Ethan did a fair share of grumbling when he first learned that he'd be practicing eight hours a day for his last three weeks of summer. He was also disappointed that instead of playing his instrument of choice, the snare drum, he'd now be in "the pit," on the marimba.
"The marimba is really hard," he complained on the second night. "We play with four mallets, and we never did that in middle school. It gives you blisters on your thumbs."
Within a few days, however, he was proudly demonstrating his four-mallet techniques, using the couch as his marimba. "It's all in the wrist," he explained. "See, you just pivot your wrist like this, and the rest of your arm doesn't move." He pantomimed alternating between the upper and lower bars of his imaginary marimba.
Two weeks later, when he learned there were a couple of bass drum openings on the drumline, I asked if he was going to audition. "No," he said. "I already have friends in pit, and I don't want to leave the group."
It gave me such relief to know that school wasn't starting for another week, yet Ethan had already made friends.
On the last Friday evening of summer break, we sat on the metal bleachers in the 104 degree heat (40 Celsius) and watched the full band performing their 2011 show for the first time. We couldn't see (or hear) much of Ethan, who stood behind the tall metal chimes, but we were most impressed with the rest of the band's marching. It was hard to believe that they'd memorized all the music and learned those intricate steps in just three weeks. They marched frontward, backward, and sideways, all without missing a note on their instruments.
I clapped until my hands hurt, and for a moment I forgot all about my sweaty legs sticking to the metal bench. And when I spotted Ethan's grin after the performance, I (almost) forgot the shockingly high band fees too.
The true commitment began after school started, when Ethan had to get up at 5:45 each morning for 6:30 practice. On the second day of school, he got there at 6:30 A.M. and stayed until 7:00 P.M. for evening practice. But he didn't complain at all!
We Do Our Share, Too
The band has a website with a list of volunteer needs for each event. I signed Bill up for the hardest job: chaperoning the overnight lock-in at Putt Putt Mini Golf. From 11:00 until 6:00 A.M. Friday before last, he stood around watching the kids having fun, and then, as the night wore on, watching the kids falling asleep on the floor. Ethan, however, managed to stay up the entire night. So did Bill.
For the first football game, I signed up for what seemed to be the easiest job: taking tickets. I pictured myself in an air-conditioned booth, perhaps with a fan blowing on my face, counting change and passing out tickets through the first quarter. Instead, I stood for two hours in front of a chain-link fence, sweating in the rays of the setting sun while all the day's heat radiated up from the concrete under my flip flops.
The saving grace was a lady named Kim, the mother of a sophomore clarinet player. We chatted almost nonstop, and I learned all about how band works, and how high school goes.
A throng of alarmingly surly teenagers streamed through the gates--first the cheerleaders, and then the drill team, the color guard, and finally the band. The cheerleaders complained about the locked gates leading to the field and cursed over the darkened bathroom; it didn't matter to them that we were just parent volunteers from the other team's band. [I had hoped the kids at Ethan's school were more polite and respectful, but Ethan informed me tonight that "over half of the kids in high school act like that, especially the girls." What a disappointment! I don't remember the kids being like that back when I was in school. I guess that tells you how old I am.]
When the drill team filed by in their sparkly blue and white fringed costumes, I couldn't resist exclaiming, "Your uniforms are beautiful!" But the two girls in hearing range literally lifted their noses in the air and made a show of avoiding eye contact. I was flabbergasted. While I'd always thought of the term "walking with your nose in the air" as just a figure of speech, now I knew just what that meant.
But there was one young lady in the color guard who smiled at me, and I grinned eagerly back at her. Next to her was a very short, quite tiny girl, with a face like an elf; her ears, nose, and chin seemed a bit pointy. She was so cute, with rosy lips and a sprinkling of freckles across her cheekbones that reminded me of my dear friend Laura.
A wide smile lit up the girl's face just then, and I turned to see her mother behind me, looking up through the railing. "Don't be nervous!" she called out. "You're going to be fabulous. Just pretend it's another practice.... You look beautiful, sweetie."
The girl's mouth trembled, and she put her fist to her lips. The girl who'd smiled at me put an arm protectively over her shoulder, and the younger girl gave a tremulous smile.
I turned to the mother below. "You're going to make me cry," I said, and tears rushed to my eyes.
"Why?" she asked.
"Because my son is playing with the band for the first time tonight, and I wish I were there with him to see whether he's nervous or excited."
The other mother smiled. "I understand."
"Your daughter is a beautiful young lady," I said.
The woman's face glowed. "Yes, she is."
"Enjoy the game," I said.
I said, "Enjoy the game" approximately 17 more times, as I collected 36 tickets that had been purchased from the lady in the little air conditioned booth with the fan blowing on her face--a real district employee, not a parent volunteer.
Long after all the coaches, instructors and chaperones had passed by, and most of the fans, a frantic mother ran up with an armload of Styrofoam cups. "I had to leave and get cups," she said. "I'm with the band."
Waving her in, I pressed my lips together to keep from saying, "Haven't you always wanted to say the line, 'I'm with the band'?"
The first quarter came and went, but the ticket seller informed us that we had to serve until halftime, no matter what the band website said. Reading our minds, she said, "Don't worry. You'll get to see the halftime show."
At halftime I followed Kim into the stands, and we watched the opposing team's show first. They were pretty good, but of course not half as good as OUR kids.
Afterward I craned my neck, straining for a glimpse of Ethan. At last I spotted him pushing the chimes out onto the field. As he looked up into the stands and then out over the field, I could feel his awe. "That's my son," I said. "The tall one with the blonde hair and the glasses."
"Isn't he handsome?" Kim's friend said, and I beamed.
"Yes, he's really turning into a young man," I agreed, flushing with pride.
Here, judge for yourself:
|Ethan in Uniform|
After the show, I slipped down to the railing and gave a casual wave, careful not to embarrass my freshman percussionist. My heart swelled with pride when he hurried right over to me. "Did you see the show?" he asked, breathless with excitement.
"Yes, you guys were awesome."
"Were we better than the other band?"
"Well, you were both great," I said. "But I think I liked your music best. Are you having fun?"
"Yeah," he said.
He stood still while I took a couple shots with my cell phone, and then he said, "Gotta go. We have to start putting everything away."
"See you soon," I called after him. And I smiled all the way to the car.
Yep, I'm with the band!