In Which I Plan My Child’s Future, Because I’m The One Driving

Seeing as cut chapters really are writer's "little darlings," each week I am posting one of the cuts that did not make the final version of Mama, Mama, Only Mama  leading up to the release on May 7, 2019. Here's this week's murdered darling, In Which I Plan My Child’s Future, Because I’m The One Driving.

When Big Pants was in first grade he started playing flag football. Every year they had Youth Football Night at the varsity game. All of the tiny football players got introduced before the high school game and they got to run down the field in a “cheerleader tunnel,” which was really not a tunnel at all but a two rows of cheerleaders but it was still cool.

The big teenaged players gave high fives to all the little kids which of course made me cry because they were so big and the Pants bothers' hands were so little and their faces looked up at these ginormous football players with such earnestness and awe and they were so kind to my kiddos.

After the introduction, we stayed for the game. I had mixed feelings about the actual game. First of all, unlike most Americans, I don’t follow football. I have only a vague idea of what they are doing down there, and I can’t manage to pay attention long enough to learn the rules. I also have forbidden my sweet boys with their nicely formed heads from playing tackle football.  I like their brains unscrambled, their limbs unbroken, and I really like all of their teeth. So while Big Pants was having the time of his life, I was leery. Don’t like this too much, kid,I thought to myself. No freaking way is this ever happening in your lifetime. 

Tiny Pants was three years old, and still young enough to provide me with a plausible excuse to leave any social event—or in this case football game—early.  In some ways, I thought of Tiny Pants as more me than his brother. Big Pants was already in the cult of Chicago Bears and White Sox and Blackhawks alongside his father, but Tiny had not yet drunk that Kool-Aid.  I defiantly dressed him in Cleveland team outfits. I was even going to let him not like sports.  At the end of the evening, as we left the football stadium, Tiny Pants spoke up. 

            “Mama, I now know what I want to do with my life,” he said. 

Oh God, please don’t say a football player. I thought about all the other possibilities we saw at the football game: cheerleader, rabid body-painted fan, hot dog vender.  There had been a whole row of teenaged boys wearing pink bras purportedly in support of breast cancer awareness month, otherwise topless in the 40-degree evening. I wasn’t sure which person had moved him so monumentally, and I wasn’t sure which I was hoping it was.    

“I want to be in a marching band,” he said. 

That I could totally get behind.    

Fast-forward six years. Big Pants now played electric guitar in a band. Tiny Pants messed around with a whole slew of instruments that his father bought, but he didn’t focus on any one thing long enough to learn how to actually play it. What he did instead was play hockey and write in books, make art, and revel in crazy dances and flamboyant outfits. 

Then one day, he started playing the recorder in music class. Tiny Pants fell in love with the recorder. He played Hot Cross Buns so many times we all got a little edgy. He played it in the tree house, the driveway, the playroom, and the bedroom—I banished it from the first floor to keep myself from getting stabby. Unfortunately, I don’t find the recorder’s notes particularly melodic—they fall in a register that makes me want to hit things. I wanted to support his new musical interest, but I also wanted to snap the thing in two. 

Several years ago in what may have been a hostile gifting, my father’s wife gave Tiny Pants her daughter’s old clarinet.  The only thing I knew about woodwinds was that you need to suck on the reed before playing them. None of us could get it to produce anything but a squawk reminiscent of a pissed off waterfowl with a head cold.  However, a friend of mine used to play back in high school, and she taught Tiny Pants how to blow into it correctly. I think this was nice of her, but I secretly suspected it, too, may have been an act of hostile helpfulness designed to destroy my ear drums and put me over the edge of reason, because now Tiny Pants could make noise with it. 

But something happened. Suddenly Tiny Pants got serious about music. He started watching YouTube videos on how to play the clarinet, and even begged Big Pants to teach him the notes to “Another One Bites the Dust.” He dragged the clarinet to school and managed to get his music teacher to give him a free lesson in the middle of music class.

Advance planning is a form of daydreaming for me. I started looking at high schools when the kids were still in elementary school, making spreadsheets of all the AP courses offered and extracurriculars before either boy could write in cursive. So of course, now that Tiny Pants in excited about clarinet, I started googling best colleges for marching bands, and got sucked into watching You Tubes of the top ten best marching bands in the country. I got excited. Really, I got disproportionately excited seeing as Tiny Pants is only nine. 

But here’s the thing—everything that makes some people crazy about Tiny Pants—his love of the spotlight, his crazy dancing, his desire to wear outlandish hats, and his obsession with all things military—all come together in a good marching band. It is something that celebrates everything that is different about him.I want to always encourage him to be more himself, not less.I don’t want to ever throttle my child’s personality to make him fit in. Instead, I’d rather guide him in the direction of a socially acceptable outlet, and I think back when he was three, he nailed it. His destiny is to be in a marching band.  

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