A few nights ago, we attended Chloe’s first choral concert of the fall season. Scott, Charlie, Genevieve and I settled into four plush red seats in the back of the high school auditorium. As soon as we had entered the concert hall, we immediately spotted Chloe and made eye contact with her. She was seated, with the other middle school performers, down front, in the first few rows of seats a short distance from the apron of the stage. We waved unabashedly. Usually, Chloe will wave back shyly, one small flourish of the hand, and then she’ll turn right around and ignore us completely until post performance. This time, however, when she saw us begin to settle into seats on the right side of the auditorium, she immediately started pointing frantically to the other side, which was going to be a better location for viewing her performance on the stage, we presumed. We gathered our things and hauled our bodies to audience left. Only then, did Chloe turn around in her seat, the task of directing her family to the best location within the concert hall finally complete.
The Bollingers had come to the performance in two separate cars. Though there were only four of us this evening (Max stayed home to prepare for a biology test), the household logistics had required yet another round of fancy maneuvering by Cassie, Le Directeur de Chez Bollinger. Many different sittings for many different meal presentations prior to the show had been prepared. Several pick-ups, drop-offs and highly choreographed shuffles to here and there had been arranged. Chloe had eaten a very EARLY dinner (grilled cheese, with Jalapeno Monterey Jack, and diced onions – she likes spicy) so as not to feel overly stuffed RIGHT before the show. (I had remarked that a meal too rich in dairy might have a negative effect on her singing voice and also, that her onion breath could wither those fellow performers standing beside her on the stage. Although she did NOT appreciate my stage mothering wit one bit, I noticed, with some satisfaction, that she DID drink two glasses of water, washing down any lingering cheesiness, and spent what seemed like a full ten minutes brushing her teeth. (You are welcome, Redwood Middle School alto section.) I dropped Chloe off at the stage door by six fifteen, then sped away to direct all the other dinners for all the other eaters at our home, including the bull dog.
In addition to an after-school hang out (it’s not called a “play date” at the ripe old age of nine), Charlie was graciously invited for dinner at his pal’s home. I merely picked him up (all fed and happy) from his friend’s house before heading over to the concert. Scott and Gigi finished eating their dinners (I can’t remember what it was they actually ate, though I’m SURE it was delicious) before making their own way to the McAffee Center of Performing Arts in Scott’s car. The family of four met up in the lobby just as the concert hall doors were about to be opened. Gigi rushed up to me and embraced my thighs in a tight hug, as though it had been many hours since we’d last been together. In fact, it had been no more than thirty minutes. Scott and I made our usual reminder speech to our young ones about concert behavior, though the talk was cut short as the concert hall doors swung wide and we were swept up in a throng of parents, grandparents and siblings. A narrow surging wave of bodies rushed through the opened doorway into the concert hall, then spilled wide, down every aisle to reach all points of the grand room.
The concert began. I had strategically placed Gigi on one side of me, Charlie on the other. (In other words, the children were not next to each other, an intelligent move in child positioning that I’ve learned the hard way during my fourteen years, seven months as a mother.) From time to time, Gigi shoved her way past my knees, then Charlie’s, to climb up and over Scott’s knees, finally settling into his lap with a small sigh. She would sit there for a few moments, then make her way back to me, slamming the three pairs of knees with her elbow, stomping repeatedly my pocketbook and the discarded overcoats on the floor below with her busy feet. Gigi picked up my concert program and pretended to read it. The program would flutter to the floor. She’d pick it up, drop it, pick it up again. I would eyeball her with one of my stern looks whenever the program rustling became too loud or when she would start to demand, in full voice, instead of the whisper I had advised through my pointer-finger-to-lips gesture, “When will Chloe be on the stage? When is my sister going to sing?!”
The high school level singers had performed three pieces. Soon, the middle school chorale would take the stage. I whispered to Gigi that in a moment we’d see Chloe. “Let’s look for her. Here she comes,” I whispered to my left. I glanced at Charlie, on the other side of me. There he sat, legs crossed, hands in his lap, like a perfect gentleman. He quietly watched as the tween singers began to assemble on the stage. “Thank you, Charlie,” I whispered loudly, “for being so well-behaved. I’m very impressed.” He smiled and proudly, stoically, gave one small nod of his head. I caught Scott’s eye as the music director began to explain the upcoming piece. We both raised our eyebrows as if to say, “What gives? Charlie’s behaving?!”
We watched Chloe sing. She was right. Our new seating location was perfect. We saw clearly her head bob in time with the beat, watched as her face, in perfect profile, lit up when voicing the musical notes. Her hair was tucked behind her ear, the skin across the delicate features of her face was taut, clear and slightly tanned. I had no desire to take my eyes off her and realized, in the back of my mind, that there was actually no need to alter my gaze. My younger children were quiet, sitting still within their seats. I listened as the young voices swelled, the sopranos joined in a long and powerful high note, while the lower notes of the alto singers rolled along below in swirls of well blended harmony. I was not distracted by rustling or fidgeting or talking. Then, the first song was over. Both Genevieve and Charlie clapped loudly for their older sister. Scott turned and said, “Charlie, did you just grow up? You are behaving so well.” Charlie smiled and shrugged, clearly pleased with another compliment about his proper concert behavior.
Back home, later that night, after the baths and showers were done, the desserts consumed and the cheeks of my children had been lip-smacked with my multiple kisses (except for “High School Max,” who no longer allows such “contact love”), Scott and I were alone and he commented again on Charlie’s amazing concert demeanor:
“That kid is growing up! I can’t believe he was so well behaved at the concert. What happened?!”
I agreed. “I know! Did you see how his legs were crossed, hands folded in his lap? He completely acted like a grown up.”
“He didn’t talk once. I don’t think he even really moved,” Scott marveled.
“He clapped – like he meant it – at the end of each piece. Even the ones Chloe wasn’t in,” I added.
“A far cry from the marching band performance,” Scott rolled his eyes with the memory.
Scott was referring to the first field performance by the high school marching band earlier this fall, when our eldest son, Max, and all two hundred plus band members wore their official band uniforms, with the perky black feather plumed hats. This was a private showcase performance on the Saratoga High School football field, a chance for the band parents to see all the pageantry and the group’s progress after so many hours of practice.
The band marched onto the field in formation, black plumed hats bobbing atop all the individual bodies, which skittered crisply and briskly across the playing field. The families watched in fascination. They’d find their child performer one second and then just as quickly lose sight of him or her. The individuals were lost in the black uniformed sea that became one body. Everything was blended and the parental eye could not pick out the one. Intricate formations and fancy footwork revealed one black shape, that quickly broke away to form yet another.
There were repeated booms and tinka-tinka-tinks from the drum corps. The brass players blared a single note, high above the drum rumble until all the other musicians joined in. The band rushed fast toward the audience in the bleachers, blaring their music in a dramatic crescendo, touching us with the vibration of the intense sound. Then, suddenly, the music softened, the formation dissolved. A quiet lull in sound and movement.
Charlie: Oh my God! What are they wearing?! That is the most ridiculous costume I have ever seen! Is that a feather sticking out of Max’s hat?
Scott: Button it, Buster. That’s the marching band uniform. Keep your voice down. You’re embarrassing me.
Charlie: Just pointing out the obvious. I would never wear something like that. Max is definitely not going to allow pictures, Mom. That is just sad.
Cassie: You be quiet. Max looks very handsome.
Charlie: Not really.
Scott: Don’t you dare say a word about the uniform or the hat or anything else to Max when we see him after the show. Do you hear me, Charlie?
Charlie (snickering uncontrollably, as are many of the parents seated on the bleachers behind us, I notice): Okay, okay. I’ve got it!
“True,” I said. “I really got to enjoy my first performance in a long time because there were no shenanigans.” (Pause.) I might be a little sad, though. Charlie was so quiet…so restrained…so grown up. I think maybe I missed the old Charlie. Did you?”
“What are you talking about? Are you nuts!? It was so peaceful. It’s actual evidence that the kid can control his energy,” said Scott.
“Probably. Not one joke, though. No snappy comments. He’s not going to change too fast, is he?” I asked.
“It was just one concert, Cassie. You should be happy. We might actually be doing something right…and in Charlie’s case…well, the jury’s been out on that for some time. (Pause.) Anyway, Charlie’s taught Gigi everything he knows. We’re quite a few years from total relaxation.”
“Yep. But I don’t like anything to change too fast,” I complained.
“I know,” Scott said. “Neither do I.”