Sometimes I think I simply was not cut out to have a child in high school.
Take earlier tonight for example. If it weren’t for my 14-year-old daughter’s mandatory choir concert we would have been at her mandatory soccer practice. And if it weren’t for the rain out, we would have also had my son’s mandatory baseball game.
We being me, because my husband had an evening meeting as pastors often do. (In all fairness, my husband has plenty of his own overbooked time.) Anyway, tonight there was triple insurance to keep my run of 16-hour days intact. You see, my full-time nights with the kids are preceded by a mandatory day job.
I think it used to be called “having it all.”
My attitude was bad earlier tonight, at the Roosevelt High School choir concert in Des Moines, Iowa. If you saw the mother high up in the bleachers with her face in her not-so-smart phone, cleaning out her email account, from 3,874 messages to about 10 less — something she does when she is at the depths of boredom — that was me.
Plus the heat and humidity suddenly blasted up from Hades and the whole gym full of parents and students were melting with sweat. High school kids plus perspiration equals salty stink. And then when they started showing the video of the graduating students — the schmaltzy montage of the seniors’ baby pictures and all the good times they had together in show choir — ugh, I thought I would die of wishing I weren’t there.
Enough with the retrospect.
Was I not terrible? Yet my own daughter was in the choir, and in spite of what it seemed, I really did want her to succeed. Yet, I didn’t want to be there.
I think I was really tired. Having it all is exhausting. I used to imagine that I could easily roll with the “working mother” role. Home and job. Kids and career. Feed my children and save the world. A satisfying private and public life. But in reality, I always worked because I had to work. A lot of us did, still do.
And those of us who don’t are likely one of the 1.7 million or so Americans looking for jobs, wishing they were working.
Still, it seems like “having it all” could come more easily.
So in between high school choir sets they geared up for the solos and again I thought, please, no. Let’s just get this program up and over. Forget the dumb solos. I want to go home. But I weathered through the well-meaning solos, mostly whose meanings were lost on me. Then, like a shift in the wind, something changed. That smelly hot gym turned sweet. “Just like a star across my sky, Just like an angel off the page.” Suddenly, we were all transported by the music of Corinne Bailey Rae. Have you ever listened to this silky smooth French singer songwriter? I hadn’t for a long time.
The last solo student sang Corinne Bailey Rae’s “Like a Star.” And she sang it well. She was so mellow that I felt my tension drip off in the opening lines of her performance. And then, you wouldn’t believe it, but the sound system blew out before she could finish the first verse. A whole gym full of sticky, restless people, and no accompaniment. Nothing.
That girl just kept on singing, like she was headlining a nightclub.
“You have appeared to my life, Feel like I’ll never be the same.” A capella. And then — don’t tell my daughter — my eyes welled up with emotion. I couldn’t help it. Instead of squirming and squealing, the kids in the bleachers all started clapping and stomping to the beat to keep the high school songstress going.
Her voice and body worked right into the rhythm. “Just like a song in my heart, Just like oil on my hand.” The girl could sing like the next best thing to Corinne Bailey Rae herself.
Maybe that’s an antidote to fatigue and depression: go to a local public school music concert.
It gets better. So the girl was singing a capella and she didn’t know that the choir director, the distinguished Mr. McNear, a slim, dapper man wearing a green-striped zoot suit with gold cufflinks, had quietly stepped to the piano on stage.
Effortlessly, without missing a beat, subtly, he started rifting chords on the piano to back her up. It was like in the movies. When beautiful singer-girl heard the piano she was a little startled. She looked behind her and saw her accompaniment had returned, and she moved into the song even more. “You’ve got this look I can’t describe, You make me feel like I’m alive.”
It was gorgeous and I was so full of the pure joy of honest-to-goodness music that I was holding back the weeping, lest I be completely embarrassed. Or maybe it was the weariness. I considered wiping my nose on my shirt because I didn’t have a tissue. The song prompted such a release, like a massage for a tightened heart.
It’s tempting to say that God gave me this surprise gift of music to bring me respite. But I don’t see things like that. I pretty much don’t understand God at all. And I certainly don’t understand prayer.
My prayers are on the order of, “Dear God, please make me less tired.” And then I ask myself the same old questions about prayer: Who am I to tell God what to do, and who is God to listen to a schmuck like me? And probably my biggest question: Who am I to complain when I have it pretty good compared to others?
All I know is that I was drained, and that song, “Like a Star,” filled me up like grace. For a few minutes during that choir concert, I really did have it all and I was grateful.
Terri Mork Speirs is a writer, mother and the communications manager for the Des Moines Area Religious Council. She is studying for a master of fine arts degree in creative writing.