Tonight I watched my son, Eleven, play his trumpet in one of his last Jazz band concerts in elementary school. This was the third time this week, (and the fourth time in the past two weeks), that I went to whichever school his jazz band "tour" was stopping at to play their groovy tunes. Each time, I couldn't help but stare mostly at the tall boy standing in the back row; the boy who is now taller than his mother; the boy whose mustache has been darkening by the day; the boy who's quickly looking less like a boy and more like a man. I stared simply out of shock because this boy is my son.
I brought my camcorder tonight and zoomed in to watch him as he blew into his trumpet. It was a fight just to get him to go to the concert, partly because he didn't want to miss baseball, and partly because he constantly claims he isn't interested in jazz band, or any band, for that matter, at all. So, we gave him the choice to play most of the game with the option to leave early to get to the concert. He said if he couldn't play the entire ball game, he wasn't going to play at all. This confused me, though, since whenever I tell him he has a baseball game, on nights when there are no conflicting concerts or anything else, he insists he's not going to play ball, either. I can't figure out what this kid wants and that was exactly what I was trying to do as I zoomed in on his face; figure out what was going on inside his head.
He looked sorta bored, sorta sad, even, whenever he removed the trumpet from his lips. His shoulders looked all slumpy, which is not unusual for him, as this posture is his norm when he's not feeling confident in himself. I nudged Forty-Three in the ribs, partly to hurt him, but mostly to get his attention.
Thirty-Nine: "He's all slumpy. He has no confidence."
Forty-Three: " ."
No, that's not a typo; Forty-Three is a man of limited responses. He just sort of nodded in agreement.
But I didn't need any response anyway. As a mother, I knew what I needed to do regardless of whether Forty-Three had anything to grunt in agreement or disagreement about. When the last sounds of Louie Louie faded out and as the children started filing off the stage, I found my son's band teacher and thanked her for the wonderful work with the band and the music program. I also thanked her, as I'm apt to do in my end-of-the-school-year thank you notes, as well, for her utter belief in my son and his innate musical ability. I wanted him to play a solo in the concert and expressed how sad I felt that he simply lacked the desire or the confidence to do so. It was difficult not to break down in tears, as again, I am apt to do when I talk about my kids, when I thanked her for encouraging him endlessly, and even admitted to her that I felt that not only was he letting her down by not practicing his instrument, but that I, too, was letting her down because I couldn't force him to love the trumpet or make him play like she believed he could play. She told me not to give up on him because even though next year in Junior High school he would probably lose interest, (lose even more interest, really), he might get it back. (unfortunately, though, I am not hearing wonderful things about the school's musical department, so.... a big "uh-oh" right there).
By the time we got home to watch my DVR'd American Idol, I still couldn't help thinking about my Eleven: an awesome trumpeter, an impressive home-run-hitter, a phenomenal third-base man. On top of that, he's also a smart, handsome kid with a good heart and a sensitive little soul. I stopped the DVR playback for what turned out to be a good ten minutes in order to tell my unconfident child some things he needed to hear.
I told him that because he has so many people believing in him, he needs to try to believe in himself, as well. Maybe it's wrong to do so on some level, but I told him that I never believed in myself and that I still struggle with that every day of my life - and I'm close to forty years old. I told him that I always allowed other people's negative opinions about me to become my opinions about me instead of believing all the good things I really knew to be true about myself. Every teacher he has ever had since preschool only had glowing things to report about his capabilites. Use them, I told him. Don't waste your youth trying to be too cool, or sitting in front of video games all day. Take the love and encouragement from your teachers and from us to feed your talents. Yes, I'm annoying, yes, I push you, I continued, but all for good reason. I wanted to play the piano and the drums, but I never got to. I never had the push that you have. Take advantage of it, I implored. I only do these things because I see how disappointed you are in yourself, how you don't think you are any good. Youth is when you can explore what you like, what you're good at. This is your time to blossom, I said.
He was laying on the loveseat, his long legs and big feet hanging over the side. I could see the thicker hair on his manlier-looking legs. But the way he was looking up at me was so child-like, so innocent. For the first time in, wow, I don't even know how long, I think he was actually listening to me. And not the one ear to me, one ear to Family Guy kind of listening, but absorbing listening. My tear ducts let one or two drops sneak out. You don't even know the depth of my love or pride, I added.
Eleven didn't turn away from me like he usually would even though I knew he was exhausted and that he just wanted to watch Adam Lambert and Kris Allen sing their final songs. He looked up at me, waiting. I added as much as I could, as much as I could articulate at 11 PM and with only 8 hours of sleep in two days. I, too, was so tired, but I took this "alone time" as an opportunity to share my desires with him as a parent. I begged him to learn from me, not because I am his mom, or only because I'm older, which we all know doesn't always mean wiser, or not because I know everything there is to know, but only because in this instance - the believing in oneself department - I know whereof I speak. The gist of everything I was talking about came down to using his youth, talents, and the push from his educators and parents to his advantage and not to let it slip away before it was too late.
He fell asleep, still in his black pants and white button-down, sprawled on that small couch. It still hurts me that I can no longer lift him up, carry him upstairs, change him into his Spiderman pajamas, and tuck him into bed. But if I can lift him up in other ways, then so be it.
As adults, we always wish we knew then what we know now, and when we were children, we thought we knew everything. I still don't know why my son looked so unhappy on that stage tonight, whether he really was just bored, or if he was feeling anxious just because he's Eleven going on Twelve and that's what eleven year olds going on twelve look like. Was he up there wishing he was at baseball? Was he up there angry that I was clapping proudly in the audience?
Was he up there thinking about a negative observation his friend pointed out earlier today that made him feel self-conscious?
As a mother, I can only guess about these things, but I do hope that now when my son has that certain look on his face, that maybe he's thinking about something important I once told him.