My kid has been a sheep in the school musical for the last two years. This mostly just means he wears black pants and occasionally says “baaa.”
He doesn’t really sing or participate like the other kids do, but if you ask him with some excitement in your voice, he might crawl around on all fours.
During the show, he will sometimes search for me in the sea of parents before him. Mostly though, he just stands there looking a little bit confused. In kindergarten, that was really cute. It still is, but now it makes me just a teeny bit sad because it has less and less to do with his age and more to do with his autism.
I wanted him to be a chicken this year. At least our pictures would be different, right? The chickens wear bright yellow t-shirts and rubber gloves for feet. They’re the real stand-outs.
They also have a grander entrance. When they file in, everybody starts chuckling. The chickens are just plain funny, you know?
I wanted my son to be one of them, but they told me to dress him in black and that means sheep.
I don’t know quite how this happened. He’s in second grade. He should be a chicken by now. Everything is different when you’re in special ed.
I know it’s ridiculous, but I’ve been feeling kind of melancholy about this all week.
There was a performance scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday night. I didn’t even want to go.
When I picked up my son from school at 3:15, the teacher told me he’d had a few upsets. It was not a great day.
We agreed he might not be up to coming back in a few hours for the show. I didn’t tell her so, but my enthusiasm for it was low anyway because I wanted to be a mother hen, not a ewe.
I smiled and told her we would try to be there.
In the car I asked him “do you want to go back to school tonight to be a sheep?”
He didn’t even pause before saying “no.”
I asked three or four more times in the course of the afternoon and got the same response. Finally, I resigned myself to the fact that we weren’t going. He didn’t need to be a sheep again.
I called husband to tell him not to come. He’s never seen the show. I was disappointed for him, but he knows as well as I do that making our son go back to school in the evening could be disastrous. I hung up the phone and put the whole thing out of my head for the night.
On Friday morning, I dressed my son in black again. There would be another performance right after the bell. The rest of the school would be in the audience, but a few parents would probably wander in, so I decided I would stay too. I didn’t bother to bring my camera. I got a lot of sheep shots last year.
I took him to his classroom to get the rest of his costume. I knew there would be handmade cotton ball sheep ears and some kind of black make-up to smudge his nose, but when I walked into the room, there were flannel shirts and hard hats everywhere.
The shirts were brown camouflage and the hats were painted to match and decorated with antennae. I was confused as I watched the teacher hurriedly buttoning flannel onto my son.
“I thought they were going to be sheep.” I heard myself say. “What are they supposed to be this time?”
The teacher continued buttoning and said “they’re army ants!”
For some reason, a lump formed in my throat. Fog brain started too. I’m not sure I even made sense as I excused myself for the walk to the auditorium.
If I’d known to ask him if he wanted to go back to school to be an army ant, would he have said “yes” last night? He loves to dress up and he might have looked forward to it, but I asked the wrong question and we’ll never know. That made me sad.
I sat alone in the folding chairs and bit back tears as I surveyed the handmade backdrop waiting up on the stage. A picnic scene. It wasn’t even the same show. There weren’t going to be any chickens. And suddenly all I could think about was how much I wanted to see my little sheep. 😐 I felt shame for consciously leaving my camera behind.
The other kids came in, there were a few short announcements from the principal and then the show began. All of the performers were dressed as bugs – ladybugs, dragonflies, beetles, caterpillars, bumblebees, stinkbugs and then the ants.
My ant came in the side door with a long line of other insects. He was the only one holding hands with an adult. His little hard hat was sitting too low on his brow and he was tugging at the back of his pants.
As he walked farther up the aisle, he danced the free hand in patterns in front of his body – up, down, left, right and back again. From across the room, I could hear his little autism soundtrack weaving itself through the giggles of the other kids. He took his seat with them, but he didn’t sing and he didn’t stand again until someone told him to. When his group cued up to go on stage, an aide stood to keep him from joining them. He would stay in the chairs down front. I’m sure they didn’t see the point of putting him on when he wouldn’t know what to do. Really, he didn’t notice, but it tugged at my heart as usual.
I watched everything he did, never heard a word the rest of them said and I couldn’t have cared less about the music. When it was over, I used my crappy phone to take a blurry photo and then I walked up to tell my son what a beautiful ant he was. I said goodbye, then went out to my car and cried.
I feel such grief for the things my son never gets to experience and I hate the feeling that some of his missed opportunities might be my fault. But I think I cried today because I missed something. I spent the week yearning for a chicken costume, but when I saw my son being dressed as an ant I started mourning his life as a sheep. I hate that I spent even one second imagining that my little boy should be anything other than whatever he is in the moment I’m with him.
He is joyous and loving and full of life. His upsets are magnificent and he will miss many things as he ages, but very little of it will permanently change his sweet demeanor. I must remember to be joyous with him.