Dark doors

The other day my son asked me why he is so dark.

Immediately I said that it was a part of his personality. Maybe it is something that you could work on. Oh my, did he get that from me??

Then he said, “Not my personality mom, my skin.”

That was a few days after he took the Ancestry DNA test. I told him that we would find out soon. I also heard that the test could match you up with long lost relatives or maybe famous people.

Famous people? Then I got to thinking some more.

Why are my oldest two kids freakishly talented at music? This past weekend my son made it to state as a junior for his graduate level solo and ensemble piece along with 2 other pieces. My daughter was involved in a big singing competition, made it to a difficult level, and earned the opportunity to sing for a big opera star. She was invited to compete at an event in Boston. So far they are the only sibling duo to receive perfect scores at state for music in their high school.

There aren’t any professional musicians in the family. No one had a garage band. Not even one music teacher. Just a haphazard bunch that played an instrument for awhile or sang in the church choir.

Was it because of the early childhood piano lessons? The family involvement in community theater?

This got me thinking some more…

Maybe Paul’s real father is Jim Morrison from The Doors. It makes sense. It was the 60’s and Morrison was alive back then. So it has some face validity. Talking about his face, my son does resemble him a little. They have the exact same scowl.

But, if Paul’s dad is a rock star…why did his mother fail to mention that? This is where my theory gets a little tricky.

I guess we’ll have to wait for the Ancestry DNA results to come back.

What if we find out who Paul’s father is? What do we do with that information? Maybe Paul has siblings? Or a hefty inheritance that no one has claimed?

Or maybe we are cracking open the door to Pandora’s box.

 

Thailand, Day 6

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We started off day 6 by hiking through Hellfire Pass.

This was the actual location that the POW’s from WWII and general laborers from Burma worked day and night to build a railroad through rocks and jungle. They were forced to work very long hours with very little sleep or supplies. If the men were too sick to work, they did not get fed at all in the attempt to get them back to work. Many men got sick with various serious ailments due to the harsh conditions. Many died of starvation.

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The workers were treated poorly and punished severely if they didn’t work fast enough. One hundred thousand people lost their lives building the railroad. The fires lit at night made the workers think of hell, hence the name Hellfire Pass.

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We took a train ride on a part of the Death Railroad that was still in use. We left the train and explored a cave that was set up as a medical aid station during the war. A shrine is set up there now. If you explore the cave past the shrine, there are a lot of bats in it.

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We stopped at a waterfall. It was a slippery climb, but I didn’t see anyone fall.

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In the afternoon, we visited the elephants. This was not included in the trip. It used to be included as an option, but the tour company got flooded with complaints saying that it wasn’t humane to ride an elephant. Unfortunately, the elephants survival depends on tourists dollars.

Many years ago the elephants were not treated humanely. They were given amphetamines to work long hours clearing brush and doing heavy lifting. After this was outlawed, the elephants could not be released into the wild. They would die. They created a sanctuary for these elephants and their families. Tourists can go to the sanctuary and pay to feed the elephants. Or they can ride the elephants, go on a river cruise, and swim with the elephants.

I was very nervous about riding an elephant at first. Look at them! They are huge. I was worried about falling off. The little seat on top of the elephant was held up by a couple of ropes that I was concerned wouldn’t hold our combined weight. Going up and down hills, I felt like I was falling. It was big time out of my comfort zone, but I decided to do it anyway.

After riding the elephant, we took a ride on a bamboo raft up the River Kwai. On the way back down, we jumped in the water and floated down the river. I couldn’t see or feel the bottom with my feet. When we got back, the elephants were waiting for us in the river. I had a hard time standing up as the current was fairly strong and the rocks under our feet were sharp. The elephants themselves are very gentle but whiskery with rough skin. They were only soft on the tip of their trunk.

I was a little nervous in the water too just from the sheer size of the elephants. Paul had an elephant fall in love with him. The elephant kept touching his bald head with her trunk. They gazed into each other’s eyes. Animals love him. The elephant seemed to sense my nervousness.

It certainly was a remarkable experience. I’m really happy I decided to go there.

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There are a few elephants that live in the wild. Some people on our tour bus saw one as we were driving through the jungle.

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We stopped on the way back to see some wild monkeys that were fed leftover food from the market.

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We were not allowed to touch the monkeys. The tour guide had to close the doors on the bus so they wouldn’t get inside and raid our food. It was unbelievable seeing hundreds of monkeys out in the open so close that I could touch them.

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We arrived back at the hotel in the evening and decided to eat outdoors at the romantic table. It was gorgeous outside. The average high temps were in the 90’s and it didn’t rain once the whole time we were in Thailand.

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Nearby was a table with a large extended family. Two little girls from their table danced to American music that played through the speakers. Either we didn’t hear any music at all or it was remade American hits from a few years back made into elevator music sung by a mediocre female singer. She even sang a song by Nine Inch Nails elevator style. I wonder if they even understood the words. I don’t specifically recall hearing any Thai music on our whole trip. I thought that was rather odd.

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Today was our favorite day of the trip.

Notes on music

Things went well this past weekend with my daughter Angel’s singing competition. She made it to the semi-finals. Although she didn’t make it to the final round, she was satisfied with her performance. Being satisfied with her performance was big. She is like her mother and tends to cut herself down if she makes mistakes. Plus earlier in the week she told me that she wasn’t doing it. She had tonsillitis and was not able to practice much.

We didn’t run into any of her previous stalkers on campus which was a plus. The biggest problem she encountered was on her way there. Her map wasn’t working on her phone and she got lost. I had to find her on my phone’s map and give her directions from where I thought she was which was no easy task in the dark in a strange town.

I checked into the hotel a long time before she arrived. I checked in at the same time as her singing professor whom I greeted in a very friendly manner. He didn’t recognize me and I was hoping that he didn’t think I was a lady of the night.

 

We ended up eating supper after 9 PM. It was great watching Angel perform. I think the visit will tide her over until she comes home at Thanksgiving. This is the longest she has been away from home and she was starting to feel homesick.

Then Paul and I returned back to the same college yesterday with Alex for a campus tour. His girlfriend also attended the tour. Alex and Baylee have been dating for almost a year and a half. They have been talking about going to the same college. We think that if they go to the same school they might get married someday.. Time will tell. I thought that Angel and Mitch would marry, but they broke up this year.

Alex wants to go to school for saxophone performance or possibly jazz studies. My oldest two children want to or are going to school for music performance and don’t want to be educators.. There will always be a spot open for them in my basement.. Although very talented, the likelihood of them both having a successful career as performers is slim. I always like it when people ask me what their backup plan is…My basement, that is their backup plan.

I remember when I bought Alex his saxophone. I bought the instrument used for half the price of a new one. New saxophones are pricey and I didn’t want it to end up collecting dust on the shelf after high school ended.

I went to a stranger’s house to purchase the instrument. She kept all of the receipts. She told me that her son lost interest in band. A few months after I purchased the instrument for my son, her son committed suicide. It was a strange feeling. Was the selling of his instrument a warning sign that he was losing interest in his hobbies? It was very sad. My son asked me afterwards if I bought the instrument from the boy that died. I did not lie.

I was afraid that my son would find playing the instrument distasteful after that, but he brought the instrument to life. Many years later, my son wants to take this instrument with him far into his future. I want the previous owners to know that this instrument that once belonged to their only son did not end up on a shelf somewhere. But maybe through it a small piece of his life is carrying on…

 

The little waves that rock my boat

I don’t feel much like writing today. I have been feeling somewhat down and unsettled lately. I’m not even sure why.

Why does it seem that when I lack motivation the normal everyday things seem twice as hard to do and half as enjoyable?

The weekend started out good. Friday night I fell asleep watching a movie. Apparently my body’s idea of relaxing is falling asleep. I also argued with my son that he needed to spend the night at home instead of at his friend’s since he was performing at state the next day.

Saturday my son performed wonderfully by playing a very difficult band solo at state and receiving a perfect score. After playing, the judge asked him if he thought about music as a future career.

It wouldn’t be our first child to receive a perfect score at state and decide to go into music. Oh, just what I need two unemployment musicians living in our basement. I did my part of trying to talk them out of it..LOL. It’s exciting to see them perform, to see where it might take them..

Then there is child number 3. She dropped out of band this year. She is starting to feel pressure from everyone to live up to her siblings’ success in music. She laments over being average.

Friday night I called my mom to see if she was going to watch Alex at state. Of course, the day before is too early to tell which way the wind is blowing and make a decision about whether or not to go. When I called my mom she was in crisis mode. Someone new is working at the group home and neglected to fill my brother’s prescription before he went home for the weekend. My mom went to pick Matt up and was notified of this 5 minutes before the pharmacy closed.

My mom did end up going along to state. She was my back up recorder of the performance. Good thing since my phone crapped out and decided not to record anymore after about a minute. I wanted to take my son’s instrument and smash my phone but that would be rather distracting.

After Alex performed at state, we decided to take him out to eat at the restaurant of his choice. We had a group going including Alex, our youngest Arabella, my husband Paul, his step-dad Darryl, my mom, and the accompanist. For our large group, we had to wait awhile for our table. My mom left right away stating she had to give Matt his medication and feed him. We all wanted her to stay. But no one else could take care of Matt like she can, not even my dad who stayed home with Matt, so she left.

I felt a little sad that she left. I watched Darryl and the accompanist laugh and have fun and thought that it should be my mom too. She shouldn’t be tied down for life.

Maybe that is the point that everything ended for me.

I felt hurt that my mom left. I took everything personally that people said to me.

My husband and son teased me about hanging towels on the clothes line. They don’t like their towels stiff, but I do. I was probably overreacting, but their comments upset me. It made me feel unappreciated. I felt like they wanted me to change the way I do things which I refuse to do. I find myself to be just as stubborn, stiff, and unbending as the towels.

Things spiraled down from there.

It is hard to live in a house where everyone knows my weaknesses. I am a bit of a control freak. I already told you that I have this ‘rule’ to turn the lights off in every room after I leave it. Sometimes people will do things to bother me like leave the lights on in an empty room or turn the lights on after I turn them off.

Why should I be allowed to control the lights in a house other people live in?

How can I remain calm in life’s big storms and still let little waves rock my boat?

It’s ridiculous I know…The meaningless things that I do to feel like I have an iota of control over my life. My crazy rules helped me through times of chaos and discord. I can’t seem to let go now even though I don’t need them anymore. Taking the little bit of control I have away from me or complaining about the stubborn way I do things really bothers me.

Who wouldn’t like a lady with a laundry fetish?

What they don’t realize is when they take my security blanket of control away from me I feel like I am once again that frightened little girl. No one seems to understand. I barely understand it myself.

Will I let my relationships get wrecked over lights and laundry?? Probably not, I can’t even fathom why it would bother me so much.

 

My attempt to join a band

A couple of months ago, I ran into some acquaintances at a store whom I will call Ricky and Sherri. Since I have known Ricky, he has been in a band. He is ruggedly handsome in a rock and roll way with long stringy dark blonde hair. He dresses mainly in worn jeans and leather with rock shirts. I would describe his wife Sherri as a free spirit. I wouldn’t describe her as beautiful, but as unique. She always did different things with her hair like put pink streaks in it. She was happy and carefree.

I ran into Sherri first at the store. She told me that the band her husband was in might be breaking up. She said that he was thinking about starting a new band. When Ricky came over, I told him that if he needed a female singer in his new band to keep me in mind. I figured, why not? I like his style of music, plus I still have being a singer in a band on my bucket list. After I said this, Ricky stopped making eye contact. He mumbled something that sounded like sure, but seemed to be distracted. I mentioned something about his strange behavior to my husband when I got home.

Now I am going to rewind back in time a few more years, back to when I first met Ricky and Sherri. For a brief period of time, we were in the same social group that was lead by a relative of Sherri by the name of Roxanne. We were invited into the group because we had the mutual friends of Jerry and Anna. Roxanne was beautiful, educated, and very wild.

We started hanging around with this group right around the time that my oldest child was old enough to babysit. It was the first taste of freedom that I probably ever felt. This is pretty sad, but I never went to one single college party. I totally missed the college party scene altogether. I always had to be perfect and responsible. 

Not anymore!

Paul and I started going to the parties that Roxanne threw. She threw big theme parties where everyone dressed in character. One year she had a pirate party, etc.. Ricky played guitar in their band. I loved the music! They would party all night. Eventually, the cops would come because of noise complaints. But they had an in with the local police, so the parties were never shut down. All the neighbors were invited, but not everyone went. People camped out in tents and campers. The parties attracted the well educated and even a few local celebrities. 

It was like playing with fire with this group. If you got too close, you were likely to get burned.  

The parties always involved very heavy drinking. If you were seen without a drink in your hand, you were given one. Roxanne even had a stripper pole at her house! She arranged girls trips to places including New Orleans during Mardi Gras.. I thought that a lot of things they did were exciting, but risky and dangerous. 

Their lifestyle seemed attractive at first. I can’t stand being friends with someone that I find boring, but this group was taking it to the opposite extreme. I found their behavior to be shocking. I like fun and excitement as much as the next person, but I find it in different ways. I like running marathons, sailing on the open water, and mastering tricky jigsaw puzzles (OK, that one is boring!!). They found fun by drinking to the point that they forgot everything that happened the night before. That is not my kind of fun! They seemed to find value in shocking people. They made me feel boring.  

I saw happily married couples making out with other people. Fights broke out. I watched the group edge closer and closer to the fire from a distance. Some of them got burned. Then some of the marriages started breaking up. Jerry and Anna broke up. Since Jerry was our friend, we were no longer a part of this group because Anna was staying. No hard feelings. For awhile I did miss the excitement of this group that I never fully belonged to.

Back to a couple of months ago, I considered for a moment whether I wanted to play with fire again by getting involved with Ricky’s band. I figured it was a long shot anyway. Then a couple of weeks after meeting with Ricky and Sherri in the store, their 20 plus year marriage fell apart. Ricky ran off with a band groupie. That explained his odd behavior! I should really unfriend Ricky on facebook, but once again I am drawn in by the fire……the gossip, the fights, the shock value.  

Well, there goes my attempt to join a band. I guess I will just stick to community theater! There is never any drama there (**eye roll**)! More on that tomorrow…

Acting like everything is alright 

I am sorry things did not go according to your plan. When you asked me why God did this to you, I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to fix things for you. I wanted to make you happy again. Instead I just listened. I asked when you would rather know, now or later. Maybe God has a better plan that we just can’t see right now.

You said that you were a great actress. You went to play practice with a smile on your face. Then you came home and cried. The odds weren’t in your favor this time. Out of the hundreds of talented kids that auditioned, you weren’t in the handful of those selected for the musical theater program at the college you will be attending. You cried even more when your brother told you that they didn’t know what they were missing. 

The truth is that your musical theater talents are lopsided. You are a phenomenal singer, great actress, and below average dancer. Even though you have the shape of a dancer, your body fails you. I am so sorry that you seem to have my lack of gracefulness. 

I was the little girl that they laughed at during the dance recital because I danced to a different beat then everyone else. I was the scrawny little kid that was always picked last on the team. I was the little girl that had to do extra credit to pass gym class. I had to write about sports because I couldn’t do them. While other kids could do flips and splits, I remained rigid, tight, and inflexible. Why do you think I am a runner? It requires grit, the only thing I have.

There is one gift that I am happy to have passed on to you, your voice. When you sing, people feel the emotions you are singing about. A happy song puts everyone in a good mood. A sad song can change the audiences laughter to tears in a few sweeping moments. When you auditioned for the vocal performance program, they complimented you on your voice and told you that they wanted you. I know that you will find a home there. 

I know it is hard right now. You have been eating, drinking, and sleeping musicals for so long. I am impressed with your optimism despite a few minor road blocks. 

It does not mean that you can never audition for musicals in the big cities. This is your journey now and I am excited to see where it takes you.

Competing events

Today all of my kids competed. I felt just as nervous as if I was competing.

Not only were all three of my kids competing in solo and ensemble, but my youngest daughter Arabella had an additional altogether different competition at a different school. This week I attended the mandatory parent meeting for Arabella’s competition. The leader told the group that anyone with a failing grade would not be able to compete. It was at this point that I leaned over to my daughter’s coach (one of my best friends) and said good thing they weren’t talking about my child. They were talking about my daughter! WTH??  I raced home to find out that she was failing choir (really, choir???!?) because she didn’t turn in an assignment when she was out of school getting her braces on. So I never did sign up that night to help out.

A couple days later I received a nasty call because I never signed up to volunteer at the event. The leader wanted me to help with concessions between 10 and 11. I said no. Between my kids, they were signed up for 11 S&E events. I was not even going to be able to be there for Arabella’s competition because my other two kids were competing at similar times. Paul was going to go. I was not going to drop seeing my kids events because someone was stupid enough to double schedule this event with S&E. She told me that if I didn’t help out that they were not going to do this in the future. I reiterated that I was not going to help from 10 to 11, mentioned all the times I did my fair share, and offered to help clean up after the award ceremony.

Then later this week right before S&E, Arabella told me that she broke her instrument. Ok, sure. What next? It was already crazy enough having to be at two different places at the same time!

Last night I set my alarm for 5:40 AM to get up in time for the show. I have never been so thankful for waking up early on a Saturday morning before. Especially since I accidently set the alarm for 5:40 PM. That could have been disasterous!

Arabella performed her two pieces first so she could leave for her other competition. Her band duet was horrible. Apparently her friend was playing french horn out of a trumpet book and the instruments were in 2 different keys. So it sounded like they were playing two different clashing songs. They took a 2nd on their class C. She also took a 2nd on her choir piece. Not too bad for as bad as the band piece sounded. Alex took a 2nd on his band piece as well.

As usual, Angelique stole the show. All 8 of her choir pieces made it to state. I can usually tell it’s good if the worst comment the judges make is on where to take breaths. She better be good since she wants to go into vocal performance as a career! Last year all of her pieces made it to state. She took all firsts at state and received an exemplary award. One of the best things a judge said was that her happy attitude was contagious.

Then I made it back to Arabella’s competition just in time for the award ceremony. Her team did not make it to state this year. Oh well, they had fun anyway. Then I stayed after to clean up. I came home tonight pretty exhausted. Almost like I ran a marathon. Lol.   

All in all, the day ended on a good note.

Autism’s sibling, journal 2, part 4

I was my mother’s best friend. Before I was a teenager, I knew about every problem in the house. I helped solve them. I heard about financial concerns, marital problems, parenting issues, and autism galore. My advice was sought. I fixed things. After my dad checked out emotionally, it was like I became the other parent. I was never allowed to be the child. My mom had a hard time making and keeping friends because Matt’s violent behavior scared them away. He scared away many of my friends too, so I really couldn’t blame her.

So I deliberately planned that when I became a parent, I would allow my children to be children. They were never going to hear about my adult problems or issues. In fact, I haven’t told my children much about my childhood at all. I only told my oldest daughter about this blog since she is almost an adult and is old enough to know. Maybe someday when I am ready and they are old enough, my other children will be told.

My mom had a really hard time without the support of my dad and a few close friends. She often times would cry while listening to Christian music as she was driving. Sometimes she would do this while I had friends in the car. It embarrassed me to the point that I really disliked Christian music or relaxing piano music that would cause an eruption of tears from my mother.

Once my mother took my brothers and I to a Christian concert when we were little. She cried almost the whole time. We were bored and screwed around to the point that she had to leave the concert early. She was so angry and upset with us that she cried most of the way home. I wish she had some friends that she could have enjoyed the night away with.

Now I like some music that I wouldn’t want my kids to listen too. Music that is angry, dark, or downright nasty. Music that modern day teens might like and not an old lady like me. Sometimes my kids will test me. Bet you don’t know that song. Yes, it is Eminem singing ‘Till I Collapse (good running song by the way). Wow, I am such a cool mom. With the bass cranking out of my window, you would think that my daughter would be happy with me dropping her off right outside of the middle school. But, alas, I am an embarrassment. Sometimes I even embarrass myself.

Grace uncommon, part 14

When I was a young girl, some of my best memories were of times spent with Aunt Grace. She would take me on bus trips to see musicals. Sometimes she would let me bring along a friend or my mom and grandma would go. I would stay overnight at Grace’s house the night before. I would always end the evening with a bubble bath. Then we were up before dawn to catch the bus.

One of the first shows that I remember seeing was Hello Dolly in Chicago. I don’t remember a lot about the show. Grace was excited that Mickey Rooney was in it. Plus the main female actress was rather old, maybe around 80. I don’t remember her age…I could be way off. What was old to me then is a lot different than what is old to me now. Heck, she could have been 40 but I don’t think so. Grace was excited that the female lead could do the splits and dance with the energy of a young adult. I remember being in awe of that too since I couldn’t dance, much less do the splits as a little girl.

Then Grace took me on a bus trip to see Oklahoma at the Fireside Theater in Fort Atkinson. I remember the meal before the show. Grace let me sit at the head of the table in a big theatrical wicker chair. They brought food out to the table that was on fire. I remember little of the show.

The next show that we were supposed to see, we didn’t end up going to. We were hit by a big snowstorm the night before and couldn’t go. I was so disappointed. Not long after that, Grace took me to see Annie at a local high school. Then she bought orange material and sewed me an Annie dress which unfortunately I did not wear that much.

When I was an adult, she still wanted to see shows. We watched Cats, The Phantom of the Opera, and Miss Saigon. I remember glancing over at Grace during the opening scene of Miss Saigon when the women came out on stage in thongs. I thought that she would be appalled, but she loved the show.

I think that all of those good memories prompted me to get on stage despite my shyness. When Grace found out that I could sing, she always asked me to sing songs in church. Then I started to audition for musicals at the local community theater. The first musical that I auditioned for, I took my daughter Angelique to audition as well when she was 8 years old. She has been singing and acting ever since.

The last couple of weekends, Angel has been auditioning for college and a summer performing job. She picked her college and auditioned for both the musical theater and vocal performance programs. The vocal performance program accepted her on the spot. We are still anxiously waiting to hear back from the musical theater program and the summer job which are much more competitive.

I feel that Aunt Grace was very instrumental in my love for the theater. This appreciation was passed down to Angel. I love the way that family blessings have a way of trickling down through the generations. Sometimes you never know the effect that you have on other people. Sometimes I wonder what my grandchildren will be like. Or I ponder over how different my life would be if I never had someone special like Aunt Grace in my life.

 

Encouraging “notes”

Yesterday my daughter and I received a hand written thank you note in the mail from someone that we know, however not someone that we know well.

I wanted to let you know how much we enjoyed hearing you sing on Christmas Eve. You have such beautiful voices, and we are so blessed that you are willing to share them with our congregation. God has truly blessed you both with an amazing gift. We hope you continue to bless us by sharing it with us-OFTEN!

Where were you 25 years ago??? I really could have used your words of encouragement then. For some reason my choir teacher hated me. I am not even sure why. My opinion was that once again it had everything to do with having an autistic brother. There were some teachers that looked down upon my family as if my brother’s autism was caused by poor parenting. This teacher always had a smile on her face. Maybe she hated me because I was always down. Maybe it was because I had a hard time smiling back because my home life turned my smile into a frown.

There was that time that I tried out for cheerleading when this choir teacher was the judge of who made the team and who didn’t. On the day of tryouts, I was at home sick with the flu. The teacher said that being sick was no exception. So my mom took me to school with a fever so I could try out. I was the only one that didn’t make the team. Then I lost some friends because the cheerleaders became the popular girls. I was so sad when I saw everyone’s name posted on the wall except for mine.

Then I was homeschooled between 8th and 10th grade. It was during that time that I sang a song for my mom and convinced her to sign me up for singing lessons. I had singing lessons for a couple of months. I didn’t really like the songs that I sang because I thought that they were babyish. After a couple of months of practice, we had a recital. I got up on the stage by myself in front of a lot of people and froze. Barely a whisper came out. My mom didn’t sign me up for singing lessons after that. I thought to myself that I was a failure.

When I went back to school as a junior, I was behind in so many things. I was far behind in sports. I didn’t join band because taking three years off from playing the flute put me way behind the other kids. I did join the choir. I tried to perform a solo and ensemble piece, however after singing through it twice the choir teacher said that it wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t good enough. What I really wanted more than anything was to join jazz choir but I didn’t even bother trying out because I knew from experience that I wouldn’t make it if that teacher was the deciding factor. Once I got to college I wanted to join the choir but didn’t because I thought that I wasn’t good enough despite being able to sight read music and having a 3 octave range.

A few years back at my high school class reunion, we had karaoke. After I sang several songs, I was approached by the spouse of a classmate who said, “I bet that you were the star choir student in high school.” I hated my choir teacher at that very moment. I allowed her to steal my gift.

Even though I felt hatred for that teacher, I have to look at myself. Am I any different?? Do I give words of praise and encouragement? Or do I condemn and criticize? I can tell you that I am not where I need to be either.

This year I want to be more encouraging. I am going to look for someone to thank with a hand written note for doing something that everyone else overlooks.