Wednesday, December 20, 2000

Standing ovation

Yesterday was the holiday concert at my children’s school. The songs were pleasant, the performances generally tuneful, the performers cute as could be. Grades Kindergarten through 5th took the stage one at a time, sang three songs with accompanying hand gestures and dance moves, and got off. As school holiday concerts go, it was painless and prompt. But what pleased me most about it wasn’t the music or the costumes or the moves. It was this:

My son stood still.

I think he sang, too, though from our seat in the way-back it was hard to see if his lips were moving. But easy to see that he stood in his place, without jumping, without screaming, without wandering away. He did suck his fingers between songs, but otherwise he was, in all senses, with the program. And this is an achievement even greater than getting 50 1st-graders to stay on-key.

Standing still and staying in one place are not my son’s strengths, by a longshot. And the sort of constant disruption to his day presented by program rehearsals have been a problem in the past. Last year, the rehearsing got so out of hand that he didn’t want to be in the show, and I told the teacher to yank him. His behavior took such a notable dip during the weeks of daily concert drills that it took him a month or more afterward to recover. I thought that he’d probably rise to the occasion and behave for the actual concert, but they burned him out way before it ever got to that point.

I’ve nothing against holiday programs, but I do wonder why the planning for them has to take so very much time. Rehearsals weren’t as out of hand this year at his new school, but they were still having practices on the stage more than a week before the actual event. With so many days lost to holidays in the first part of the school year--sometimes it seems that weeks go by without five days of school in a row--one wonders if there aren’t more important things for kids to do than rehearse. Like, maybe, study? I don’t mean to deny the educational value of music, or the disciplinary value of learning to perform as a group, but unless I’m sending my kids to the Elementary School for the Performing Arts, I don’t expect it to monopolize their time.

For most students, maybe, it’s not a big deal. But for my special-ed son, the practices are a problem. They’re disruptions in his carefully memorized, dependable routine. They’re opportunities for overstimulation. They’re chances to misbehave in front of the whole student body. And, Grinch that I am, I haven’t always felt that the payoff of being in a show was worth all the stress and strain to get there.

But yesterday, at any rate, the payoff sure was sweet. He stood where he was supposed to, he did his hand motions, he probably even sang. He didn’t wander around, as he did at his preschool graduation ceremony, or bat at the decorations, or kiss the kid next to him. He stood still and did what needed to be done. And though that’s probably a small victory in the greater scheme of things, it’s one I’m pretty proud of.

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