The Final Bow

Tonight was the Final Bow performance for my son’s high school choir.  This is the highlight of the year.  It is where the seniors get solo’s and get to show off their seasoned talent.  This is our sports event, our playoffs, our final round.  Harmony is the name of the game here and on our team, everyone can participate.  And just like sports, we have some that are naturally more talented than others, some that have worked really hard to gain access to their talent and others who have the attitude of commitment and continue to rise to the challenge, knowing that they may never be as good as some of their teammates but still they show up, they sing, and they support their team.

Did you know that one of the top fears that people have is getting up and speaking (or singing) in front of people?  Some list put this fear as the number one fear.  But most will have this fear listed in the top five.  That is major.  It takes guts to get up and speak or sing in front of people.  Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and subject to praise or criticism, it could go either way, is a very courageous act to do.  Add the fact that these kids are teenagers, which places another layer of apprehension.

I talk from experience.  I too was a choir student.  I joined my concert choir freshman year and perfected my choir voice for four years.  I was at ease while standing on stage with my comrades as we sang our choir songs; but singing alone gave me great stage fright.  During my senior year I sang a duet with a friend to help ease my fears.  We sang Snow Bird.  Even with her by my side, I still got nervous.  It started off good but by mid song my throat slowly closed up which made it almost impossible to release a solid note.

And like me, I saw tonight those students who reminded me of myself, singing duets to help ease their fears.  Some who were nervous but faced their fear and sang a solo on stage as their fellow choir members cheered them on from the crowd.  Some who are learning to trust themselves and their talent so they held back a little.  Then, there were the others, like my son, who appear confident, the ones who command the stage with a gracefulness, some bold and dazzling like they were born on the stage, some humble and secure with a pureness that flows effortlessly.  And then there are the special needs students who add the special touch to this high school choir.

I’ve seen many special needs kids on stage over the years, some with Down syndrome, some in wheelchairs, and some with physical or learning disabilities-even some with hearing impediments.  I love that our high school is not only diverse in ethnicity and culture but also in abilities.  I especially love how our district and the choir teacher, Ms. Wright embraces all these differences.  And as much as I love watching my son on stage, I never tire of seeing these kids perform.

This year, there was one choir student that stood out among them all.  And the rest of the choir kids didn’t seem to mind sharing the spotlight.  They all love to see him shine.  His name is Zuri.

I remember Zuri from middle school.  He went to a different middle school then my son but once a year the middle school choirs would join with the high school choir kids for a combined concert.  It was a treat to see the high school students performing.  What a difference a few more years makes.  Seeing how the students had matured into their own style and expressing their unique talents gave us parents a sneak peak of what our kids might be doing in their near future.  What parent doesn’t want to see their child performing?  On a stage, on a field, academically, athletically, or creatively, we hope that our child will find his niche and show off his or her unique skill and talent.  I am sure Zuri’s mom felt the same.

I met Zuri’s mom and his younger brother by chance at our local CiCi’s Buffet one evening.  I recognized Zuri from the concert and had this urge to tell her how Zuri stood out to me from that concert.  Not because he is special needs but because he allows his spirit to shine.  His bright smile, his infectious presence and his child-like ways makes one feel as if they are staring into the face of God.  He appears to have no stage freight, nor is he fearful to sing, in fact, he seems to not fear anything.

Tonight I was overcome with emotion as I watched Zuri sing Say Something on stage among his choir classmates, including my son Jaren.  Zuri is front and center.  He claps his hands and has memorized the song.  I know this because I am pretty good at reading lips and I could see his lips were moving to match the words.  I can’t help but think how blessed his family is and how special his mother is.  She looks at him with possibilities and supports his achievements and she has done an amazing job.  She makes parenting look easy.

Zuri smiles and brings this song to life with his hand gestures; I think some of it was sign language.

At the end of the evening, Ms. Wright begins to call each senior’s name.  She skips over Zuri’s name purposefully.  She leaves him for last.  As she calls his name, the choir cheers.  Zuri steps down from the choir stands, walks over to Ms. Wright and they hug.  Then as Zuri walks back, he pauses mid-stage and turns to look out into the audience.  We stand applauding.  Zuri raises both arms, cheering, and beaming from ear to ear.  As he steps back onto the bleachers and returns to his spot, he is overcome with emotions.  His head drops and he begins to cry.  His comrades all gather close to him.

Tears of joy begin to flow.

I can’t help but think how proud his mother must be.

The Magic Show

Jaren has always been a unique and entertaining child.  There was never a dull moment in our household.

As a youngster, he had an inquisitive and peculiar mind which spawned him to say things that many times left me literally questioning his thought process.   When I brought an avocado home, he wanted to save the large round seed in the middle so he could plant it and grow avocados.  When we went to a craw-fish broil, he asked the host if he could take one home for a pet, which we did.  We named her Lulu.  Jaren also enjoyed singing, being on stage, and never minded being the center of attention.  He had a spiritual knowledge and insight far beyond his young years.  But all that creative energy sometimes left him restless and he went looking everywhere to exercise his mental interest.  On top of that, Jaren had asthma and allergies.  The medications he took to manage these conditions also contributed to his hyperactivity.

Kindergarten was a challenge for Jaren.  He suffered from some behavior issues that were mostly related to him not being able to sit still, focus, and follow directions.  And he was a talker.  At the beginning of the school year the students had a weekly chart that was marked daily with colored mood faces expressing each child’s behavior, that ranged from green(good), yellow(fair), orange(warning) and red(bad).  The charts were sent home daily so parents could acknowledge and initial the behavior noted for that day.   After the first couple weeks, Jaren rarely brought home a happy green face.  His charts mostly consisted of yellow and orange (with green and red being more rare).  It was somewhat discouraging.  Then I got the dreaded notice.  I needed to go to the school for a special parent/teacher conference.

Honestly, I was on defense at first.  I wondered if they were singling out my child for some social, political reason or if there was a real concern for my young son.

I drove to the school to meet with Jaren’s teacher, the counselor, and the vice principal.  I felt outnumbered.  I walked in sheepishly, trying to preserve my self-confidence and was ready to fight on behalf of my child.  Jaren’s teacher had all the examples that she recorded on paper of Jaren’s bad behavior moments.  The vice principal asked how Jaren was doing academically?  His teacher said he was a good student when he was capable of getting his work done.  Then, we were re-directed back to the issue of his class behavior.  They suggested I take Jaren to one of the local offices to have him tested for ADD/ADHD but maintained that it was my choice and that Jaren was still young and could very easily grow out of his challenging behavior.

Although I know ADD/ADHD is a real medical issue, I felt like the school was looking for an easy way out to help make their job easier.  Jaren was so young.  I thought it was too early to assess or label him as having ADD/ADHD.

I was hurt and mad and tried very hard to hold back my emotions.  As I was leaving, I walked with Jaren’s teacher down the hall.  I couldn’t hold back my tears any longer and told her that I was sorry.  I further explained that I had tried everything at home; talking to Jaren, punishment, taking privileges away, but nothing seemed to be making a noticeable or permanent impact.  I said, “I feel like a terrible mom.”

As single parents and working mothers, it feels like we do so much and no matter how much we do, we still can’t do enough, and our best isn’t good enough.  We have stretched ourselves to the max with little or no reserves for unexpected disruptions.  We are trying to uphold a family balance and sometimes the slightest breeze can throw us off course.

My child’s teacher’s response surprised me.  “You shouldn’t feel that way.” she said. “You are a good mom.  You’re here trying to help your son.  Think about all the parents who don’t show up.”  She put her arm around my shoulder and assured me that she and the school would work together to help Jaren.  I immediately felt comforted.

The counselor and Jaren’s teacher formed a new plan for my son.  From that day on, instead of Jaren getting daily charts and weekly rewards, they began giving him progress updates throughout the day.  He could look at his chart that was taped to his desk and see his behavior progress.  It gave him a goal to work towards.

One day, Jaren asked his teacher if he could perform a magic show for his class.  Jaren’s teacher thought it was a great motivational opportunity and told him that he needed to get a certain amount of good behavior reports.  If he did, he could perform his magic show for his classmates.

Jaren worked hard on his class behavior at school and practiced his magic skills regularly for me at home and all that hard work paid off.

To prepare my son for his magic show debut I bought him a cape and a top hat.  As I beheld Jaren standing in front of his animated audience, I watched a problematic kid be transformed into a charismatic star pupil that day.  He was focused and poised.  His classmates were truly entertained by his magic.Image

Thank goodness for teachers like this, the ones who allow all their students to shine in unique ways.

Magic Show