Last night was Tim’s fifth grade concert. Because we’ve been so busy lately and because Tim wasn’t all that excited about it, I wasn’t particularly looking forward to it, but about an hour before it started I realized that if nothing else, it would be a chance to sit still and in silence for 90 minutes, and that was definitely something I could benefit from. I feel that way at church sometimes too: if I get nothing else out of the service – which never happens, but just if – at least I get an hour of quiet time to myself.
It was a moderately frazzling afternoon. Holly got off the bus complaining, as she often does. She’s not complaining about school: she’s just unwinding after being a well-behaved second grader all day. She wanted her friend Bella to come over and kept asking after I said it wasn’t a good day for playdates; she wanted a different snack from the one I offered; the usual kinds of complaints. I remind myself that this is how she unburdens herself emotionally after holding it together at school and on the bus, and it’s reasonable and healthy even if not particularly pleasant for me. Then the dog decided to go next door rather than come home, so I had to go retrieve her from the wilds of the weeds surrounding the pond; and then I went to pick up the dry cleaning Rick urgently needed for work today only to be told the shirts hadn’t arrived yet and I’d have to wait a half-hour. Naturally, I’d just cleaned out the car and didn’t have so much as a single section of newspaper with me, not to mention a book or my laptop: not a shred of reading material on me, which is rare. Instead, I waited around for a half hour, but the shirts never arrived, so the trip was wasted.
All of this was why once I stopped and thought about it, I was happy for the prospect of the ninety minutes of tranquility I could expect during Tim’s concert.
And I had that, but I also realized I had been overlooking how much I enjoy school concerts. At our school, the kids can start in the instrumental and choral program in fourth grade, so this is only our second set of semi-yearly performances. And this is the first one in which we’ve wrangled Tim into appropriate clothing. We’ve had a bear of a time getting him to wear anything except sweat pants and t-shirts for the past several years, whether the occasion is a concert, a church service, or a family party. In February, when Rick’s grandfather died we finally put our collective parental foot down and told Tim he had no choice but to wear a button-down Oxford shirt and pants with a zipper for the services; as a result, at least Tim finally has one decent outfit for special occasions, and back out it came for the concert. It was the first time Tim was not the worst-dressed kid on stage; I can triumphantly report that there are still two boys in the fifth grade behind Tim in terms of sartorial progress. They were wearing shorts and polo shirts. I glowed with pride at the mundane feat of getting my son to dress reasonably for once.
Even though Tim hasn’t had as much fun playing his trumpet this year as last, I really enjoyed seeing him in the concert, and all his classmates too. The girls all looked so pretty, with their swishy rayon skirts, their spaghetti strap tops and their hair brushed out shiny. The boys would have looked adorable to me if I wasn’t so envious as I noted they still almost all dress better than Tim: now that I finally have him in an Oxford, they’re wearing sports coats.
Almost every year, there are one or two chances to see each child in some kind of performance: class play, chorus, band. And every year, I find myself thinking that surely this is the cutest age. Oh, the Rainforest Play back in kindergarten was great, of course, but they’re cute just by definition then. As they get older, it’s almost more endearing to see them shed (most of) their self-consciousness to act like a toucan or sing an African hunting song. Last year, when Tim was in fourth grade, I thought they were at their cutest because they were still young but clearly so proud to be dressed up and performing in a band. This year they seemed even cuter to me, though, as they take on the physical manifestations and larger size of pre-teens but carry the sweet ingenuity of the children they still are. It was clear that the pride of doing an introductory reading or playing a trombone part meant a lot more to them than a pretty dress or a complicated hair-do. That will surely change, at least for some of them.
So the interlude of tranquility was wonderful, but the performance itself was even more so. Every year, I think the kids have reached their cutest point. Every year they surpass the year before. Only three more years until eighth grade graduation. God willing, we’ll be there and I’ll be once again thinking “Oh sure, the kindergarten rainforest play was cute, and the fifth grade chorale numbers were sweet, but this is their cutest stage yet.” And with any luck, we’ll have Tim in a tie by then.