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A Woman I Admire Writing Competition Spring 2018

Keeping Dancing (Anonymous)
Alice Penfold
Highly Commended

We first met over eleven years ago. Being a teenager in pursuit of pocket money, I'd popped a poster in the local newsagents advertising my babysitting services; little did I know that it would lead to a lifelong friend.

I'd forgotten about the advert until you rang a week later, tentatively working out whether I'd be able to handle your ever-growing collection of lovely (if lively) children. We clicked immediately. So, for four years, I looked after your three, four, then five children in school holidays and evenings: we played hide and seek amongst your farmhouse's hay bales, had endless games of tag in the nearby fields and occasionally did some homework. You needed a babysitter not only to help manage day-to-day life, with your husband busy running the farm, but also to give you both the chance to go dancing. I used to think I'd stepped back in time, into an Enid Blyton novel, perhaps, whenever I visited. It had seemed idyllic.

It was the day I received my A-Level results that I learned the truth. You rang to congratulate me, laughing as I promised to still help out during the long university holidays. That's when you told me you were leaving. The man you'd been married to wasn't the father, husband and dancing partner you'd thought he was. I realised, then, how much suffering you'd kept hidden behind your smile. Why do bad things happen to good people? The cliché certainly rang true for you. After the split, two children lived with their father, three children lived with you. You stayed strong during every court visit and with every verdict, never ceasing to provide a loving home, support with schoolwork and lifts all across the city to various sporting and social events. And you still found time to dance! Single-handedly bringing up five children with such quiet resilience in such challenging circumstances deserves recognition alone.

But fate did not play fair. It's been four years since you were given the diagnosis. Cancer. Why did someone so healthy, who'd faced so many hurdles, now have this mountain to climb? At every subsequent stage — surgery, chemotherapy, ongoing treatments — the children remained your priority. You continued to attend the counter-productive court cases their father kept demanding, continued to cook healthy meals and help with homework every night, continued to take the children on all adventures they desired. You continued to dance.

When the cancer came back, you refused to be defeated. You even turned wig-wearing into a game with the children, laughing when they suggested which cartoon characters each one made you resemble. You kept dancing. You didn't need your ex-husband to do so; you went alone or with friends who deserved your company.

Despite our different ages and experiences and despite the fact we now live so far apart, we've remained firm friends. Your attitude in the face of adversity is inspirational. I hope you see yourself as I do and I hope you never stop dancing.

Alice Penfold © 2018