I spent yesterday at a year-end show-choir show -- two of them, actually -- at my children's alma mater, Johnston High School. Daughter Caroline was in show choir for six years; it formed much of her high-school identity and gave me many of my best friends, mostly because during each year's competition season, I saw those people more than I saw my family.
Caroline was asked by her former choir director to be an emcee for the day's events -- a nice honor, and a good reason for me to be there.
It ended up being an interesting vantage point from which to watch the drama unfold, and it also took me back to the position I was in two years ago, when Caroline was getting ready to graduate the program.
As a friend and I were discussing last night, activities tied to music carry a special weight and meaning for many of us; I was certainly proud of my son's athletic achievements, but there was something about Caroline's participation in music that pulled my heart out of my chest. So during her year-end show in March 2009, as she prepared to leave high-school vocal music behind, I was one sad mom.
It was the total immersion that caused those feelings that day. No matter how hard we try to avoid this, when our kids are involved in something that holds meaning for us, we tend to become a part of it, at least to some degree. Because I have a tendency not to sleep much and display a lot of passion for things that I care about, I spent four years helping to head up a booster organization that helped support the school's vocal music program, and it gradually became a larger and larger part of my life.
So as Caroline was onstage for the last time, I mourned the end of watching my daughter perform -- but I also was sad about the certainty that my life would be changing.
I saw that in many of the parents last night. The ones who had been through a vocal-music graduation before didn't seem deeply affected; they knew that life does go on, and a special chapter does indeed become a pleasant memory. But the first-timers looked like I did two years ago; bereft; with tears forming rivers down their cheeks.
It sounds silly, I'm sure, to those who haven't been there, but believe me, the feelings are real; even as we age, we crave acceptance from a peer group. That group of parents was where I found my acceptance, and where I also was allowed to use some skills that came naturally to me. I'll never forget Caroline's sophomore year, when the varsity show choir was suddenly tapped to participate in a national competition out of state; on Saturday, we had no arrangements, but by Thursday, more than a hundred kids, directors and chaperones were packed onto buses, heading for the hotel. We had made it happen. (And our kids won the national title, by the way. But I digress.)
If I could say one thing to the sad parents, it would be this: Some things are ending, but better things, in many ways, are beginning. Not only will you have the joy of watching what your kids come up with in the next phases of their lives, you'll also have the chance to reacquaint with yourself. It took a while, but when the graduation cobwebs cleared, I was able to recall that although being Scott and Caroline's mom is still my favorite and most important identity, it's not all that I am.
Of course I miss much about those times, but there's an equal amount that I don't miss: the politics. The meetings. The never-ending work. It's fun to attend competitions as a spectator, not worrying about take-down or clean-up. And the friends I made then? I watched the shows with them all day yesterday, then enjoyed dinner and drinks with them afterward. That's the best part: They're now my friends because they want to be, not simply because we're thrown together.
The events are over, but the memories -- and the music -- will linger. Your kids, and you, will forge new identities. And if you're anything like me, you'll eventually be fine with allowing your vocal music parent binder to rest comfortably in the far reaches of your car's trunk.