Thursday, August 29, 2013

Making the Band

Picture this: My 11-year-old son, sitting in my neighbor’s front yard on a colorful, sun-dappled fall Sunday, his shoeless feet tucked beneath him in the soft green clover and his head supporting a most decidedly dapper black top hat while his pursed upper lip balances a fuzzy felt mustache curling so enthusiastically it practically encircles his nose. He’s playing the trumpet—yes, the trumpet—entertaining our neighbor while he rakes piles of crunchy leaves into brown paper bags and lines them up along his front curb where they resemble a crooked smile. The mischievous midday sun, not wanting to miss out on such a delightful afternoon activity, pirouettes atop the glossy brass instrument before leaping off in high, blinding arcs that land squarely in the eyes of unsuspecting drivers.

Now this …. THIS … is a moment I don’t ever want to forget. May that picture forever be imprinted on my brain; and may my son perpetually remain the kid who can get it into his head to dress up like the Monopoly guy and serenade a hard working neighbor while innocently causing fender-benders, waking napping infants, and soliciting surprised and happy smiles from all the Sunday sidewalk strollers. Because that’s who he is. And this is his story.

Blown Away
My son, at the end of fifth grade, had been playing the trumpet in his music class for exactly one school year when he decided he wanted to be in the town-wide 7th and 8th grade band, even though it rarely included younger students his age.  He enjoyed the trumpet and knew a few classmates who would be auditioning for the band. More important ... and the primary motivator, I believe ... was that every spring the band competed at Six Flags Amusement Park. The jammed-packed agenda for that weekend included a stay in a hotel (sans parents and twin brother); bowling and pizza on the first night; and a full day spent at Six Flags. My son wanted in.

Unbeknownst to me, he sought out the band director's email address and proceeded to schedule an audition at a neighboring school. That’s when he brought me in the loop, so that I could drive him there.

Now, my husband and I are nothing if not supportive and encouraging parents. But although my son had been steadily improving at the trumpet, his skills seemed pretty rudimentary to our ringing ears. Heck, one of the buttons on his dinged and rented instrument had been stuck for the past three months and in my son’s words, “It’s OK, I don’t really use that note anyway.”

So the odds were just about nil my son would make the band, but in our house those odds are as good as any. He had shown initiative in setting up the audition and was very hopeful and eager. I wasn’t about to squelch that with a lecture on realistic expectations. I figured there would be enough of that stuff careening around the bend of his preteen world, so in this case I was going to ignore it like he ignored the stuck key. 

We decided, in a show of solidarity, we’d go to his audition as a family and celebrate his efforts afterwards at a local delicatessen with some chicken matzo ball soup and French toast with strawberries. In the meantime, my son labored over the required piece of music (Theme from Harry Potter) and diligently practiced his sight reading. I didn’t even know he could sight read.

When the day of the audition came, everything went wrong. Both sons were sick, we were running late, and a local fair had eaten up all the parking spots. At the last minute, (actually, ten minutes past the last minute) my husband dropped my son and I off at the large school where we wandered lost for another 20 minutes.

My son was tired, discouraged, discombobulated and on the verge of tears. Not a good way to audition for anything. We finally found the music room hidden deep in a corner of the basement. We opened the heavy door to scores of older students with gorgeous, shiny instruments unfurling scales that magically fluttered up and down the walls in beautiful melodious ribbons. I looked at my son and his face was grim. This was going to hurt, I just knew it.

My son checked in with the director and went into an empty classroom to practice. He asked me to wait for him down the hall, way down the hall. He would come get me when it was over. I sneaked a peak in his room and saw him just standing there, his music case unopened. I wanted to scoop him up and get him out of there.

When he finally came to get me, he didn’t talk much but told me the director would email him in two weeks if he made it. We silently left the school and walked to the restaurant where the two of us shared a bowl of soup. I tried to make it upbeat, but he was sunk low and there was nothing to do but let him be down.

He didn’t mention the audition again and we didn’t bring it up. Three weeks went by when he informed us he didn’t make it. I told him I was proud that he went after it despite the challenges. He told me was going to audition again in January.

Gotta love the resilience.

A few days later he called me from his father’s cell phone. They were at a Red Sox game.
“I didn’t make the band,” I thought I heard him yell over the boisterous crowd.
“I know,” I told him again. “But it’s awesome you tried.”

“No, Mom, I MADE it!” he screamed above the growls of a crowd busily booing A-Rod. “I MADE it!”

It turns out he had merely assumed he wasn’t chosen because he hadn’t been contacted. He had, in actuality, been emailing the heck out of that poor band director and the verdict had finally come through. My son was an official, card-carrying member of the town’s 7th and 8th grade band.

My heart grew three sizes that day.

And THAT is what makes that moment—a few months later on my neighbor’s front lawn—so special. Well, that and the hat. I watched my son playing the theme from Harry Potter on his trumpet—a bright and shiny new one we bought for him—center stage for the world to see, relaxed with a confidence brighter than the midday sun. It was magical. And that’s who he is.