The 10 phases of attending a school band concert


So, your child plays in the band?  Guess what?  Time for spring concerts!  In case this is your first time, let me guide you through what to expect at a typical band concert.

Phase I:  Excitement and anticipation.
Whether you child plays woodwinds, brass, or percussion (like mine), you will be excited to attend this important event, potentially the performance of a lifetime.  All year your child has been waking up early twice a week to get to band practice, instrument in tow.  Finally you get to hear the fruits of his labor!  You mark your calendar, rearrange appointments, and shuffle any competing extracurricular activities so that the whole family is available to be in attendance.  How often are you treated to a night of FREE musical entertainment, after all?

Phase 2:  Preparation.
You rearrange your work schedule to make sure you won’t be late at the office that day.  You make sure to have a cup of coffee around 4 pm to get you through the evening’s excitement.  Getting home a little early, you have dinner on the table by  5 pm.  Can’t let your micro-sized musician go to his big concert with a rumbly tummy!   There is no time to linger over dinner, but you manage to get the dishes in the dishwasher and everyone has their homework done.  Your mini-Mozart has his instrument and band binder by the door ready to go.  A quick check reveals that everyone is wearing pants.  You are winning!  It’s  almost go time!

Phase 3:  Enter into the first concentric circle of hell.
You remind baby Bach that the band teacher wants all the boys to wear a shirt, tie, and dress pants, and all the girls to wear a dress or a skirt.  What?  A TIE?  I HAVE TO WEAR A TIE?  I HATE TIES AND I’M NOT DRESSING UP AND I AM NOT GOING AND I HATE BAND ANYWAY AND WHY DOES MY BAND TEACHER CARE WHAT I WEAR THIS IS SO STUPID I’M NOT GOING.   As you are putting out the fire in Ringo’s dressing room, sister shows up, after being asked to go brush her hair, in a beautiful off-white formal dress with a tulle skirt and sequined bodice.  You explain to sister that she should go put her jeans back on because a school concert does not require formal dress, while simultaneously trying to get your musician into a shirt and tie.  The incongruity is not lost on you, or your children for that matter.  It looks like it is all falling apart, but really, there is a simple explanation for this: You have entered the gate of hell.  “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate” (translation, in case your Italian is rusty–“Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”).

Phase 4:  Arrival and seating.
You and your family are now varying degrees of sweaty, angry, stressed, and resentful.  This means you are ready to go!  You pile into the family-mobile and drive in frustrated silence punctuated only by a mom-lecture from the front seat.  You get there early enough to get some choice seats–4th row!!  You see that the program you picked up on the way in mandates no flash photography, and requests that the audience express their appreciation with applause only, and not with “hooting and hollering”.  You make a mental note to contain your enthusiasm.

Phase 5:  Begin to unexpectedly enjoy yourself.
About mid-way through the first song, you realize, “hey, these kids are good.  Like, REALLY good!  I can’t believe these kids are in elementary and middle school!”  The music selections range from classical, to “You’re a Grand Old Flag”, to a jaunty Lady Gaga medley.  This is pretty awesome!

Phase 6:  Experience shock, awe and pride.
Then, all of a sudden, it’s the big moment. The 5th grade band takes the stage.  The conductor raises her wand and they begin to play as one, in perfect harmony.  You burst with pride.  Even though you can’t see your 4’11” percussionist in the very back behind the tubas because of the tall guy in front of you and all the flutes and clarinets in the way, you can hear all kinds of drumming and maraca shaking in the back and you just know–that percussion section is KILLING IT.

Phase 7:  Start to feel the fatigue of your day setting in.
You are enjoying yourself, you really are.  But after the adrenaline wears off from the pre-show circus at your house and the 5th grade band exits the stage after their third number, and the 4 pm coffee wears off, you realize that you are just plain tired.  You start to fantasize about your pajamas, and how good it will feel to take off your bra.

Phase 8:  Start to hate everything and everyone and SWEET MOTHER OF MARY how much longer is this concert get me out of here because I need to go to bed.
You look down and, to your dismay, you are only one-third of the way through the evening’s program.  You start to practice your deep breathing, just like your yoga teacher taught you.  As the moments go on, you start to hate people, all people, especially all the people around you who look like they are having fun, even though you were having fun a minute ago too, but now you changed your mind and you are no longer having fun.  You are tired and you want to go take off your pants and lie down in your bed, but you know that before you can do that you will have to sit in a long car line on the way out of the parking lot with all of these happy-looking people who apparently have much better coping skills than you and can stay up past 8 pm without needing a mental health arrest.  Screw them.

Phase 9:  Rush home to put everyone to bed.
You made it to the end.  Now, only 8 hours until you have to wake up at the butt-crack of dawn to get yourself and your kids up and out the door for school and work!  You sit in the stupid car line out of the parking lot, then speed home.  You order everyone upstairs to perform their nightly dental hygiene practices and get into their pajamas.  But, no.  NO. THEY CAN’T DO THAT RIGHT NOW BECAUSE THEY ARE HUNGRY.  They need a “snack”, because heaven forbid they go more than 2 hours without some kind of carbohydrate-laden concoction filled with red #40 to stick in their little music-makers.  You say, “No, go to bed!  You’re tired, not hungry!”,  but your spouse “doesn’t think it’s right” to send kids to bed hungry, so he gives them yogurt while you haul your weary carcass up the stairs.  You brush your own teeth and get your own pajamas on and try to figure out why your children are so resistant to bedtime, which is the best time of the day, in your opinion.

Phase 10:  Recovery.
At this point, assume the recovery position.  Lie on you side in the fetal position.  Stare catatonically at the wall.  Feel proud of your child’s accomplishments.  Feel proud of yourself for being a super awesome good enough parent.  You may close your eyes and allow sleep to overtake you at this point.   Dream of your child, all grown up and performing in the symphony.

***The sequence of events in this blog entry and all characters appearing in it may or may not be entirely accurate and not at all fictitious depending on who is asking and whether or not you are going to tell my son that I blogged about that part with the tie.

Tween-dom 

I will admit it.  I let my guard down.  I used to be pretty attentive, always looking around the corner, anticipating the next set of issues and problems, reading up so that I would be prepared when the time came.  I started out when I was pregnant and on bed rest, reading What to Expect When You’re Expecting.  This led naturally into What to Expect the Toddler Years and a motherlode (pun intended) of mommy blogs and message boards.  I’m not sure when or why I stopped doing this, though it was most likely a gentle slide, a slow erosion of my hyper-vigilance.  You know how it is when every day starts to feel like groundhog day, like a variation on a theme, and you just settle in and coast for a while.

I wouldn’t say that the change took place overnight, necessarily.  But it was a significant transformation, one that continues to surprise me as it evolves and plays out in the day-to-day.  Coasting is no longer an option.  There is no predictable pattern or even much of a warning when it’s time to batten down the hatches.  All I know is that this change is just the beginning, a small taste of things to come, and I do not feel prepared for it.

I’m talking about this new person that lives in my house.  This one who used to think I was awesome and fun, who called me “mommy”, who saw me as an ally rather than an obstacle.  This new guy is called a “tween”, I am told.  When I look at him, I still see his baby face in there somewhere, hiding under the hood that is always cinched up around his face.  (are you cold?  is it breezy in here?  what gives?).  When he hugs me, he no longer grabs my thigh or my waist, or reaches up his hands for me to pull him up.  His arms circle all the way around my back, his head can now rest comfortably on my shoulder, and he makes gains on me every day.  Soon this one I carried in a sling and pushed in a stroller, who cried when I left the room, who threw broccoli on the floor, will overtake me.  He will literally look down at me, and I will have to tip my chin up when I tell him to go clean up his room or do his homework.

He is aware that he is on the precipice of physical enormity, and he is practicing for it by doing things like rolling his eyes and greeting simple requests with poorly executed sarcasm.  He obviously doesn’t know that I won the regional award for eye-rolling back in my day.  There is no “What to Expect When You’re Expecting a Teenager” on my bookshelf currently, so I’m still figuring out how best to nip all this in the bud without making it worse.  Because it’s a really delicate balance, you know?  Too authoritative and the tween is likely to retreat back under the perceived safety of the hoodie and shut you out entirely.  Not authoritative enough and you’ve got a hoodlum on your hands.  (see what I did there?  “hood”lum!)  It’s a little like approaching a wild animal on a National Geographic special.  Very precarious.

And what of the fact that my tween has so many NEEDS and FEELINGS right now?  So many feelings, none of which can be easily identified, because they are all wrapped up in this little ball that is generously coated with a layer of anger and finished with a fine dusting of resentment.  Am I to be the one to unravel that ticking time bomb?  Do I cut the black wire or the red one?  Which chapter addresses these sorts of emergencies?  Also, nothing like reliving middle school through the eyes of your child to dredge up all of your own emotional baggage.

I used to be really good at this.  I could tell by the look in that kid’s eyes when he was hungry, or overstimulated, or if he needed a nap.  I could anticipate what kind of scenarios were likely to be overwhelming or frustrating, and do some work on the front end to avoid  doing damage control on the back end.  Now, I don’t know anything, and I have a 10-year-old to tell me that I don’t know anything.  Also, in case you’re wondering, I’m lame.  And embarrassing.  And I’m not funny.  Not even a little bit.

I love this poem by Adair Lara, who really sums up the tween through teen stage nicely:

                                                         WHEN CHILDREN TURN INTO CATS

Have you ever realized that children are like dogs? Loyal and affectionate, but teenagers are like cats…
It’s so easy to be a dog owner.
You feed it, train it, boss it around. And yet it still puts its head on your knee and gazes at you as if you were a Rembrandt painting and bounds indoors with enthusiasm when you call it.
Then around age 13, your adoring little puppy turns into a cat. When you tell it to come inside, it looks amazed, as if wondering who died and made you emperor.
Instead of dogging your every step, it disappears. You won’t see it again until it gets hungry. Then it pauses on its sprint through the kitchen long enough to turn its nose up at whatever you’re serving.
When you reach out to ruffle its head, in that old affectionate gesture, it twists away from you, then gives you a blank stare, as if trying to remember where it has seen you before. You, not realizing that the dog is now a cat, think something must be desperately wrong.
It seems so antisocial, so distant.
It won’t go on family outings.
Since you’re the one who raised it, taught it to fetch and stay and sit on command, you assume that you did something wrong.
Flooded with guilt and fear, you redouble your efforts to make your pet behave.
Only now you’re dealing with a cat, so everything that worked before now produces the opposite of the desired result.
Call it, and it runs away. Tell it to sit, and it jumps on the counter.
The more you go toward it, with open arms, the more it moves away.
Instead of continuing to act like a dog owner, you should learn to behave like a cat owner.
Put a dish of food near the door, and let it come to you.
Sit still, and it will come, seeking that warm, comforting lap it has not entirely forgotten.
Be there to open the door for it.
And just remember…
One day your grown-up child will walk into the kitchen, give you a big kiss and say,  “You’ve been on your feet all day. Let me get those dishes for you.”
Then you’ll realize your cat is now a dog again!

I love this kid, this dog-turned-cat, this shape-shifting boy-man, who has come to teach me of the messy side love in all its forms.