The Last “Holiday” Concert

So, for those of you who haven’t noticed, I’m probably not the best parent in the world, although I do try. I suppose we all try. Sometimes, everyday life causes us to lose focus on the simple, more important things- like your children’s once in a lifetime school events…

In my defense, I’ve been going to the gym again. First time in over two years. I’ve been doing pretty good. No set schedule of course, but two, three or four times a week. Whenever I can. In the morning, before work. In the evening, after work. Last night, I was planning on going after work, but damn- I left my sneakers at home. No problem, though. I’ll swing by the house and grab them- which I did, at lunchtime. I was all set, until a little later, when my phone rang. 

“Hi daddy! You’re coming to my concert tonight, right??”
“Um…Of course I am, honey.” 
“Good,” she said. “Can you take me home after? Mommy is just dropping me off and has to go.”

“Of course I can, honey. I’ll see you there.” (No further comments, your honor.)
Now, I don’t know how many of you have been to an Elementary school ‘holiday’ concert as an adult…’Holiday’ concert. Don’t even get me going on that. We’ll save that rant for another day… 

Anyway, school concerts are long events in crowded rooms with little oxygen. This old school is definitely not equipped for the number of kids participating in activities nowadays. Not in this growing area, so of course I start chatting with the guy next to me about the lack of parking, inadequate seating, potential fire hazards and rude parents with three kids taking up seats when there are older folks standing. Then the guy says, “Thank God this is my last one of these.” His words seemed to stop time in a moment when it was already dragging like a dog on a leash on his way to the vet. It was then that I realized this is the last elementary school ‘winter’ concert I will ever attend for my own kids. Wow. With three kids, spread out three years apart, I’ve been to my share. The first few were pretty cool. My kid…on stage…just like I was, many, many years ago- but let’s face it, watching all of the different groups of kids (not just yours) year after year, after a long day at work, kind of wears you out sometimes. But these times don’t last forever, and when they end, you don’t get to go back. So, you sit in your flexi little plastic folding chair and grin through all of the other performances and wait for your child’s appearance. Ok. Here we go…

First up, the fourth grade orchestra. Well, they are cute, but wait- what the hell are they playing??? I mean really- what is this? These aren’t Christmas songs! When I was a kid, the Christmas…I mean the ‘holiday’ concert was about Christmas…and maybe a draidel song. But that’s not what this story is about. Ok. One, two, three, four songs. Not too bad. And one of them was and actual Christmas type song. 

Then the fourth grade chorus. That’s where the show really began for me. Three rows of kids lined the portable risers. Three rows of twelve kids. All dressed in their appropriate school event clothing, but one child stood out from the rest. A ‘husky’ boy with a bright yellow button down shirt.  He had a big, round face, with his big round eyes wide open and an even bigger smile plastered on it for the entire performance. He stood all the way on the end of the top row, on the right side. Just a few steps away from his group. Kind of all alone… Alone in a group of 36 kids. When the chorus began, the boy was beaming. Most of the other kids had that stoic, intense look of concentration, watching the conductor, hoping to be the next American idol. Not the boy in the yellow shirt. He was twisting from side to side, smiling widely. Singing loudly. I couldn’t stop watching him. He would take his two pointer fingers and place them on the corners of his mouth and push them up- clearly a reminder from his mother to make sure he smiled- which he did. Profoundly well. 

The boy in the yellow shirt clearly has some form of autism. I could spot some of the signs immediately. One of my best friend’s son has Asbergers Syndrome. If you know what to look for, you can usually recognize some of the signs. 
Now that this kid has my attention, I start scanning the audience for two things. First is to see if anyone is staring at the boy. I hate when people stare at kids with disabilities. Me? I wasn’t staring. I was studying.
Second, I was looking for his parents. I wanted to see their reaction. Were they embarrassed? Were they proud? Were they indifferent? As I scanned the crowd, one woman also stood out. She too, was beaming. Staring intently- in the direction of the boy. I wondered how she felt inside. Was she embarrassed? Was she worried he would do something inappropriate? Was she afraid people would laugh at him? My questions were quickly answered because all I could see in her face was pride and love. Unconditional love for her child, who was up there, doing his best to fit into a world that was not made for him. I’m not sure how many other people made the connection between the boy in the yellow shirt and his mom, but to me, it was difficult to ignore and hard to miss. His eyes were fixed on his mom, at some points, while he now just pointed to the corners of his mouth, smiling proudly.  
Fifth grade orchestra- hmmm…actually, not bad for a bunch of ten and eleven year olds- and they even did an actual Christmas song. Shhhh…don’t tell anybody. There’d likely be a protest of public outrage. Possibly even riots. 
Finally. Fifth grade chorus. I made it. Still awake. Here they come. Fifty plus kids. I keep looking. And looking, as they file into the auditorium. Waiting to see my little girl. As the kids March by, I think crap…maybe her mother didn’t even bring her. That would not be the first time I raced to an event, only to find that my child wasn’t even there, when they were supposed to be. The kids kept flowing in. nope, nope, nope, nope. Finally! There she was. The last child in line…on the bottom row…at the end…just a step or two apart from her peers, all alone, in a group of over fifty kids. In an instant, I am transformed. I am that parent. 

My beautiful daughter stood on the very end of the row, with a nervous smile on her face. I believe, to most people, she appears to be a pretty normal fifth grader. Most don’t believe she has a genetic disorder called Turner Syndrome, which puts her on the autism spectrum. One of the challenges with that is the fact that she doesn’t really look different, so she is not expected to act differently from any other fifth grader.  As she stood up there on stage, she starts scanning the crowd. When she spots me, she gives a smile of relief and a little wave. When she was younger, she would wave to me intermittently throughout the entire performance. This time, she seemed to be concentrating harder. Really trying to be attentive. 
When her group started singing, she did her best to follow along. At times, right on cue. Other times, slightly behind, repeating the words as she hears them. I could tell when she was singing and when she was just mouthing the words- some of which she knew., some she did not- but she was up there on the stage. Proud to be part of a group that I don’t even think she knows she is different from- and I am proud of her for being up there, smiling and singing, and for a second, I looked around to see if anyone was staring at her- the kid who is different, or at me- the parent. I wanted to see if anyone made the father-daughter connection as I made the mother son connection, earlier. I sure hope they can. 
The one thing I walked away with that night was this reminder- no matter how bad things get- or seem to get, as long as we have two fingers, we can push up the corners of our mouths.

 Maybe if we do that enough, it will become a natural action. Just like it was for the boy in the yellow shirt. 

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