Note to new readers: Our family took in two foreign exchange students this year. Denmark is a 17 yr old girl. China is a 16 yr old boy. The U.S. is our 15 yr old son (Little Man). Israel, when home, is our 22 yr old daughter (Principessa), and Canada our 19 yr old son (Middle Man). I am The Secretary General. Smart Guy is Dad. Together, we are the U.N.: a home where laughs come daily, chaos reigns and borders fall easily, as we live like a real family. Know that no foreigners were hurt in the making of this blog post or in the incidents cited. All parties were aware that their comments were being noted, and pictures were used with permission, and assistance in editing for privacy. That said…
Seems I’m having some trouble keeping up with these posts, as I zoom in warp speed toward the end of the school year: Saying goodbye to Denmark and China, getting ready for a 3 week trip, getting the manuscript ready for publishing, summer stuff… But it was a choir concert this past week, that just about brought me down.
This week we went to Denmark’s final Choir concert at the high school. This concert is special each year because the choir director allows any Senior to perform a solo, if they choose to, and then the choir performs a few songs as well. We all went, as I felt it was important for the family to support Denmark in something that she loves. China and Little Man enjoyed some of it, but mostly were two teen boys who had to go to a concert. I spent much of the night tearing up and looking like a fool, to the teenager next to me, who kept adjusting her seat and eyeing me curiously.
I could just hear her: “Seven Nation Army makes her cry? Ok I get I’ll Follow You Into The Dark, but Bohemian Rhapsody? What’s with this lady? Wish I’d sat across the room.” She squirmed in her seat and shot side glances at me the whole evening. Unfortunately for her she was stuck next to the crazy ass woman who was bouncing back and forth in her mind to her own high school days, the moment a week from now when I’ll have to say goodbye to my girl Denmark, and the painfully off key notes that some were singing. If you are reading this and your child sang in this concert, I don’t mean them of course. It was some of the other kids that were really, really not in tune… singing songs I’ve previously liked. Painful! Yet even then, how could I not feel some compassion and emotion for the fact that most of them were singing their last song at their high school, standing before their peers and families. It would have been an emotional night… even if my brain hadn’t been messing with me.
I have long believed that a significant reason so many parents struggle through the high school years is because it brings up so many old memories and feelings for us. It’s very hard, when raising teens, not to reflect back on the days you spent in those tricky spaces, where you’re in or you’re out or you simply blend into the walls; where a prom dress is a Major decision, a slow dance is love and your friends are your world… in all its splendor or its crumbling decay.
As I watched those kids sing, one girl became the queen of our class who everyone cheered for and we all envied, but who now lives much like the rest of us and faces age in the mirror each morning just as we all do. While we guessed at who might be gay, I watched with interest as a boy in the audience handed his love a bouquet of flowers and held him tenderly, after the concert. Another boy reminded me of the Caf B boy who never really noticed me then but is a friend now. I recognized the awkward kids who may not fit in now, but I imagine will find their grooves and show up at their twentieth reunion shining. Others simply brought back the struggles and joys that come with facing graduation and leaving the place where you’ve grown up. And then, each time I looked at Denmark, my heart swelled and my eyes filled. It was a potent night.
Even if I take Denmark out of the equation, I am always amazed to see that many high school kids in one space. I can’t help but look around and take it all in, as my mind makes connections to faces from my own past, memories that correlate. Much has changed, but just as much hasn’t. It’s easy to see which kids are especially shiny, and which ones blend in or struggle to find their place. Without intending to, my mind automatically goes to a place where comparisons arise and I imagine I know more than I actually do. It moves me to watch them and remember the angst I often felt, as well as the enormous highs. Trying to do well in school, the crushes and all-absorbing first love, the school plays and track meets, the floats, Homecomings, more crushes (rarely reciprocated)… I was sure that Janis Ian wrote “At 17” just for me. These things consumed me as I tried balancing all of that against a crazy home life. My Senior year was a tug-of-war: waiting to break free and terrified to leave.
So as I watched these kids step up to the mic, my eyes welled up and I listened to what they chose to sing, guessing that each selection was a message in a bottle to those of us listening. I was impressed that each of them had the courage to stand before us and sing their hearts out. There were not many silly songs sung. Most seemed chosen for reasons that I might only guess at, but seemed significant, meaningful to them. I beamed for them and wished them silent blessings on the next phase, when they can spread their wings and recreate or be whoever they want.
Watching Denmark sing was extra special as this is what she loves most, how she often identifies herself: a singer. She has a wonderful voice that is too often muted by Little Man’s unreasonable demands that we all not sing along to songs. Having come from a very musical home in Denmark, this has no doubt been one of the big challenges for her this year. So, to see her stand up there and belt out the songs- I could clearly hear her voice, distinct from the others- was a joyful thing. Everything in me swelled with pride and my cheeks hurt from smiling. Each time Denmark looked out and our eyes met, we both grinned bigger and I sent her a quiet, mother’s hug and kiss. I knew that her own head was bouncing around the walls of the giant cafeteria where we all sat, and out to her home in Denmark, and then back again to her friends and peers beside her. At the end, she lost it completely and was hugging all of her musical friends and crying for all the world, the beginning of this difficult goodbye. I grabbed her for a long hug and had a quick taste of how hard it will be this Friday, when it’s for real.
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