I had asked Henry what we would hear during the concert, and he rattled off a list of songs. He had been singing a few of them at home.
“I can’t remember what else we’re singing, but there are some spots where we need some more work,” Henry explained.
I told him that’s how it goes. There are usually a few spots that are a bit rough. You keep practicing and hope it all comes together during the performance.
Both sets of Henry’s grandparents were there to support him. My parents came early, saved seats for everyone, and brought homemade cut-out cookies, which are Henry’s favorite. My in-laws drove two hours to see Henry on stage. Having the four of them there meant a lot to us. Henry caught my eye a few times and gave me a shy smile. He was happy to be in the spotlight.
Noah talked to some of his former teachers after the concert, which he loves to do. Our family hung around for a bit outside the school in the unusually warm autumn air before heading to our cars.
“It seems strange not having to look around for Isaac,” my mother-in-law said.
Isaac wasn’t there.
Weeks ago I made arrangements for Isaac to go to the YMCA with a respite provider while we were at the concert. He had a good time. We had a good time. It seemed like a win-win to me.
Initially Isaac was upset about going to the YMCA on a Thursday night at 6:30. That’s not his routine. If he had to go, he wanted to go at 4:00 like he does on Wednesdays. He cried and cried and said he wanted to go to the concert. He crossed off a note that indicated he was going to the YMCA at 6:30. I told him he wouldn’t be coming to the concert this time, even though this is the first time in years he has asked to attend.
I wanted to stomp up to the front of the gym, grab the microphone and say in a weary voice, “Good evening. In case you’re wondering what’s going on – and I know you’re wondering because you’ve been staring at me -- my son Isaac has autism. He’s severely affected by his disability -- so severely, in fact, that he doesn’t attend this school. Frankly, he doesn’t want to be here, and if I were being honest, I’d tell you I’m ready to go home, too. This is autism awareness, folks. If anyone has a basketball for my son, please meet me outside immediately. Thank you!”
I told Chris it would be years before I brought Isaac to another concert. I’ve kept my word. Since then I have gladly arranged respite providers or babysitters to stay with him.
When Isaac went to the concerts, he usually walked around the gym with his dad. That drove me crazy because it seemed disrespectful to the performers, but we wanted to include him. One time Isaac brought along a kitchen timer, which was his obsession at the time. He loved to hear it beep. Once after a group finished singing, I heard a familiar “beep-beep” before it was abruptly shut off. I wasn’t the only one who heard it. At the time I’m sure people thought it was a cell phone. I looked to the back of the gym and saw Chris standing there holding the timer while Isaac attempted to pull it out of his hands.
“How did it go with Isaac?” I asked, after the concert was over. I had been sitting in the seats, along with my parents and a child.
“Well, I learned all of the songs are about two minutes long,” Chris said.
I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry, or eat a chocolate bar to calm my nerves. I might have done all three.
Do I thoroughly enjoy Henry’s concert and exclude Isaac? Do I try to include Isaac, to the detriment of Henry and his peers? Is it okay for him to distract the singers and the rest of the audience? Do I pay a babysitter to see if Isaac will sit through the concert with her? What if he can’t handle it and makes a scene? Or do I send him to the YMCA where he will enjoy himself?
I think we made the right choice last night.
Isaac’s teachers were shocked to learn he no longer attends concerts with us.
“That doesn’t sound like him,” one teacher said during his IEP meeting earlier this month, when I described his behaviors. She doesn’t live with Isaac, of course. School is more predictable than home. Like most kids, he’s on his best behavior at school. He has attended fine arts performances at our local university with school staff. He was fine. We haven’t attempted to take him. The tickets are too expensive to risk walking out mid-performance.
Last night was Henry’s only concert. One and done. I realize it’s difficult to be the younger brother of twins who have autism, to be the one who doesn’t have as many unique needs. His brothers seem to get more attention. Henry is a good brother, but it’s not always easy. I wanted Henry to shine last night. I wanted his night to be one without distraction.
I told Isaac we will try to bring him to a concert again this school year, if he wants to go. Noah has several band and chorus concerts at the junior high. We will make a plan, talk about it, put it on the calendar, talk about it again, and alert Isaac’s teachers so they can discuss it with him as well. We’ll decide on a reward for doing well and a consequence for making poor choices. We’ll talk about expectations. Now that Isaac is older, it may work. I need to find my courage and try again. He deserves another chance. It couldn’t be last night, though. It wouldn’t have been fair.
Life is a bit like the concert music. Some spots need more work. That’s how it goes. Things can be a little rough. We’ll practice with Isaac, take a deep breath, and hope it all comes together during the final performance.