Seeing Tim help run the sound board at the seventh grade play last month felt somehow like a resolution, like the conclusion of a debate that had been going on in my head for years.
Tim simply does not have as extroverted a personality as I do. He’s serious and introspective where I’m more sociable. And because serious introspection is fairly uncommon in little boys, this has been a source of some puzzlement, if not consternation, over the years – not for me as much as for other people who don’t know him as well as Rick and I do. At a conference with his kindergarten teacher, we heard her concerns that he seemed uneasy and slightly removed in class much of the time. “He just has no tolerance for chaos and mayhem,” I said. “But it’s kindergarten!” exclaimed his teacher, who clearly fell on the other end of the spectrum, given her career choice. “Chaos and mayhem are the order of the day!”
But Tim held steady in his resistance to noisy, busy, social situations. It was harder when he was younger and didn’t much like the birthday parties or playgroups in which louder and more high-energy boys seemed to thrive. As Tim and his peers grew older, and the other kids calmed down somewhat, it became less of an issue.
And yet he’s never liked being in the spotlight, so I wasn’t surprised when he rejected the idea of trying out for the seventh grade musical, even knowing that just about all of his classmates – some of whom have become his close friends in recent years – would be part of it. And when he shrugged and said he’d sign up to work on the sound board instead, I thought it was just a concession, a way of participating in the experience even if he didn’t really want to.
But once he started attending technical rehearsals, I realized this wasn’t a token gesture of participation on his part; this was what he really wanted to do. While the other kids sang and danced and hammed it up on stage, Tim listened intently to the stage manager’s voice on his headphones, learned what all the different switches and dials were for, conferred with his sound board partner and studied the script for upcoming microphone cues. He wasn’t just paying his dues to be part of a class event, I realized; he was in his element. Far from the spotlight, he had an important job to do, and all his concentration was on doing it well. When each rehearsal ended, while the actors goofed around to let off pent-up energy, Tim industriously wound up cables and lugged speakers under the guidance of the adult who was overseeing sound.
So for the final performance, while other parents sat as close to the stage as they could, taking pictures and beaming with well-deserved pride at their children’s comedic talents and singing range, Rick and I sat near the back of the auditorium, where we had a good view of the stage but could also see Tim and the other sound crew member going through their paces.
I realized at last, seven years beyond that conversation with the kindergarten teacher, that Tim’s approach was just fine. No, he wasn’t big on chaos and mayhem. He made it to the cast party – cake and pizza in the school cafeteria – but while the other boys popped balloons, he drank a Coke and talked with a few friends.
He understands himself even if I might not always understand. And last month, being part of the play, he found his niche with no trouble at all and settled right in. He had a job to do, and that was exactly what he wanted.