I admit it. I love this song. The little drummer boy plays his drum and the baby smiles. Corny as it may be, this song is the ultimate “yes!” for every person who ever felt unheard – not good enough, not pretty enough, not rich enough, not cool enough. It’s a song for every outsider who nevertheless is worthy. I thought of this song while attending the annual production at our son’s specialist school, a modern Christmas musical that featured none of the classics.
Once upon a time we worried that going to a special school would be ‘segregating’ our son. We had worked hard for years and years for him to be ‘included.’ He has a Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) due to prenatal alcohol exposure. His brain is wired differently. The world, especially at this time of year, can be overwhelming and confusing. This December is particularly brutal. In addition to the ‘normal’ added excitement of this month, our son’s Christmas dog died recently, he is recovering from a hand operation, and he is waiting with anticipation for a new dog.
As if any one of those things wasn’t enough, he didn’t want to sing because his voice isn’t perfect. Puberty is stretching and straining his vocal chords. He was silent in rehearsals. He wasn’t saying lines we knew he knew, lines he had rehearsed. He was unhappy. We adults around him didn’t know what was best. Push him forward, or allow him to retreat? An auntie who is a trained actor stepped in, gave him extra support, helped him trick his voice once again into the higher range. His teachers supported him. And yet, an hour before the performance he was still saying he didn’t want to do it.
But he did.
He joined with the other children from his school – each of whom battled their own uncertainties to stand under those bright lights. It would have been the easy way out to stay home, to not encourage him to push his boundaries. To admit that yes, your voice isn’t perfect tonight, no need to go on stage and let your weakness show. To ‘protect’ him. But we trusted the process. We believed.
In that theatre, watching them move around and with each other, I realised we have not removed our son from his community. We have given him one. We have introduced him to role models who are the ones who really have the authority to nudge him on – the older students with learning disabilities who show it’s okay to have fun if something goes wrong, who take the time to help prompt those who might have forgotten a line, who help a fellow actor who has trouble physically maneuvering the stage. In this production, a lead character who sings like an angel has a deep stammer that made her story line all the more truthful and the scenes more poignant as her co-star looked deeply into her eyes and did not waver while he waited for the words he knew would come. There was a unity on that stage and a sense of pride in what each person brought to the production.
Each person giving what they have to give, each as they are able, in an environment designed to help them grow. What is perfection, if not that?
This was not a bumbling primary school performance. These are maturing teens and young adult learning at a school with a focus on performing arts. Their performance was ‘on.’ The production was smooth and professional even as the stage, lighting and sound were also run by fellow students who are learning and growing in their roles as well.
Our son’s acting voice was strong. He stood up there wearing clothes that must have been a sensory nightmare for him, projecting his voice and backing it up with body language that matched. He nailed every line when only days before he had avoided them. What’s more, he stood centre stage under that intense spotlight and he sang for us. For all of us. Yes, his voice cracked. It wavered. But right there, in front of a hundred people, he pushed through. He hit the high notes. In singing these duets, he learned it’s okay to trust another to help you reach that place you weren’t sure you could go. He leaned on a fellow student who probably was leaning on him too.
At the end of the night he was excited during the curtain call, torn between watching swirling stage lights while fake snow showered down and looking at the clapping and smiling crowd. Later, I asked him what it was like to stand on a stage with the cast and crew and take a bow while the audience was cheering. And that is when I knew it was right.
And then he gave his auntie the most encompassing hug I think I have ever seen. They hung there together those two, while everyone around them understood this was a moment.
The mainstream school system had been suffocating him, hurting his spirit by forcing him into a mould he was never going to fit into. Now he is growing, pushing, stretching. Becoming.
Our children might not bring GCSE A-stars to the party. But wow, they can show us a lot about life, love, support, humour, and determination.
We all have within us something to share.
We just need an environment flexible enough to let us grow, appropriate lighting and props, someone to help us find the beat, a patiently appreciative audience.
And, pa-rum-pum-pum-pum, most importantly, pa-rum-pum-pum-pum, we all need to believe that our truth is a gift to this world.