“The school is open, Isaac. We’re going here for Noah’s band concert, remember?” I said. He cried and carried on, stomping his feet and shrieking. “Remember, if you do a nice job and sit and listen to Mom and Dad and listen to the music, you will go to the YMCA Wednesday night. If you run around and scream, you will be staying home Wednesday. You know what to do. You know what we expect you to do,” I said.
Chris stopped at the activity entrance, and I crawled out of the back of the van with Noah and Henry. (I haven’t sat in the front passenger seat for about six months because Isaac has claimed it as his territory. He loves to control the music from the front seat, which is why we have listened to a Vacation Bible School CD since June.) Three of us walked into the gym while Chris and Isaac parked the van. It could take a few minutes before Isaac was ready to enter the school. We decided the two of them could make the journey together while the rest of us went inside. Henry spotted my parents, who had arrived early and saved seats for us. Henry sat down with them on a red metal folding chair.
Noah’s band director said the concert – the first one of the year – would last about 40 minutes or less. Even though seventh, eighth, and ninth graders would be playing, the concert wouldn’t last long. Noah didn’t have a trombone solo and wasn’t one of the students reading announcements. This seemed like a good time to take along Isaac. He hadn’t been to a music concert in four years.
I expected her to say she was busy – something had come up – she needed to wash her hair or find all of the missing lids to her plastic food storage containers. Instead she said, “I will meet you there.” I don’t know her very well, but I wanted to hug her. I knew her presence would make a difference for Isaac. He has a reputation at school of being a model student. He couldn’t blow it in front of his classroom teacher at a junior high band concert.
Or could he?
Noah didn’t mention it, but I think he was a little nervous about having Isaac in the audience. Would Noah be on edge during the entire performance? Would he be distracted? What if hell broke loose and Isaac ran screaming out of the gymnasium? “Oh boy,” said Noah, when we told him Isaac would be attending the concert.
That summed it up. We were all a little nervous.
I met Cynthia in the gym and eventually we sat down on red folding chairs and waited for Isaac. I told her that he shouted “Holmes closed!” when we turned into the parking lot.
“Oh, it’s a change for him,” Cynthia said. “Change can be so difficult.” She said earlier in the day at school Isaac seemed nervous about his teacher being at the concert. I thought that was a good sign. He was thinking about it, anyway.
Minutes passed. Chris and Isaac were nowhere to be found. I was beginning to wonder if Isaac had refused to enter the building. I was relieved when I finally saw them walk into the gymnasium. They sat on the bleachers, which wasn’t the plan. Isaac was supposed to be sitting with his family.
This was Isaac’s way of saying, “If I have to be here, I’m doing it my way.”
“Do you think I should go sit with him, or do you think I’m okay here?” Cynthia asked. I asked her to sit next to Isaac. She walked over to the bleachers, sat down, pulled out the social story, and read it with him. Chris said Isaac zoomed through it quickly, but Cynthia slowed him down so they could read it together and think about the meaning of the words.
The social story:
“At River Hills School, I go to music class. I sit quietly and listen to the music. I will go to a band concert at Noah’s school. There will be a lot of people in the gym. I will sit quietly at Noah’s school and listen to the music. Mom and Dad will be proud when I sit and listen.”
I turned around and pointed to the bleachers, where Chris and Isaac’s teacher were seated. Isaac was nestled between them, wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt and black sports pants. Isaac pointed repeatedly to the exit.
“I don’t know if he will come and sit with us or not,” I added, “but we saved these seats just in case.”
He has interacted with Isaac a bit, so he did what anyone in his situation would do -- he raised his eyebrows, pressed his lips together, and nodded. He didn’t know what to say, and frankly I didn’t, either. I knew the evening could be a disaster. I didn’t like the thought of subjecting other families to a screaming teenager during a concert, especially my friend and his family, whose son was playing in his first junior high concert. But we had to try. It felt like the perfect window of opportunity.
It’s hard to describe the uneasiness of being at these events with a child with significant unique needs. We always say we hope for the best but plan for the worst. I couldn’t let anyone sit in those three empty folding chairs because my mind raced to a different scenario. If Isaac suddenly rushed to the folding chairs because he decided he wanted to sit with the rest of his family, what happens when the seats are taken? (Hint: It might involve a meltdown.)
A friend I have known for years asked if she could sit in the chairs, and I said I thought they were taken. I realized it was a confusing answer, but I couldn’t go into the long story of why the chairs needed to be empty even though nobody was likely to sit in them. She said it was fine and easily found other seats. I know it wasn’t a big deal to her, but it feels like our family is from another planet. We have strange, different rules. Usually it doesn’t make much sense unless you’re living it every day.
The seventh grade band played three songs. Isaac remained seated at the bleachers. The eighth and ninth graders took the stage, and we finally saw Noah, who was sitting in the trombone section at the end of a row. We had a good view of him from our seats. An announcement was made about the upcoming NEIBA Honor Band Noah will attend in December. Noah stood up to be recognized. I was hoping Isaac was watching, but I couldn’t see from my seat. I only knew he was sitting on the bleachers, now leaning against Chris, listening to music with his teacher. I suspect he thought it was the only way he could get to the YMCA Wednesday.
When the band director lowered her arms after the last song, the concert was over. Chris asked if I had seen the gray blur that sprinted from the bleachers into the hallway. I hadn’t noticed a thing. I was so proud of Noah and his band for playing a fabulous concert, and I was proud of Isaac for sitting through it.
Cynthia said it was worth coming because it was such a special moment for Noah to have his brother there. On the way home Noah mentioned he saw Isaac in the hallway before the concert started. He greeted Isaac, and Isaac said, “Hi.”
“It was much more than a hello,” Noah explained. I asked Noah what he meant. He said he couldn’t really describe it, but it was more than an exchange of one simple word. He said they communicate a lot with their eyes. Perhaps it is a twin connection, or perhaps it is just the way two special brothers understand each other.
I love it when all five of us can be together in public at an event -- without a meltdown. And I love witnessing the exchange of pride and admiration between brothers. I’m not sure when Isaac will attend his next concert, but we need to keep trying.
I asked Isaac if he enjoyed going to the concert, and he said yes. Just the two of us stood outside after the concert near our garage, surrounded by the night sky. Isaac wanted to make sure he was able to go to the YMCA Wednesday. He wanted to make sure he could watch AFV. I assured him he could do all of those things. I told him I was proud of him. He looked into my eyes and said, “See ya. Buh-bye.” Then he giggled, ran into the garage, climbed into the front passenger seat of the van, and closed the door.