The school year is winding down so I’ve been at the kids’ schools a lot, attending more end-of-year performances and celebrations. This week it was a band concert for Noah Tuesday evening, and June’s afternoon class’s final publishing party Thursday.
The band concert was poorly timed for Noah. It was the night before his biggest media project of the year, a ten-minute documentary on food processing, was due. He had worked on it over the weekend, but he couldn’t throw himself into it as completely as he would have liked because he had homework in nearly every subject, and some of it quite substantial. (Think twenty-five page review packet for his algebra final exam, for instance).
When I left to take June to her violin lesson Tuesday afternoon, shortly before Noah was due home, I left him a detailed note (with a timeline) about when I’d get home, when he needed to post his very last rough draft of the documentary for peer comment and when he needed to be ready to eat dinner and get dressed for the band concert. I considered a flow chart detailing which non-media homework (by subject) I would recommended he jettison and which he should try to do, but I didn’t go that far. It was probably just as well because he disregarded the timeline and we were a little late leaving the house. I counted it as a win, though, because it was quite difficult to tear him away from his work and I really feared we’d be much later or even miss the concert outright.
Noah ate an early dinner at home and I’d packed June an emergency dinner (fried tofu and carrot sticks) in a plastic baggie, but the plan was for Beth and June and I to eat dinner from the food trucks outside the school while the band warmed up. Vegetarian options were limited, though, to a pepper-and-onion burrito. Beth got one and June and I tasted it. June decided to eat the tofu and carrots instead. Not being a big fan of peppers, I decided to skip dinner and have a snack when we got home.
The concert was part of a larger arts event and last year we explored more of what was going on, but this year because the concert was longer and we’re all a little tired and burned out we stayed outside the school enjoying the beautiful spring evening and chatting with another band mom we know because our kids went to the same preschool.
We went inside when it was time for the concert. The jazz ensemble played while people were taking their seats and then the official concert started with the intermediate band, the chorus, and then advanced band, which is Noah’s band. Usually I enjoy Noah’s band concerts. I have even been known to tear up with pride when they are especially good. I really couldn’t tell you if they were good at this one or not, I was so distracted by wondering when it would be over. I had failed to find a sitter for June and she was slumped against me, complaining of being tired, and I knew Noah would want to stay up as late as we would let him to work on his documentary, plus I was hungry, so I just wanted to go home and couldn’t get into the moment.
There was one treat, though. Noah got to play the cymbals up near the front of the stage during part of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and we had a rare, unobstructed view of him. Even during the rest of the concert we could see him more clearly than usual, playing the tambourine in the back. The choir came on again after the advanced band and finally the orchestra took their seats. They were in the middle of their first of five songs when the fire alarm sounded.
The poor band/orchestra teacher kept conducting and the orchestra kept playing, but he was glancing over his shoulder at the principal, who had been standing the aisle, listening to the concert. When the song concluded, she announced everyone had to evacuate the building.
Everyone poured out into the parking lot. Right before the orchestra started playing, Beth had gone over to talk to Noah and see if he wanted to leave but he said no. I think staying for the whole concert might be a requirement for the musicians plus the percussionists are responsible for lugging all the drums back to the music room after the concert is over. And despite the time crunch, I also think Noah genuinely wanted to hear the orchestra play.
Once we were outside, though, watching the fire trucks pull up to the school, I started to re-think the wisdom of this decision. I found the band teacher, who still looked harried but who had lost his deer-in-the-headlights expression and asked him if we could leave, pleading Noah’s homework and June’s exhaustion. Given that the all the members of the various bands, the orchestra and the chorus, not to mention hundreds of audience members were milling around in the parking lot I don’t think he minded losing one of his charges much and he said yes, we should go.
Just then it was announced that it was a false alarm and everyone could re-enter the building. I dashed to Noah who was standing in the gelato truck line, and made him get out of line, with instructions to get on stage and get his music and drumsticks right away before the orchestra started to play again. He was reluctant. He wasn’t supposed to be up there, he said, but I convinced him and he disappeared backstage, finally emerging with the sticks after the first song. Later he told me he had crept along the floor so as not to be visible to the audience, which must have worked because I never saw him. As we left Beth kindly offered to go out and buy him some ice cream to eat as he worked, since I’d made him get out line. It was the right thing to do, as “getting out of the ice cream line” is actually our family shorthand for not fulfilling a promise.
She bought the ice cream and sure enough, Noah was up late into the night, talking with one of his classmates and incorporating his feedback into the documentary. Though he posted it the next morning before school, he wasn’t satisfied with it and planned to ask for an extension. I felt my heart sink at this news, as I just wanted him to be able to focus on his other assignments and exams. The end of the school year was only a week and a half away but it seemed too long.
Every year during the last few weeks of the school year I have moments when I think I simply cannot wait for it to be over. Mostly this is because of Noah, and the strain his schoolwork puts not just on him, but on the whole family. Then just as frequently, I have moments when I cannot bear for it to be over. Mostly this is because of me, and the fact that I work at home, which is not always easy when my delightful, extroverted, and highly energetic daughter is home.
I will dearly miss that moment when June gets on the school bus and the day stretches in front of me, quiet and at least potentially productive. She’s going to various day camps—both kids are—but she is registered for more weeks than he is. It’s not the same as school, though, because they are mostly half-day camps and ever-shifting logistics of getting her there and back are more complicated than crossing the street to the bus stop that is steps from our house. And then there’s the whole fact that I got cheated out of four days of school this year, but you’ve probably heard more than you care to on that subject, so I will restrain myself.
Two days later I walked to June’s school with a tote bag containing my phone, keys, camera, and a big bag of Cheetos, June’s contribution to the publishing party snacks. (I would have preferred to show up with a healthier snack but Cheetos are June’s favorite treat—she will choose them over sweets—and it was the end of the year so we said yes.) I was determined to be more present at this event than I had been at Noah’s concert and maybe even to take pictures. Because of the hurried way we’d left, we didn’t take our traditional post-concert photo of Noah in his band clothes. (He agreed to re-enact his drumstick retrieval at the kitchen table for the picture above.)
I arrived in Ms. K’s classroom at 1:45 and got right to work reading student work and leaving comments on their compliment pages. This was the third publishing party of the year and the students had work in their portfolios from the whole year. Their new pieces included a selection of poems, a biographical essay (June’s were on Helen Keller who is her new heroine and Squanto) and an autobiographical essay about a personal achievement (she chose learning to play the violin for this one).
After parents and children and Ms. K had circulated around the room reading each other’s work and commenting for about forty-five minutes, it was time to eat. I needn’t have worried about bringing a less than healthy snack. Other than a bag of baby carrots, it was all chips, our Cheetos, and sweets. So we didn’t stand out as nutritional scofflaws with our offering.
The kids settled on the rug and Ms. K started a video of herself as a talk show hostess interviewing each child in the class on such questions as “What is onomatopoeia?” “What are the parts of the writing process?” “List some literary devices,” and “How many sentences should a paragraph have in second grade?” (The answer is five in case you are called upon to write something at second-grade level any time soon.) The sound quality was poor and I couldn’t hear much of it, but Ms. K had learned from the last publishing party and had subtitled the whole thing, so that was helpful.
At the end of the party, I snapped a picture of June and Ms. K together. June had asked to wear a party dress to school that morning “because it is a party” and pointed out that Ms. K would probably be dressed up because she “has a great sense of style.” I passed on this assessment to Ms. K, who said she loved June’s dress, too.
Meanwhile, I will have one more chance to see one of my kids on stage and dressed up next week at the performance of June’s after school Indian Dance class. And then there are all the music camp and drama camp and musical theater camp performances to anticipate this summer… and that happy thought does help me get into the mood for summer break.