I just sat through a three-hour grammar school talent show. It was free. And worth every penny. Seating choices? The gymnasium bleachers or the dreaded metal folding chairs. This was going to be a long ordeal.
As an audience member, I had responsibilities: mandatory applauding before and after each musical number, plus mid-song clapping in rhythm to the little musicians’ songs and dances, all 44 acts. “Please GOD can we stop now?!” was my silent plea, camouflaged by a grandmotherly smile. Fortunately, sustained applause was not required at the end for the two magic acts, which, due to the set-up, were so far away from the audience’s visual field that we really couldn’t be certain if, in fact, it was the ace of hearts the magician picked. Or if that nickel eventually appeared in the yellow plastic container.
But back to the musical acts. I get the whole support-the-kids thing. Let’s face it. Kids need encouragement so they can feel like stars, even though some day in the future a disinterested judge will shout “Next!” halfway through the third bar of their audition. Let them be confident today. And there’s no better audience for that than parents and grandparents.
It brought me back to the days when my own kids were young.
At age 7, my son William auditioned for the school talent show. That kid could sing Elvis better than Elvis could sing Elvis. I sewed my inept fingers to the bone making him an outfit that would have been fit for the King himself—purple sequins, flashy fabrics and a sparkle-studded white dinner jacket—while he passionately practiced “Viva Las Vegas” on his kiddie karaoke machine. His act was a huge success, and I wasn’t the only one cheering. Just the loudest. That cute little outfit I made still hangs in the spare closet, a reminder of his raw talent, long ago shelved along with the costume. Until recently, when my maternal involvement was put to the test.
“Will, how’s that band you’re putting together?” I ask, in one of my daily (OK, hourly) phone calls to him at his busy office job.
“Actually,” he says, “We’re playing downtown next week in a competition.”
I try to hide my excitement—by screaming.
“WHAAAAT-?!?” I yell. “Do you want Mommy to come watch and—”
I’m kidding. I didn’t say “Mommy.” After all, he’s 30.
I said “Mama.”
“Not a big deal,” he says, “Just a chance to play.”
That’s my bab-…um, boy. Humble. Low-key.
“So, should I go? Or…” I hedge.
He’s probably sorry he mentioned it. Not that I’d just show up. With banners. And posters. And horns.
“Hmmm. Probably not this time. I need to be in my zone.”
“Sure,” I say. “I’ll skip it. Good luck, sweetie!”
I resign myself to butting out. To treating him as an adult. To cancelling the confetti machine rental.
It’s 7 p.m. a week later. I walk up and down the streets near the club, disguised via a hoodie and sunglasses. He needs his zone, whatever or wherever that is. Without me watching.
I keep walking. I’m the very model of a mature mother of a perfectly capable grown man who doesn’t need his mom trailing after his every move.
By 8 p.m., I’m still walking—right into the building I’ve already passed a dozen times. I quietly open the downstairs door to the club, spotting a tiny entry space off to the left of the stairs, which hides most of me. There’s loud music coming from the upstairs club, but none sounds like Will.
An hour later, it’s intermission and I hear footsteps. Lots of them. I turn completely toward the corner, face pressed to the green plaster wall, slowing and quieting my breathing to the point of nearly passing out. I’m causing condensation on the wall. I catch bits of conversation, as duets and trios of young people shuffle up and down the stairs.
Finally, the intermission is over, the music starts up, and I begin to relax and congratulate myself on being so cleverly hidden. I’ll be able to hear him play and he’ll never know. With the staircase now desolate, I turn around.
“Mom?” laughs Will, hustling down the stairs with his friend.
“What’re you doing in there?” he asks, amused.
“Not watching you perform?” I answer.
“We’re up next,” he says. “Just getting some air. Go on up. It’s OK.”
They play, and they’re solid. And well received by the crowd, in spite of my relative non-involvement.
Unfortunately, they do not win the competition.
See? I knew it.
I should’ve sewn him a costume.
Kathy Eliscu, a retired RN, received a National Society of Newspaper Columnists Humor award in 2012 for her Maine Women magazine column. She is the author of “Not Even Dark Chocolate Can Fix This Mess,” a humor novel. She blogs at www.kathyeliscu.com and lives in Westbrook.