Band members from the middle school served the tables. They all wore black pants and white shirts and black shoes. I love it when young people wear uniforms as part of a mature team. It gives me such hope for the future. On that note, a little digression is in order. My daughter will come home on the day of an evening band concert (she plays flute), and I will find her removing her nail polish; bright, distinguishing nail polish is not part of the uniform, you see. The Band Director, Mr. Wade Williams, sets high standards, and the kids respect him greatly.
When I went as a chaperone on a band field trip to festival in March, another chaperone and I marveled from the back of the band room as we watched Mr. Williams walk up front to give the “Let’s-get-ready-to-leave” directions to the band members because as Mr. Williams went up to the podium, passing amiably chatting middleschoolers, row by row fell silent out of respect and genuine enjoyment of the band program that he creates. It was wonderful to see!
Here is another little digression. When the 12-and-13-year-old band members unloaded the gargantuan buses by themselves, an impressive enough feat as it was, some had huge tubas underneath the bus, and they teamed up to pull those out efficiently. They accomplished the unloading unsupervised. The RMS band received all 1′s; it was phenomenal what discipline and joy can do. I wasn’t sure which I admired most: their splendid music or their willing discipline and mutual respect.
I also loved the jazz band concerts and dinner because students from that earlier band festival trip, from my bus (so to speak), kept coming up to me to say, “Hi.” Like this—I was finishing my meal with my husband when a tall 7th-grade fellow was suddenly standing beside us: “Do you remember me?” “Yes, I do. You took my linguistic trivia test on the bus trip and got Old English right,” I answered. Then he reminded me of his name: Evans. As the evening progressed, others from that trip, plus young men and women we’ve known from elementary school days waved at me. I felt that strange vibe of being accepted by very amazing wild creatures, as if a harras of horses had approached me or a string of wild ponies had gathered around me, for no apparent reason.
It all goes back to that band festival trip, too. Mr. Williams told us to fan out on the buses, not to sit with another parent. Don’t worry, I thought to myself—I don’t want to. I wanted to sit with the students, and when it worked out that I was not assigned to my daughter’s bus (lucky her!), I still very much wanted to use this festival trip as an opportunity to get to know her friends and classmates better. I did not want to sit and palaver with a middle-aged person. I know middle-aged with its pat jokes and dyed hair stories and aches and pains and complaints; I wanted to run, gallop, maybe even bravely limp through a string of wild ponies, and that’s where I decided (as I told my husband later) that you cannot show fear around teenagers or pre-teens in the same the way that you cannot show fear around a horse; otherwise, the creature senses that fear, and nothing good can happen. So my approach was—since my daughter was not nearby and I would not be embarrassing her—to be bold, to be listening and sensitive but also to be slightly quirky, okay, a lot quirky, but very professional, also. It worked!
En route to the festival, I risked something very nerdy. With a borrowed pen and sheet of paper, I created a linguistic test on which the middleschoolers found samples of three earlier periods in the English language, and I read these to them outloud. They became really interested in deciding which was Old English, which was Middle English, and which was Renaissance English. Then we discussed these—imagine that! They also asked to play 20 questions and finally Eye Spy. It refreshed my faith in humanity. Cell phones and iPods were NOT allowed on the bus, and students fell easily back into games of “simpler times.” We played 20 questions and Eye Spy at THEIR request.
Later, my daughter said that one girl on my bus said to her, “Hey, your mom was weird but proper at the same time.” I took that as a high, high compliment. It made me thankful that even though I may be out to pasture and nearing the glue factory—nonetheless, I am surrounded by the future’s strongest hope as it gallops past me.