It should be my moment.
This production was my labor of love. I spent most of my days between October and today invested in this production. There were countless hours where the same melodies played in my head. My right shoulder aches from the increasing weight of my bag. I’ve run flights of stairs to make copies, make announcements, and submit paperwork. I talked to each kid individually to ask about their participation. And I worked until the early hours of many mornings working out programs, fixing errors, and putting on finishing touches.
Always, always – two practices before the performance, it looks like a flop. Kids start forgetting lines and cues. They squeak like mice on stage. And little murmurs are uttered from their throats softly carry the tune of a song they should be belting.
My confidence was almost unshakable. I had a knot in my throat and a buzz in my brain. But, I carried the knowledge with me. It always looks like a near miss, but ends up a rousing success. I have yet to have a performance flop entirely. And even if there are kinks, there’s one good thing about the audience. If you’ve kept the production enough of a secret, they won’t know exactly how it’s supposed to go. Act cool. They won’t know that anything is a mistake unless you let on.
Some kids know me well. I must have been standing in the cafeteria with a certain look on my face. Dee, 11-years-old, smiled at me and said, “Ms. Lulu, just breathe. It’ll be great, you’ll see!” I smiled back at him and said, “I’m okay. Just give me fifteen more minutes and I’ll be smiling easily.” Once the xanax has some time to take affect. – I omitted from that sentence.
We had one more shot the day of the performance. I was armed with 98 programs, all stapled, folded, and corrected by my own hand. The sound system had just returned from repairs. I had to give my 13-year-old sound director a crash course in using it. I scrawled cue directions throughout his song packet. “Ms. Lulu, I can handle it. Trust me,” he assured.
I watched the rest of the set go up and the children get into costume. Oh, it was the sweetest thing to see! Christmas trees adorned blue lights, trimmed with glittery, colorful sardines. Ice burg boxes, and pillow pet penguins amongst them. Little seven, eight, and nine year old children dressed as penguins with red bow ties, and reindeer with jingly antlers. If people weren’t distracted by the intense cuteness of their surroundings and their own children, I don’t know what would have done it. I stood there in awe, smiling reassuringly at each of their round, wide-eyed faces.
These aren’t my children, but in a sense, they are. I have only been with them for a year now, but I know each of them by first and last name. I can spot them amongst a crowd. I know their personalities and most of their likes and dislikes. Admittedly, I do have my favorites. A teacher would be a liar if s/he said differently.
Like when Mickey yelled to me from across the room. I hardly had time to look at her before she crushed me with her embraced. I hugged her back in relief. She said, “Ms. Lulu, I’m here! I’m here!” I was so grateful. Everyone was in their places, and she was missing among them. I replied with relief, “Mickey! Thank god!”
I checked my phone. A quarter to showtime and a message in my inbox. From C.S.: “We might be a little late. Got a late start.” My heart sank a little. But, I didn’t have time to worry whether they would get there on time or not.
The clock struck five, and we were off to a rocky start. My sound director and I were having a problem getting my boss’s microphone online. She laughed, and instead grabbed the other microphone while we worked out the bugs. The show must go on, the show must go on! A crowd of at least 200 was among us now, all with a fixed gaze on the stage. My boss welcomed the crowd and introduced the program.
And we were off! I had heard that introduction to the opening song more times than Justin Bieber gets a song played on the radio in a day. It was regal and appropriate while the children took their places. I took my own, making gestures to my chorus so they knew where to find me conducting. The music was beautiful and the children made it gorgeous with their booming, tiny soprano voices.
It was a rousing success! My pride grew with each line they nailed and difficult passage in a song they glided through. And at the end, the crowd roared!
My sound director high-fived me, and we congratulated each other. My boss took the stage to direct the crowd on how to proceed to dinner. And I checked my phone to see where I could find C.S. with T.D. A message sat in my inbox from five minutes earlier, “Stuck in traffic! We’ll be there soon.”
My heart dropped. I was glad I stood alone at that very moment. I couldn’t bear to explain it to a child. The intense disappointment of it all. I had such an incredible success and everyone was there to witness it. Everyone, but the one person that it meant the most to see.
My husband only gets to see a piece of what I pour into this program and these productions. I am memorizing pieces alone in my classroom, before the sound can travel to anyone’s ear drums. I carefully go over each line with them. I give the children stories as to what each song is supposed to represent, what it’s supposed to feel like. Some children feel the music earlier than others. It leaves a melodic imprint somewhere in their brains where they can pull it up in an instant recall. Others, I work with harder. Feel the music. Let it take control.
I wanted him to see the fruits of my labor. I wanted him to see all of the faces that go to each name I prattle on about daily. And I wanted him to know that this is my talent. Not only do I have the gift of music, but I can pass it on to others. And together, we put it together into a seamless, gorgeous, almost hypnotic production.
I sighed and started cleaning up the stage the moment my boss had left. I saw him there, parting the crowd with T.D. in his arms. He looked at me helplessly and asked, “Is it over? Did I miss it?” I nodded. The look on his face was heart-wrenching. It was frustration that melted into a mixture of disappointment and guilt. It must have been overwhelming, because C.S. doesn’t give things away easily.
“It’s okay. You’re here now,” I said in a futile attempt to do damage control. But, we both knew it.
A rare opportunity to actually know what I do, and what it means to me, was lost amongst Pittsburgh traffic.