Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Resolve and Band

It's 2:45, and all three kids are asleep.  Yes, I've looked and it's not clouding up outside, dogs and cats are not living together, and I think the world's gonna make it to sundown on another day, Lord willing.  I could just jump up and down because my biggest boy is napping!  He's six, after all, but it's part of his routine to lay down and rest for at least a few minutes before he gets up to play.  Usually that gives me at least ten to fifteen minutes to catch my breath and pick up after lunch. 

Ok, I at least get the dishes to the sink.  Let's be real. 

I have a resolve this summer, and after our visit to the doctor for Mae's checkup, I'm all re-fired about it.  The resolve actually began mid-semester this spring, when I was working with the clarinet kids from one of the bands in our middle school.  I used to be a band director, and although that seems like five worlds away even though one lives in my house, you can't just not be a band director... it's somewhat a part of you.  Well, I guess if you loved it like I did it is, anyway.  The band directors in our district (the same staff Eric works on) are kind enough to trust me with their clarinet players... 'cause that's my specialty.  I swear it's more for me than it is them.  The littles get to come along and everything.  We were working on one of the pieces to get the kids ready for concert and sightreading contest, and it hit me how easily this all comes to me.  I have a large bag of tricks, tips, suggestions, and band-aids for just about all their problems.  If I don't, I know who to ask.  I can usually keep the class rolling along pretty happily, though not perfectly, and still manage to accomplish a little something.  Usually (I think, anyway) the kids have some fun, and I have a blast getting to do something that I love. But that day, as I stood back flipping the rolodex of tricks in my brain to help this one student make a connection, it hit me...

I can translate this alien language known as sheet music to random other people's children and relate things to them with ease.  Why can't I transfer that to my son?

All along I'd thought of teaching band in a completely separate compartment of my brain than teaching my son.  But how much more important can something be than just everyday basic communication?  Putting on your pants?  The process of going to the bathroom (and yes, it's a process)?  Why can I have all this patience and "it's okay honey, you'll get it" with something that is (in the grand scheme of things- don't kill me, band friends)  so trivial? 

Then it began to sink in.  Music- the reading, playing, manufacturing end of it- is like an alien planet.  Take the average beginning band student with no prior musical knowledge other than how to operate an ipod.  They have to be taught how to behave in the band setting, how to read a new language, how to translate that read language into how to play their instrument, and each instrument has its own "language" in itself with different fingerings, techniques, and nuances.  I LOVE showing kids this new world!  I love sharing something that has brought and continues to bring me so much happiness. 

But why is it that sharing those things comes so easily?  It seems like all the musical knowledge and teacher-knowledge I have fell out of the sky.  One day it wasn't there, the next day it was.  Or was it? 

No, it wasn't!  Yes, I had a God-given talent for it (and if you don't believe people are predisposed to one thing or another you never saw me try to play basketball... there's a reason the coaches didn't complain when I quit athletics after junior high, people!) and yes, I believe that my education was a gift from above.  But all that knowledge, all that ability did not come overnight.  It came from 5th grade when we started on Flutophones (go ahead and pay a little more and get recorders, teachers. Your ears will thank you.), then to 6th grade when we decided I'd play clarinet because my Mom had hers from school, through high school (thanks, Mr. Marsh) and college (thanks, Mr. Hanna).  All along the way, there were countless hours of practice.  Not always easy.  Not always fun.  And oh, the education classes... don't get me started.  I love you, Hardin-Simmons University, but learning to teach didn't come from ed classes.  It came from paying attention in band... not just to what I had to do, but to how the director was getting it all across to everyone else.  From remembering what frustrated me and others around me and learning ways around that.  It came from asking, asking, asking... and then listening, listening, listening.  It also came from digging in and hanging on until I mastered something I loved enough that the state of Texas would let me get paid to do it.  Then it came from the patience of someone who had already figured it out and was willing to share that knowledge with someone else by giving them the chance of a lifetime (thanks, Pat Autry). 

So what in the world does all this have to do with autism, Ryan, and a resolve for the summer? 

God gave me, so undeserving, so wretched... a chance to delve in and do something fun.  Band was a blast!  And maybe it will be again someday for me, we'll just have to wait and see.  But band taught me that I have to pay attention all the time... to try to see a chance to learn in everything.  It taught me to be patient, to be creative in how I explain something new.  Band taught me that although you may not get it right fifty or five hundred times, you will eventually.  And when you do, oh how wonderful!!!  And if I learned nothing else in band, I learned from Mr. Mike Marsh the kind of true humility that admits I will never be through learning, and I certainly do not know all there is to know. 

So I'm learning.  Digging into all the techniques, information, and advice from the people who have been there that I can find.  Figuring out where Ryan is, exactly what he understands and does not, and applying that to every situation.  That's EVERY situation.  Every day all day my most important three students are with me, and since we'll be traveling a little this summer and won't be doing extended school year, I have a fabulous, precious opportunity, and I do NOT want to miss it.  I want to make every day count.  That said, I'm not completely sure how to do it, and there will still be a lot of feeling around and reading, asking, and listening so that I can teach my Ryan (and Mae and Richie, too) how to get around this alien world. 

I'm not naive enough to think that I can save his whole world in one summer... but I am going to do my best, because I know that good stewardship is what God expects.  Because as important as band was and is to me, my children are infinitely more important... and it's time to be as purposeful and urgent about that as I was about absorbing band stuff.  As obvious as it sounds, it took me until this spring to catch this.  I'm thankful to have caught it at all, because...

As much as I miss kids running and hugging me in reandom public places, I'd miss my kids' hugs more.

As much fun as I had meeting new people and learning new things, the new things I'm learning now will make sure my kids can have that kind of fun later.

As amazing and important as I believe the band experience is for students and directors, someone else can do that... but when it comes right down to it, I'm the only mama in this family.  And who's better equipped to handle an autistic 6 year old, a three year old and a 15 month old at the grocery store than someone who can take a couple of buses full of hyper sixth-graders to an amusement park?!

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