Monday, June 29, 2015

Concert Acceptance and Professionalism

It was a regular concert day in a two band director family.  After school, I took Richie and Maelynn to get some fast food and made them a place to eat in my office. I ate my dinner quickly, then ran between the bathroom and my office making sure catsup was in supply and apple slices were accessible.  Yes, they're often consumed together.  I'm kinda over it at this point.

Then there were texts from a parent, texts to my own to make sure she and Ryan were on their way in time.  Where I work, kids start to pour in early so you'd better make sure you're presentable quickly.  Once the littles were through eating and I'd put on my only concert suit, we headed to the gym to double-check a few things.  I draw the line at making the kids dress up for concerts.  There is just too much to do to make a big deal of that.  In other ways, though, I do my best to reserve the greatest amount of professionalism possible in a one-sided gym.

Despite the black suit the goofy cracks through in its own way, so I do my best to reserve my words.  Shocking, right?  This concert is theirs.  It is a culmination of work throughout the semester, the year, and beyond.  Their work deserves the same dignity and respect as a professional wind band, even if only I treat it that way.  I learned at an early age that sometimes our teachers and parents show the greatest trust and pride in us in the most simple and silent ways, and that the converse is also true.  Their work and patience in not only putting up with my "do it again" and insistence that they are as capable as anyone else in any size school needs to be met with my best.  It is simple as my dress, my demeanor, my organization.  This is not what I would call my strong suit, but I try to maintain respect for their accomplishments as long as they are on the stage, in whatever form that stage may come.

As the last few of my "big kids" entered the gym and took their seats, Ryan and Mom came in and took theirs.  He seemed calm, and Richie and Maelynn were happy to see both of them, running along to take seats with them.  Relieved to see that they're seated, I go about the last few things and get the concert started with the recorder ensemble.  Two quick pieces and a trio, then on to 5th and 6th grade band, then 6th-8th, then about three pieces with just 7th and 8th.

Recorders did a great job.  I called up the student to announce 5th and 6th grade, remembering that I forgot to tell them to stand close.  Argh.  The student announcers read their blurbs well, and soon it was time to start the 6th-8th grade portion of the concert.

I guess Ryan decided that since all those kids in front of him got up, it was time to go.  As the announcer for the 6th-8th grade's first piece finished, the familiar strains of the beginning of a meltdown tore through the crowd.

All heads whipped around.

There he was, at the top of the stands, fists balled and banging his head in frustration.   He wanted it to be over… or at least thought it was over… and it wasn't.  Not even close.

At this point I hadn't really considered what would happen if his wheels came off in the middle of the concert.  I guess I figured if I didn't think too much about it then certainly it wouldn't happen.  I quickly tossed a heartfelt yet concise explanation over the crowd.

"He's mine, he's having a meltdown.  I'm so sorry."

At this point, so much could happen.  Parents could have every right to be angry that their child's moment was being torn by my child's inability to control himself.  I could have been in trouble, I guess, for bringing a child who didn't want to be there and who I knew might cause an issue.

In that moment, so many things flashed through my mind.  My selfish desire to have one adult family member at the concert, my longing for the kids to see and understand what Mom and Dad do… and love to do… with their lives, my refusal to move the concert date because it was already on the calendar.  Eric couldn't be there because he had a concert back at his school thirty minutes away.

Have you ever had a moment when you had to make a decision NOW?  At that moment, not just working mom but working AUTISM mom collided with pride and desire to do what I believed was best for the kids seated in arcs behind me.  What do I do now?  His wheels are off and noisily, and every head in the crowd looked his way.

The split second of panic was shattered.

Voices of reassurance and acceptance and of love and caring and empathy cried out things like "he's okay!"

"Keep going!"

And my personal favorite…

"He's awesome!"

I will forever be grateful for God's peace at this moment.  For those people, for my big kids behind me, and for the profession I love.

Again, I called across the crowd… not believing what I was saying.

"Ryan, would you like to come down here with mommy?"

Happily, he hand-flapped his way down the stands to the gym floor.  Because they admire him, Richie and Maelynn followed.

The concert continued with Ryan standing in front of the flutes first, then the clarinets, with his fingers in his ears, leaning over their stands.  He stemmed his way around to the percussion, banging a cymbal here and a drum there.  Richie and Maelynn sat in front of the podium at my feet.  Each announcer did their thing, each piece went by with my kids being with mom at work.

Simply being with mom at work.

No one was less than complimentary of the concert, and everyone thought he was a great band director's kid.  The only words that came to me were kind, many were behind happy tears.  Not one negative comment.  SO many folks hugged me and complimented the kids.  I lost count of how many amazing people hugged and loved on us that night.  But I didn't lose track of how loved we are.

Professionalism is not merely checking things off a checklist, making sure to not forget things like an extra stand and when to have kids sit and stand.  I would not even say it's the most important thing anymore, even in a concert setting.

I never in a million years expected the greatest show of love an acceptance I've ever seen in person to happen in a band concert in a town not big enough for a post office… but there it was.

Every day and in every way, autism challenges us.  Sometimes in the same old, tired way that we haven't quite gotten around to mastering, and sometimes in ways we couldn't manufacture in dreams if we tried.  Sometimes it brings us to our knees, begging for help or a breath of relief… other  times, few and far between but oh so precious, it shows us the absolute best of life in ways we couldn't dream if we tried.

True autism awareness and acceptance is the same as every other kind of awareness and acceptance.  The latter is the key.  People are people.  We are not the same.  Our challenges are not the same.  Yes, there are times when someone comes along who "gets it".  But the quickest way to have real acceptance of any people group whether they be joined by a disability, a preference, an experience, an illness or a host of other things is so simple.

Give them the benefit of the doubt.  Extend a hand.  Flash a smile.  Believe they're doing their best.  Encourage them to keep going.  Sometimes that's all that's needed to cause a needed paradigm shift in thinking.

Professionalism isn't in a suit or a plan.  It is in the way we care and show we care.  It is sometimes when we throw professionalism to the wind that we do our jobs the best.  It's when they get that glimpse into our hearts… the fear, the happiness, the joy, the trial… that our composure and ability to keep it going matters and speaks.  It isn't always about how high you can rise.  Sometimes it's about the things and people you can bring along for the ride.

Thanks be to God for Dew… its students, families, teachers, school board, support staff, and beyond.

And thanks be to God for my little ones.  
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