The Ordinary and the Extraordinary

Last Thursday, December 13, was Tommy’s Peace program, what in the old days would have been called our Christmas music program. Sometimes these music programs happen at nearby high schools in the district, but this one took place in Tom’s school. I was meeting Phil and the kids, and Phil warned me on my way from work that the gym was packed; when I arrived, I stood in the back huddled between a grandma and a business-suited dad for a while, and then I was able to find Phil and the kids and squeeze in with them by keeping Sylvia on my lap.

The kindergarteners played instruments. Tommy’s primary group sang and signed “Peace Like a River.” The secondary students did a great rendition of “We Go Together,” from Grease, with Hand Jive-like hand motions. The newly formed glee club squeezed into the available space and worked through their dance moves to “The Way You Are,” featuring an opening boy solo that about killed me, he was so sweet and earnest, and a closing, Glee-like bring-it-on-home girl solo.

Right before the last song, “Joy To the World” (the “Jeremiah was a bullfrog” version), Tom’s music teacher said to start the tape, and after a couple of notes of opening music, the tape went flukey; we all looked at each other, patient with these kind of technical issues in an elementary school music program. And then the flukiness segued to “Gangnam Style,” and suddenly a group of kids we hadn’t noticed was in the front, dancing in unison, Gangnam Style. Teachers joined in. The dozens of students on the bleachers hadn’t been in on the joke, orchestrated by a fun-loving fifth grader named Frankie, but started dancing along, too. I looked over and saw Tommy, who alternates between exuberance and reticence, swinging his arm in the air in carefree circles. The kids’ sponteneity was as moving as if they’d done a quiet version of “Silent Night” and lit candles.

After that happy interlude, the kids did all sing “Joy to the World.” Tom’s principal, who has been with the school for years and brings her therapy dog to school every day, got up to thank the parents for showing such support we packed out the gym. Her voice caught a little, something I’d not heard in six years of our kids attending the school, when she recognized “these wonderful children” and how they’d done such a beautiful job. After the program, we went to Steak and Shake, Tommy’s restaurant choice; he got to choose because he had been the performer. It was a beautiful, ordinary night in years of our having children. Nothing extraordinary, and yet completely extraordinary.

The next day, as events unfolded in Connecticut, I wondered how many parents had had similar ordinary, magical nights with their children. It’s impossible to hear of the tragedy and not to think of the Christmas lists compiled, the Elves on the Shelves moved after bedtime, the little quibbles over Minecraft houses, the uncomfortable seating at a packed music program.

Raising kids is a hassle. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. It’s exhausting and infuriating and expensive. They’ll push your buttons and pluck your last nerve. But it is also awe-inspiring. My heart is so broken for the parents who lost kids or whose children had to witness and experience things no child, or adult, should have to.

I left work a little early Friday because I had to see my kids. I got home and there was nothing different from any other evening when I come home: Sylvia ran out to greet me, Max was looking at his iPod Touch, Tom was playing with a friend. All ordinary, and all extraordinary. I’m so thankful for this gift, and truly hope the families in Newtown find some little bit of peace this season.

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