The Sightreading of the Parenting World

When I was a band director, it was always expected that I took the bands to “Festival,” which is a nicey-nice term for what it really was – competition.  Ideally, the judges would rate each band according to an ideal, a standard, but in reality, they were comparing your group to the other groups they’d just heard, and would hear after yours, and indeed the phantom college band they had playing in their head at all times, being conducted by some very famous college band director.  And when you were done they would post your scores in the cafeteria, right under the group that had performed before you, and right above the group after you, so everyone could compare…  Yep, it was a competition through and through.

My favorite part as an educator, and my own gauge of my effectiveness as a teacher, though, was sightreading.  This involved taking your group of stage-frightened, stressed-out kids into an unfamiliar band room, and handing them manila envelopes with explicit rules not to touch the envelopes until directed to.  Then, after reading an interminably long page of more rules, the kids and I were able to see the music, and then had seven minutes in which to discuss two pieces of music.  We were not allowed to play a note, just review it together as quickly as possible, and try to catch all of the notes, rhythms, dynamic markings, and other nuances that normally take several months of rehearsal to bring to the stage.  Sometimes we ran out of time and didn’t get through it all.  Sometimes we had time left over.  But when time was up, we played, and were scored on how well we played by the judge.

I often feel like parenting is a lot like being a band director, preparing, rehearsing, going over details until they “get-it,” and then moving on to the next thing.  But that being an autism parent is more like sightreading.  Using all of your knowledge and skills, sometimes in what seems like a very condensed amount of time (because it usually just takes our kids a longer amount of time to do everything), on a stressed-out and overwhelmed kid, and hoping that you’ve done enough for them to be able to apply what you’ve taught them.  There’s a lot of adrenaline and anxiety, and at the end of the day, if you did the best you could do, you take what you’re given, reflect on what could have gone better, and get ready to do it again.

Except band directors (and students) do it once a year.  Autism parents do it every day.

Cheers to all the maestros out there.

Band Woes Again

tuba practiceThings are going very well at The Boy’s school.  Last week we got a note home that he had placed 2nd in his class in a pyramid game (whatever that was), and had earned a 100% on a social studies test.  I reflected that even though he doesn’t have hours of homework a night like he did at his previous school, he still seems to be learning the material – they must be doing things right.

I also got a note from The Boy’s band teacher wondering why he hadn’t been able to play his test for his teacher.  I hadn’t known there was a test, and hadn’t even known they had moved on from some small ensemble material they had been playing before and after break.  At the time, I explained to his teacher that I was very ill, but could The Boy play it next week, so I could have some time to work on it with him.

And then the poop hit the fan.

We practiced it once on Sunday, the first day I really felt human again.  And we took Monday night off (we generally practice every other night or so).  Yesterday, I start to get some emails from the band teacher which seemed to suggest The Boy is incapable of playing the test.  He got upset with me when I told him we had only practiced the test once.  He suggested maybe The Boy should play trumpet, because he’s had other kids with autism have some luck with that instrument…

Here we go again.

I’m disheartened that teachers doing what I used to do seem incapable of thinking outside the box to include students with special needs.  They seem not to have a clue that IEPs apply to them, as well.  And to have a parent like me as a resource in educating their student, and to almost disregard it…

I’m the one who’s at a loss.

My Inner Biker Chick

Happy Halloween, Everybody!  Since Halloween is an opportunity for us to show our alter egos, I thought this would be an appropriate post…

OK, I’m sharing a lot in this post.  Stuff that I’m pretty sure my husband would laugh at me for, but I’m still gonna share it, and I’ll explain why at the end.

Last week Wednesday, I was a wreck.  If you remember, I had this IEP meeting scheduled the next day with 10 school district personnel, and no idea of their intentions.  Except I was pretty sure they were going to have arguments against what I think is best for The Boy.  I wasn’t prepared, and I was feeling overwhelmed and unsure of myself.  I have been a special needs parent for a long time, but lucky enough to not have to fight for my child when it comes to modifications, accommodations, and placements.

And now I have to fight, and I’m not confident enough to do it alone.

I went to my mom’s house and cried.  And talked.  And felt better, although still apprehensive. (Thank goodness for moms!)

biker chickOn the way home, I heard Cake’s “Short Skirt/Long Jacket.”  Music has always had an effect on me, and has been able to literally change my mood in the span of one song.  It’s what I use to get motivated on a big project (or just to clean the house).  Well, this song helped me a great deal that day.  It started me thinking of a strong capable woman that isn’t going to take crap from anybody, and it started me thinking that it really was me all along.  I was that girl with a short skirt and a loooooooong jacket.  (You really must take a listen.)

Here’s why I share visions of my inner biker chick, called forth by a coincidental listening to Cake: because we all suffer from these periods of wreckedness.  We all think that sometimes we just can’t.  But for me (and maybe for some of you), listening to the right songs can remind us of our inner strength, that goddess/biker chick that really is pretty darn tough.  Tough enough to fight, and tough enough to roll with the punches.

Time to go get a leather jacket to wear to the next meeting, and a machete so I can cut through the red tape… ;)

Remembering on Memorial Day

English: WASHINGTON, D.C. (June 7, 2010) Music...My bands used to do our local Memorial Day Parade.  It took us a long time to prepare for it (we started in February), it was always scorching hot, and parents often complained about it.  After being accused of exposing their children to heat stroke for making them wear blue jeans a few years back, I decided that this gig wasn’t really all it was cracked up to be.

As always, when breaking with longstanding tradition in the education community, it is best to simultaneously propose a replacement activity.  Instead, we decided to visit a local nursing home and perform for real veterans.

This will be our third year, and I think it serves our elders well.  They really enjoy seeing the huge group come in and play for them.  Many end up in tears because it brings back memories of their own or their children’s experiences with school music programs.  They insist on shaking my hand, and tearfully thanking me, which always gets me.

It also serves the kids well, to remember these elders, to see how much they enjoy their performance, to understand what it must be like to have to wait for your entertainment to come to you.

On this Memorial Day, I’m thankful for the service of our veterans, and also the elder community who supported those veterans.

A Wonderful Night

Lugging the instrument...We had another concert tonight, and The Boy performed was excited, performed well, and made us proud.  I didn’t have to ask more than once for him to get dressed when it was time to go, he lugged his baritone out to the car without being asked, and had no problems once he was dropped off with his classmates in the designated room.  When it came time to perform, he went to his spot, and played well, often without having to look at the music (how does he do that??).  He maintained his composure during a piece where some of the other kids in the band had to stomp and scream (although he was struggling not to collapse into a fit of giggles), and was proud to stand for pictures after with his grandparents.  Then we went for dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, and he shared his brownie sundae for dessert.

A non-routine evening is often great fodder for a meltdown, or at the very least, is a source of anxiety, but tonight was pure excitement, joy, pride, and satisfaction.

And since this type of night is my kinda thing, I’m an extra-proud mama tonight.

Does Anyone Else Cry When They Workout?

I’ve been working out a little bit, as you probably know, and I’ve been waking up early to ride the bike a couple of times a week.  I really, truly thought this would be hard to do, but to tell you the truth, I kind of look forward to it now.  I put on the noise canceling headphones, turn on some perfectly-timed music on my phone (thanks to the fantastic app “Cadence“), and ride for 20 minutes.  I can sometimes catch up on emails and facebook, but mostly, I listen to the music.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I have always been a sucker for a good turn of lyric.  Lyrics are poetry to me.  If you don’t write well, I probably don’t listen to you (unless your song has an earworm-worthy beat and is inescapable in society).  Suffice it to say, even the music that has a tempo of 135 (my setting for my morning rides) on my phone have meaningful lyrics.

And I’ve been listening.  And crying.

What the-?

I don’t know if I’m more emotional because I’ve just woken up, or it’s because I am completely alone, or what, but something has been triggering these tears.  They aren’t always sad tears, either.  Just emotional.  And before you ask if it has anything to do with my cycle, please realize I would have figured that out by now if it did.

Nope.  I think this is not only a workout, but a cathartic release of stress, and I don’t mind it.  I feel more in tune to my big picture starting my day this way, bike facing my mantel, and the myriad pictures of the most important people in my life.  Reminding me why I’m riding, and more philosophically, where I’m headed.

Looking Ahead

That’s My Boy!

Tonight was The Boy’s first full-blown band concert.  He is in 5th grade and was able to start playing an instrument in band this year.  He wanted to play tuba, but settled for the baritone (euphonium) when they wouldn’t let him start on his first choice.  At first, I couldn’t get him to practice, but lately, it hasn’t been so difficult, especially when I play with him.

If you didn’t know, this is what I do all day long.  I teach band in middle school, and to have my own son finally have his chance to play an instrument has been an experienceMy kid has been that kid that doesn’t practice, and doesn’t turn in practice time, and forgets to bring his book home.  My kid. *sigh*

But tonight, he got to see the middle school and high school bands play, and he stayed in his seat, paying attention for the whole concert.

It’s huge.  I’m not just being that mom when I say he’s got a great ear, and I really should have started him on piano ages ago.  He plays stuff by ear from time to time, did really well with recorder last year, and in general loves music.

Tonight, the high school pep band played Seven Nation Army, which is a tune by the White Stripes.  The Boy knows this song because it’s on my iPod, but it starts with the tubas playing the melody, and he turned and caught my eye as soon as he heard it with this big, open-mouthed grin, and…  I turned into my mom (no offense, Mom!) — we always joked that she cried at parades (she really did), and there I was, tearing up because The Boy had a look of such pure joy at the sound of a tuba…

Anyway, this is him – the one in the center of the picture with the (fake) glasses and the green shirt, my budding musician, the star of my show:


Congrats, Little Man, on what I hope is the first of many concerts!

Busy, Busy

It’s that time of year, isn’t it?  Everyone feels it.  And mostly, we do it to ourselves.  Fill up those calendars with things to do, and then wonder why this season is so stressful.

Part of the problem in our house is that I teach band and choir, and The Boy is involved in band and choir, which makes for multiple concerts and mandatory attendance.  (Luckily, The Boy’s band concert is actually during the day, and I will miss work for this special event!  Er, I mean… not “luckily”, but, well, you know…)

Ah, The Elementary Choir Concert...

Add a birthday (and a birthday party) in the middle of all of those rehearsals and concerts, and it can be beyond hectic, especially in a single-parent household.  How do I do it?  Carefully scheduled mental health personal days, babysitters, and the mantra “this too shall pass”.  Don’t get me wrong — I love this season: the music, the neighborliness, the giving, the traditions.  The stress, though?  That, I can definitely do without.

What do you do to ensure it is a season of good cheer instead of Bah Humbug?