(cross-posted from Notes From Main Street)
I say a bad word tonight. I say it loudly, and justifiably. I say it when I look up from working on a client project and helping my son Patrick construct a pie chart at the same time, see the clock and realize that Patrick is due onstage, playing his tuba, in the band concert—in four minutes. The school auditorium is five minutes away.
I say the bad word again as I bolt for the door, dragging Patrick in my slipstream. We arrive a minute late. I drop Patrick off, park the car, and trot for the auditorium just in time to see him sneaking onstage, toting the tuba. Patrick is 6’3”, just finished a season of heavyweight wrestling, and is, as I have mentioned, carrying a tuba. The sneaking is not very effective.
I do a little sneaking of my own and drop into a seat in the darkened auditorium, grateful that no one can see my un-made-up face, my uncombed hair, and my leggings and oversized rugby shirt. Patrick is in jogging pants and a green polo shirt. We are not at our sartorial best, but we are here. Nobody looks at me twice. We live in a small town, and people aren’t fancy here.
I sit in the darkened auditorium and listen as the sixth-grade band plays. I was in band when I was in school. In our band, we believed that a “good” player was loud player. Our “best” players were the musical equivalents of ball-hogs—they blasted the eardrums of those close to them. I played second-chair clarinet. Blasting on a clarinet is never a good idea.
When Patrick said he wanted to play tuba in band I braced myself for a year’s worth of untuned, out-of-rhythm, teeth-grating concerts. I even had my patter lined up: “You sounded great, tonight, honey.” “I could hear you…” “Boy, you’re really working at that, aren’t you?” I was ready.
And then, six weeks into the year, the sixth-grade band had their first concert. I hauled my mother along for moral support. I braced myself. And was happily shocked. The sixth-grade band played three short pieces. They were in tune. They had some idea of harmony. They hit their notes. They found and kept the beat. To say I was stunned is putting it mildly.
Luckily I already had my remarks prepared: “You sounded great…I could hear you…you’re really working at that…” But I actually meant them.
And now here I sit, listening to my son oompa his way through “Barbara Ann,” rolling and rumbling away, toe tapping, holding the beat for the band. His face is beginning to lose its baby softness; his jaw is acquiring a new, sharper definition. His round cheeks are flattening out into smooth planes. Just tonight, as the woman cut his hair, I watched her take quick little swipes down over his cheeks and chin, where downy facial hair is acquiring a new coarseness and color. Tonight he asked for a shotput and discus.
The sixth grade band finishes and files offstage. The seventh-grade band replaces them, then the eighth grade, then the eight-grade jazz band, As the bands come and go I pick out the boys I have just spent the last few months cheering on the wrestling mats. I have come to see them as wrestlers, one-dimensional. Seeing them onstage, musical instruments in hand, shocks me a little, though it shouldn’t. We are a small town—small enough that students must be involved in numerous activities if we are to compete at all. The fall concert coincided with a delayed play-offs game for the football team; band members arrived onstage sweaty and puffing, still in their gear in some cases.
By this time I have forgotten that this is a school concert. I have lost myself in the music, in marveling at how boys I have come to know as warriors can make such wonderful sounds, at the angle of my son’s cheek far ahead of me, seated with the band, at the fact that I no longer have to fear that he’ll do something horrifying if he’s beyond my reach.
I look up at the school crest set in plaster over the proscenium arch on the old-fashioned stage. I look around at the dark auditorium, and I think, “This is my life.” I have been worried about money lately. Who isn’t, these days? I am turning each nickel twice. Sometimes it seems that the worry never eases. But for tonight, in this dim, safe, music-filled space, watching my son help create something beautiful from a hunk of brass and air, the worry fades, and I remember who I am.
I am a woman. I am an artist, and mother to another. I am a part of this small, old, town. This is my life, my place, and it is magic and oh, so fleeting. This is who and where and when I am. And I will live it, every second, every day. Because my life is amazing, and I know that, money worries, sleepless nights, and fear notwithstanding, when these days with Patrick are gone, I’ll want them back.