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.