My blog’s title promises stories of things other than the military, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to give a little something different this week. And because my blog is my therapy, I’m going to figuratively lie down on the shrink’s couch. This week, I will write about holiday music recitals and the miracles they bring. My oldest son is in second grade, and last year was the first time I had to attend a music recital. I went to the 3:00 p.m. performance (amazingly, there was more than 1 performance) to avoid running into my ex-husband and his, at the time, fiancé during the evening performance. While the singing skills weren’t going to win any choir awards (mumble, mumble, “little turkey,” mumble, mumble, “grandma’s house”), it was a bittersweet moment to watch my boy in his very first school “thing.” He was still young enough to be excited when he found me in the crowd, waved enthusiastically and, uncaring who was watching, made strange faces at me from his perch on the risers. But watching that performance was also another moment where, if someone had asked me three years earlier, I wouldn’t have thought I would be sitting alone, watching my children grow up without sharing the moments with my husband.
This year, there were a few changes to the re-visited experience. My son was now in the second grade and the choir teacher spruced up the song list to include “10 Little Turkeys,” one of my all time faves. The music teacher also incorporated lyric cue cards to avoid the embarrassment of 2012 when the kids forgot the words, and we had to listen to the off-key hummmmm-hummmmmm-hummmmming of 45 seven-year-olds. This year, there was also a country theme, so my boy needed to wear his best country and western attire consisting of blue jeans, work boots and a flannel shirt. The last major change between this year and last year was that I also had to attend the performance at the same time as my ex-husband and his now wife.
I wasn’t sure I was going to make the performance at all because this year I was coming from class at a local university about an hour away (it’s another story so I’ll save it for a future blog post). As I was slowly maneuvering back through the Denver traffic at rush hour, I seriously considered finding a spot at a neighborhood bar and ordering too many hot wings (aka: beer). But I didn’t. I made it to the school with a full 5-minutes to spare. When I walked into the gymnasium-turned-auditorium, I expected to find a safe, quiet space at the back of the room and watch my boy in his second ever school “thing.” But my natural instincts to sit down beat out my self-preservative need to keep my distance—I looked around for an empty seat and saw an entire row of them—right beside my ex and his bride.
Normally, I stress for a bit when I know I’m going to have to see him, planning out how to react, how to make the interaction as short and succinct as possible, planning how to maintain my sanity and not karate chop him somewhere sensitive. For whatever reason, maybe it was divine guidance because I listened to the book of Matthew all the way to Denver and all the way back, I didn’t think about the delicate waltz of running into him at the choir performance. That’s the only reason I can come up with for why I did what I did when I saw him and his wife sitting in that nearly empty row at the back of the gymnas-uditorium.
As soon as I saw the back of her head, I went right over to her without hesitation. It was as if someone yelled, “Action!” and I started performing the part I had been rehearsing for the past year. I put my hand on her shoulder (not around her neck, as many who know me may have expected) and greeted her warmly…and, dare I say, sincerely? Then, because Jesus is a performer of miracles, I sat down next to my ex and his wife as if they were saving the empty seat just for me, which they weren’t. My ex looked back and forth between the two of us and shifted in his seat. I flashed a smile and asked them about their Christmas plans. I don’t know who I was in that moment.
When the choir walked in, each finding his and her place on the carpeted steps that passed as risers, I craned my neck to see my boy. There he was, in his plaid shirt provided by his stepmom and his jeans and work boots provided by me, looking just as country as any choir director could want or need. Just like last year, he enthusiastically looked around for his expected audience and found his father and stepmother. He grinned and waved, and then his eyes walked down the row of chairs and saw me.
I was glad I didn’t overthink what I would or wouldn’t do when I saw my ex at the recital. I was glad I sat down next to him and his wife. In that moment, my son’s grin went into a full-on monkey smile that took up more than half of his face. We all reacted to his joy, at once giggling and waving back frantically. Having us all in one place together probably made our child feel centered.
During the performance, sad thoughts ran through my mind as I watched the two of them, heads together, making comments as if they were his parents and I was the outsider, but I pushed the thoughts away, choosing to stay in the moment of my son feeling safe with all the people he loved and who loved him in close proximity to each other.
After the 30-minute singing extravaganza was finished, my son’s stepmother and I made our way to the front of the other parents taking pictures of their little darlings. We snapped away, and I said my goodbyes as I made my way outside to my car. Once safely ensconced in the darkness and privacy of my front seat, whatever magic that allowed me to dance through the evening vanished, and I burst into unrestricted tears. The tidal wave of sadness was unexpected and absolutely complete. I don’t know why this time in my life is taking so long to pass, or if it will ever pass, but I hold tight to the joy of seeing my son’s face as he saw me sitting with the other people who make him feel loved.