series honors the foods and meals that make the day.
Escape winter with a look at some of Wisconsin's favorite sports and games.
"Living the Wisconsin Life" is an online series exploring the little things that make living in Wisconsin fun, interesting and meaningful.