Today was the second day of our school’s production of Sound of Music, a rip-roaring production filled with costume changes, huge sets, and a cast of 140 elementary school students. And that meant that it was the second day of the bake sale, and since my attempt at highly appropriate linzer torte cookies was an utter failure, I decided to whip up some ultra-cute cupcakes.
Why not cute little things with birds’ nests on top, with jelly bean eggs? It’s spring! So cute!
I scrounged the cupboards for chocolate, and mixed together about a cup of what I found (this consisted of whatever was left from some grain-sweetened chips I had bought, a decapitated Easter bunny that was forgotten in the freezer last year, and two squares of semi-sweet baking chocolate) in a make-shift double boiler (metal bowl over sauce pan of barely simmering water). I let it melt, stirred it up, and then mixed in about two cups of those weird chow mein noodles from a can. I gave it a good but careful stir, just trying to get the things basically coated but not wanting to smash the crispy noodles up. With the noodles coated, and my hands clean, I took a medium pinch of the noodles, gathered them into some sort of nest shape, placed a couple of naturally colored jelly beans on top, and then set them on parchment to cool and set.
They were sweet.
The phone rang. My friend was on the other line, reporting what another mom had found in the boys’ locker room as the kids were getting into their costumes the night before. My son, E., naked, running around yelling in people’s faces. Girls outside the locker room shrieking, “Call the police! Someone’s naked!” Boys looking nervous. Chaos, of course, ensuing.
It was time to mix up the cupcakes, which I did, doubling this recipe to make a scant 2 dozen (22, to be precise). With a pit of anxiety in my stomach and icy fingers, I was listening to my friend talk while I creamed the sugar and butter, preheated the oven, measured and remeasured as I forgot which step I was on.
As a kid, I remembered an awful lot of boys running around naked in locker rooms and at beaches and the like. Maybe that part wasn’t so bad, even though it freaked out the other kids.
There was more. Because during intermission the friend on the phone had gone backstage to find E. with a broken prop, surrounded by third grade boys, all of whom, upon seeing her, pointed at him and yelled, “He did it!” Which, being no dummy, he completely denied. My heart broke, picturing him there all alone.
These are familiar moments with this boy of mine. While his brother collects and treasures and attracts friends, E. just seemed to spring from the egg ready to go at the world kind of askew. With deep and relentless loves of dinosaurs and superheroes and villains and far off places. With questions about why and why not and how and what does this mean, and don’t you want to know everything I want to tell you? With a pure little spirit, who still holds my hand on the way to school and keeps his big feelings pure and strong. With an imagination that has him outside creating worlds as long as the day will allow. And without one true friend at his side.
On the phone my friend asked if I could come to the performance to help out, to keep an eye on my guy and “ride herd” on the rest.
I made frosting from this recipe (yeah, the same as the post that had the cake above), maybe doubling it, and making it vanilla instead of lemon. The boys came home and I asked what had happened with the prop, and E. told me that two other boys had told him to get it, but that when it broke they started yelling and “stopped acting like they were playing with me. It was like they forgot.”
He told me who was there, and how he was surprised when the rest of them acted like they didn’t know what was going on. Predictably, we talked about making good choices, and stopping and thinking before acting, and about deciding whether someone was acting like a friend or not. I talked until his eyes glazed over, and then I kissed him and told him I was on his side. And that I love him.
I sent one boy’s mom an email to let her know I wanted to talk.
I put the nests on the cupcakes, the cupcakes in the carrier, and the carrier next to the door. I was thinking about how I pushed him to do the play because I wanted him to be part of something at this school of ours, that I wanted him to have shared memories with the other kids. I thought back to kindergarten and how the teachers had told me that I’d better help him figure out how to navigate socially by third grade, because that’s when the cliques are really established and roles are determined.
I tried to load up the mom bag with fidget toys and things to keep them busy, and clothed, and engaged enough to stay away from crucial props. We left for the play. Driving, I was thinking about how seriously I had taken the warning, and the therapist and the classes and the groups and the training and the parenting classes, and now none of it turns out to have been enough. And when was someone going to give this kid a break and be his friend for all the great traits that he has?
Arriving, I found myself a. without the cupcakes I had left there beside the door and b. feeling so angry and isolated and protective that I could barely talk to other adults. Both boys needed help getting ready, and I’m surprised I didn’t stab myself or a child with a safety pin as I tried to keep it together so I could get them into their little lederhosen. Z. and another boy had words and slapping and I intervened, and before I could really even say anything, the two of them apologized and agreed to be friends. They ran off to join their group, and E. and I got him ready and in place for his opening number.
The director had created a special, small, part for him because he couldn’t handle the length and intensity of the long rehearsals, but wanted to be part of the play. This left him with a role that he adored, and with a lot of time offstage.
While his brother sang and had his most adorable and excellent dance number, E. and I were mostly in the back of the room. The best item in the bag turned out to be the sleek green booklight I had picked up at the bookstore. He drove it along the lines in the gym floor, making motor sounds, and attracting the attention of passersby.
To my credit, I did not jump up and scream, “What the hell are you looking at? Can’t a 9-year-old boy pretend that the damned light is an alienmobile instead of trying to figure out whether the hills really are in fact alive with the sound of stupid music for the 7th time this week?”
I did a lot of wandering around and breathing deeply. I bought flowers to give to the boys after curtain calls. I described the beautiful cupcakes I had left at home to anyone who would listen. I whispered to a friend that at least I wasn’t going up to the mean kids and telling them about how people who peak in elementary school find themselves with shallow lives without a shred of substance.
And I watched my son, happily and obliviously playing with this stupid little flashlight, and wondering which of us was actually acting crazier.
We got through the performance without a hitch, and both boys were delighted, tired, proud. On the way home, Z. started crying and said that they just had to do the performance again, and he wasn’t ready for it to be over. Which is exactly how I remember feeling about every play and dance recital I ever did growing up, and it made me think that maybe putting them in the play hadn’t been such a terrible idea. Probably.
Plus we had 22 cupcakes at home.