“Is Gleek’s Mom here?”
I looked up from the row of chairs I was helping to set up. “Yes?”
One of the choir directors came over to me with an earnest look on her face. My tired brain flitted over reasons she might need to see me. Top fear was that Gleek was not cooperating with the pre-concert practice or that she’d had a meltdown. I knew she was pretty keyed up, over tired, under fed, and with some pain in her mouth caused by twelve year molars trying to make an entrance through her gums. With all that, it seemed likely there would be some sort of issue. Getting Gleek dressed and out the door had been a significant cat-herding experience, which was why we’d barely had time to feed her a light snack with a promise of Wendy’s after the concert.
“I just wanted to make sure that you knew the kids are supposed to be in best Sunday dress, because Gleek’s clothes are kind of casual.”
As if I could have missed all of the four emails which had stressed this point in the past week. My tired brain stuttered over forming an answer. This was not the conversation I expected. I wanted an answer that conveyed, yes I had read all the emails, yes I’d understood them, yes I’d planned to help Gleek look her gorgeous best for the concert, but then the day had turned out so differently that I was just glad we’d made it at all. Because making it to the concert was important. I loved that Gleek was singing and finding a focus for her energies. I also wanted to give a somewhat biting response because I could hear between the words to the message Gleek doesn’t match the other students. She doesn’t fit with my vision of how this concert would be perfect.
The words which came out of my mouth were “I tried to get her to dress up, but she argued.” It was a half truth. Gleek had come downstairs wearing a swingy skirt and her choir t-shirt along with a pretty purple scarf. She’d obviously chosen the clothes with care, I’d mentioned Sunday dress, but my brain was full of a dozen other things, so I hadn’t argued. I’d just hustled us out the door.
“Well there is plenty of time. So if you wanted to run home and get something…”
I nodded and said “I’ll go ask her what she wants to do” as I walked away.
The thing is that we attend our current school, not because we live in the neighborhood, but because my kids tested into the program. Running home would be a twenty minute round trip. Yes there was time. No I didn’t want to do it. I was tired. I’d spent the afternoon helping Kiki nurse an injury and evaluating whether the injury was severe enough to merit an ER visit. The following doctor’s appointment had been reassuring, but we’d returned to immediately launch into a dinner scramble and helping Gleek get ready for the concert. In the middle of all of that there was an issue with damaged calendars that Howard needed fixed so he could sketch and then there was an email telling me that my childhood best friend’s mother–my surrogate mother–was hospitalized after multiple strokes. I’d also been short on sleep every night for a week. I wasn’t just tired, I was weary in my mind and heart.
I found Gleek. She wanted me to go fetch fancier clothes because she felt out of place among the fancier dresses of the others. I’d been prepared to face down the director and stand up for my daughter’s choir t-shirt, but for my daughter I would drive home. On the way to the car I berated myself for not grabbing a dress on the way out the door. It would have been easy. Then I would not have to give up the excellent parking space which had been the reward of our early arrival. Then I could sit in the gym and work on a critique for writer’s group which would begin at my house just after the concert was over. Instead I drove carefully through the dark, aware that my fatigue and frustration might impact my driving.
I couldn’t find the shirt Gleek wanted. Instead I brought back a Christmas red shirt which turned out to be a little too big.
“It’s okay.” Gleek said “I’ll just keep it pulled up.”
I went to sit in the gym. I had a good seat because I’d taken one page of the story I was critiquing, wrote Reserved on the back, and left it on the chair. During my twenty minute run, most of the seats had filled, but mine was still there. I looked up at the stage then focused on reading because I did not want to think about the last time Gleek performed on this stage. The stress and excitement of performing had triggered a panic attack. I’d spent half the show smiling at her, making “you’re okay” gestures, and pantomiming taking deep breaths. Gleek seemed to have forgotten that experience, but I had not. I worried that this concert would trigger the same response. I wondered if I was about to spend forty minutes trying to help my child manage anxiety from forty feet away. I’d intended to have a calm afternoon, a solid dinner, all carefully staged to reduce stress. Instead she’d skipped dinner, ran around in the gym before practice, and was wearing a shirt which made her feel self-conscious. There was a tap on my shoulder.
“Gleek looks lovely. Thank you.” said the choir director.
I just smiled at her and she moved on. I barely knew the woman. I barely knew anyone at the school. I felt bad about that sometimes, as if we were interlopers and freeloaders in their community. The solution would be for me to get involved, volunteer, work to chat and make connections with the other parents at the school. I haven’t had the emotional energy to spare. Not last year. Not this year. I watched the director and knew her for a good person. She cared so very much about choir, about teaching the kids, about making this concert be a good experience. I thought all these things, but mostly was glad that she didn’t stay to chat more. I didn’t have any chatting energy left.
The concert was lovely. Gleek sang with all the others and while she did fiddle with her shirt and fidget with her feet, she didn’t show any other outward signs of stress. We acquired Wendy’s on the way home and headed on into the rest of the evening. The next day brought a general thank you email, in which the choir director was gracious and praised everyone who participated in the concert. She also mentioned how she would be stepping down from her director position because her step-father was dying and she needed to focus on her family. I was not the only one that evening with a head full of more things than I could possibly express. The new knowledge did not erase my frustrations of the evening before, but did increase my ability to bestow the benefit of the doubt. The director was right. Gleek would have felt awkward in her t-shirt.
Some days are difficult and there are no villains to blame.