Jacob had his middle school Christmas concert last night.
It was revelatory in so many ways.
First, we’re bad parents. We never bought him a new shirt with tie for the event. Thankfully, we live in such a rural area that “no camouflage clothing” was explicitly written in the take-home paper. We found his dark purple shirt with clip-on tie; the one that he wore to the Mother/Son dance back in March. Oddly enough, it didn’t fit. We didn’t realize this until we got to school. Being the proud owners of a Yellow Lab and a Golden Retriever, we don’t usually let the kids wear their dress-up clothes for long before they leave the house. It helps us distinguish between dogs and kids.
I took Jake into the boys’ bathroom at the middle school and put his shirt on. The sleeves made it to mid-forearm. The collar wouldn’t button by at least an inch. It reminded me of a saying about kids and weeds. Anyway, I rolled up his sleeves past his elbows (which he hated), and kept the collar loose, which he loves.
Then something magical happened.
He stood, alone, and played the drums in the 6th grade band … sorta.
To the uninitiated, it may not look like much, but to those of us who know and love Jake, it’s incredible.
It wasn’t that many years ago he had to stand on the risers with his “handler’s” adult hands holding him firmly but gently in place while he was supposed to be singing. He would often stand stock still, eyes clamped firmly shut, wishing he was anywhere but in front of the crowd.
Sometimes he’d cry, sometimes he’d try to escape, but more often than not he went wherever it is he goes when the present’s too much to bear.
Last year we’d reached a milestone when he’d peek his eyes open a little bit and look around. He even appeared to be silently mouthing some of the words of the songs. We were overjoyed!
This year, he got to be in band, but didn’t have to be in chorus. He’s got great rhythm, and can pound out the beat to songs he hears on the radio against the headrest in the van. He’s a natural percussionist, which is weird for a kid with such auditory defensiveness. He’s made all the natural steps in band as well, starting with his aide holding the sticks in Jake’s hand, and banging out the rhythm together.
This was the first year he’d stood alone, and done what was asked of him. You’ll notice he’s playing a special “muted” version of drums, but he’s doing it ALL BY HIMSELF!
We had gone out to dinner before the concert (he had to be there at 5:30, and it would last until 7:00), and he told us that he was scared when we finally loaded up the van and began our trip to the school. When asked, he told us it’s because there’d be too many customers. This acknowledgement of a feeling beforehand and expressing it to the people he trusts was in and of itself something big! We told him that the only people that would be looking at him were his family, and that all the other customers would only be watching their boys and girls. That seemed to help.
He had been promised a toy airplane by his Special Ed director, if he should do a good job. He was so incredibly proud of himself. When the final thank-yous and good-byes were uttered, he nearly ran to Miss O for his plane. He made his rounds from teacher to teacher, looking for praise – and the staff was eager to comply. He came to me and said, “Say … I knew you could do it!” I repeated my line, and was rewarded with a hug.
I lost track of how many people, with tears in their eyes, came up to Beth or I after the show telling us how proud they were of Jake. It is taking a village to raise this child, and I doubt he’ll ever know how truly lucky he is to have so many people in his corner.
In the first video, they do a warm-up scale, then perform their first of three songs. It’s a 4:00 extended version because I wanted to pan the audience to show exactly how many “customers” were there. He’s a little more animated in the second clip.