I write about memorable experiences that were touched by a song that made it special. It has been over a year since my last entry, but I’m back with a full head of steam. Future blogs entries will vary in size, but my goal is to post something at least once a month.
This entry is about a moment a few weeks ago where my 16 year old son made my whole life. Not my moment, not my day or year, but my whole life. It references my original song, “Start Over Again.”
To get the full effect of how the song made the experience more meaningful, as you read you will see a link to the song like the one above. When you come to it, please click on the link. After it opens in a new window, just click back to the story and read while you listen. Enjoy.
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April 23, 2015
I’ve been participating in the 21-day Gratitude Challenge on facebook, and had gotten up to Day 20, then just quit. “Life” was happening as it always does, and I was getting away from my writing (again), and don’t want to let that happen anymore.
Though there were a lot of things that have happened since Day 19, there was one thing that stood out two weeks ago where my son, Jason, made my whole life. Not just my day, month or year, but my whole life, and I have 400 witnesses to it! Seeing him dressed to the nines in his tuxedo for high school prom (so grown up!) runs a close second, but what happened two weeks ago tops it all. Now when I talk about my son making my whole life, of course childbirth and watching him grow up has made my whole life too, but this was certainly something that brought our relationship to a whole new level in this teenage era of his life, and the single Mom era of mine. We have been going through the terrible teen years, and my son and I have been clashing for so long it was hard to remember what it was like to have a decent conversation with him when he wasn’t being sarcastic and hormonal.
We had to change schools over Christmas break, and life has not been easy, however things have been looking up since he started his new high school. He is flourishing in the Honors Chorus and ROTC program – he chose to join ROTC! He now shaves just about every other day, has gotten about 10 haircuts since December, took a girl to the high school prom, is a lot happier at his new school, and has also been a lot nicer to me. As he is maturing, it makes me very suspicious. All I do is wonder who he is, and what the heck did he do with my son? Every now and then he tells me I am a “Cool Mom,” but it is very rare and far and few between. It takes a lot to be a “Cool Mom” in his eyes, and nothing extraordinary has happened lately to achieve that status. I figure he’ll realize I have been cool all along one of these days, but don’t think it’s going to happen anytime soon.
Anyway, he was going to perform with his chorus at the opening of a Talent Expo at his high school a few weeks ago, and I had been asked by his Chorus Director to help Coach Jason’s classmates who were participating in the show. This show was not a competition per say; instead, it was a concert where kids who auditioned could have a chance at showcasing their talents to their peers and their parents. What a great idea! The Chorus Director had heard I was a performer, and asked me to mentor the kids, give them advice on performing and stage presence, talk to them about what to expect from life as an artist, and play them a song. Well, I hardly felt qualified for the position to mentor them as a coach as I’ve only been performing for a few years, and tried to talk him out of having me play because the program was to showcase the kids, not a 50 year old Folkslinger. He was insistent, so I said yes (under protest). I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
When I met these kids for the first time at rehearsal the day before the show, they blew me away. They are all such high energy, enthusiastic, positive, talented kids from all walks of life, and each and every one if them have beautiful souls. They sing beautifully, play guitar, dance, play piano, do karate demonstrations, say spoken word, etc, and yes, they literally blow me away. I felt like they should be giving me advice! I did manage to help them though with little things from confidence building, mic adjustment and placement, stage presence, annunciation, projection, to ensuring their instruments were clean and polished before their performance. These were things anyone with half a lick of experience could have helped them with, but I was chosen to be their mentor in a way, so I did my best to draw on that half a lick I thought I had to make it count.
At rehearsal, I was very passionate while talking with them about trying to maintain balance between staying in school, working to put food on the table, and not giving up on your music, even if you only get to play in your living room. Also touched on how we all share the common bond of music, and that we may get to a time in our lives now and then where we feel we need to leave our music to concentrate on other things, but our music will never leave us. Music can heal, bring you out of the darkness, and keep you going through some of life’s toughest times.
I covered some other bases, e.g. even though it may seem like someone is a better performer than you, we all need to embrace our own unique gifts and style, and make them stand out and shine. Also touched on the Pancake Analogy (being able to play on your own, re: my blog entry “Pancakes, Starting Over, and Sand Lake Moon here), and how you need to work hard and keep practicing no matter how hard it seems. There is always room for improvement. I really made sure though to emphasize that most of all, HAVE FUN!!! If it’s not fun, then what’s the point? They all agreed and seemed to appreciate me, and I didn’t want to let them down.
I reminded them that unfortunately, artists also need to work for a living until they make it to the big time, and sometimes work takes precedence over one’s social life, but I would do my best to make it there on time after work the next day. Well in my job, it always seems like work takes even more precedence when I don’t want to be there, and the next day, the night of the show, was no exception.
I’d asked my boss to get off work on time instead of having to work overtime as usual so I could go to Jason’s concert, but we got slammed and I had to stay late. I managed to get out of there around 6:30 pm, but had to go home first to change clothes and grab my guitar before going to the concert. I debated on wearing my brightly colored tie-dye shirt with a big red heart in the middle, or my more subtle blue raspberry tie-dye shirt (both from Mary & Mom Tie-Dye, my tie-dye of choice) with my signature jean jacket (my favorite!). I didn’t want to embarrass my son, but still wanted to be myself, so I opted for the subtle but pretty blue raspberry tie dye. It always seems to bring me luck.
When I got there, I was amazed at the size and the energy level of the crowd, which consisted of around 370 teenagers, and about 30 parents and teachers. Imagine a crowd in a packed football stadium when someone on their team scores and the crowd goes wild. Now reduce the crowd of about 80,000 down to about 400, but the noise level is still the same. That’s what it was like. This was high school, and teenagers have a lot of energy! It didn’t matter if the kid on stage made a mistake or froze; they cheered them on and supported them as if they were their favorite rock star. What a great confidence builder for these young talents! I didn’t hear one negative or jealous word out of their mouths at all, and it was so refreshing. The kids all gave great performances that were unique and memorable too. For instance, one girl sang, “Lean On Me” and the support from the crowd moved me so much I couldn’t help but turn on my cell phone “lighter” app and start waving it in the air like you would with a lighter at a rock concert. Next thing I knew, there were over 200 “lighters” in the auditorium waving back and forth to the music. This young girl had told me before she went on that she was incredibly nervous and afraid of forgetting her words, but I could see when the crowd started waving their “lighters,” to her song, she really got into it and finished her song with a bang, and the crowd went nuts! Wow. All that positive energy in the room helped make stress from work start to fade away, and I was finally able to focus on the magic that was happening right then. In between watching the kids perform, I made a point to go to each one afterwards to compliment them and give them a high-five, and they really seemed to appreciate it. The time seemed to fly by as each student showcased their incredible talents, and before I knew it, it was time for me to go on.
Click here to listen to “Start Over Again.”
I checked the tuning on Marty (my 12-string guitar), and after about 50 deep breaths, I got into the zone and said a silent prayer as I walked out on stage (God, please help me not let Jason and the kids down)… I had no reason to be nervous as they welcomed me with so much enthusiasm, but I still was. As I covered some of what I had talked about the night before with the students, I reemphasized most of all to HAVE FUN!!! Again, if it’s not fun, then what’s the point? Lastly, I touched upon singing, playing, e.g. performing and writing songs that are meaningful, and about Being The Change.
There are lots of simple songs that have their own level of greatness, such as, “She loves you” by the Beatles, and how they are all part of keeping music fun. I also spoke of how music can also be a huge part of Being The Change to make the world a better place. I wished for them to not be part of the problem with our world, but to please be part of the solution, and how they can change the world with music, one song at a time. Whether it’s singing or writing songs that stand up for human rights, environmental issues, or promoting peace, etc., I wanted them to please do something at least once during their life with a purpose that helps our part of our community, our nation, and our world. Singing, playing, or writing something that empowers someone and help them change their lives is a beautiful thing, and by doing so, we also empower ourselves! I used my song, “Start Over again” as an example. I perform the song a little different now than I used to by playing guitar a little while introducing it. As I softly picked the chords, I began to tell them the purpose behind the song.
Start Over Again is an empowering song about the legacy of the healing power of music passed down through the strong women in my family, which I am now passing along to my son. It also has an anti-domestic violence message. I wrote it for my Mother to help remind her to stay strong while she was going through chemo for breast cancer. I’d wanted her to remember how we had all gotten through some tough times in our lives together as a family despite living in a household filled with domestic violence and alcoholism, and if she could get through that, she could get through anything. Music had helped us all get through all if those dark times then, and throughout the rest of our lives. The song is about my Great Grandmother Goldie, my Mother, myself, and my son. It teaches when life knocks you down, how love and music will help give you enough strength to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, keep on going no matter how hard it gets, and start your life over again. As I finished the last sentence, the crowd cheered and clapped, then got real quiet. You could have heard a pin drop in that auditorium filled with 400 teenagers, and parents, including the most important person to me in the entire room. My son. A small microsecond anxiety attack ensued (breathe!) as I started to play, but there was no turning back .
Despite being nervous at a performance, I’m usually fine as soon as I start playing a song, but sometimes it takes half, if not a whole song to get over it, and then I’m on a roll. Well, that’s also when I’m playing a whole set, not just one song. In the back of my mind all I could think about was ‘what the heck had I gotten myself into? Those kids should have been giving me advice!’ As I began to play, sing and smile through it all, I was trying so hard not to be nervous that it made me even more nervous, and I tripped over a word. The kids must have sensed it I was nervous, because someone yelled out, “You got this, Miss Cindy!” and they all started clapping and cheering me on, just like they had done for their classmates. Their energy level was so high that it suddenly washed over me like a tidal wave, and it was like being baptized in a way. A sense of peace, love, joy and clarity came over me, and it was simply amazing! I’d never felt that kind of youthful, positive energy surging through me on that level before. As the crowd really started getting into it, I knew I was reaching at least a few of them, as I saw a few people wiping tears from their eyes. That was all it took, and before I knew it, I found myself improvising a little jam that came out of nowhere, and played that song like I’d never played it before.
Now Start Over Again is not typically a jamming song, but after the second verse comes a part in the bridge where I can really power strum, and it seemed with every strum, wave after wave of positive energy in that auditorium was washing over me, with Marty’s strings singing in my hands. As this was happening, all my fears of letting my son and the kids down dissolved in those waves, and every one of Marty’s 12 strings rang true like a bell while his tuners were reaching for the sky. In a way, I actually felt like Forrest Gump when he broke free of his leg braces while running away from those bullies in the movie. (Run, Forrest, Run!). My sense of purpose was renewed, and I was driven more than ever to play it for those meant to hear it, and to anyone who wanted to listen.
I played it for Goldie, my Mother, my son, my family, the kids, parents and teachers at the school, and for anyone who has ever gone through any trauma and pain from domestic violence, or struggles with any kind of oppression from abuse. It was for those who are still burning in the ashes, and for those who have risen from them and reclaimed their life. It was for children living in or leaving broken homes, and it prayed for change for the ones who break them. It was also for myself, to reach out to that little girl who was used to escape to a closet and play her Mother’s guitar to escape the “war” that my father raged on a daily basis. Lastly, it prayed for healing to all affected, and tells how one can break the circle of violence in their life and reclaim their life. As I was getting into the outro, the audience start to clap and cheer again, and it was at that very moment my son made my whole life.
Out of the blue, this deep, man’s voice from beyond (it was Jason’s!) boomed out from somewhere in the crowd and yelled,” THAT’S MY MAMA!!!”, and the crowd jumped to their feet and went crazy wild! It brought the whole house down. Everyone was clapping and cheering, stomping their feet, yelling, whooping and hollering, and it was like a surreal, out of body experience. It was an incredible, “had to be there” type of moment. My heart was full of love as I finished the song, and I looked out to the audience to see him happily cheering on his feet with his fists thrust in the air in a victorious stance, and he was yelling louder than all of them! With a huge smile on my face and grateful tears in my eyes, I blew him a kiss, and he stopped clapping long enough to give me a thumbs up and a big smile. As I took a bow and walked off stage, I was so far up on Cloud 9 I felt like I could have touched Heaven. Even now, it still brings me back up to the clouds like it were yesterday. It was the most unforgettable, meaningful performance of my life. By some miracle I ever play Carnegie Hall or a stadium filled with 80,000 fans, it could never top this. What more could any Mother, much less a peace lovin’, gun totin’ Folkslinger from the South ask for?
As I said before, there were a lot of things that have happened in my life since my last post I am grateful for, but when it comes to my son, and my life, this ranks up there just below childbirth. It is endearing, once in a lifetime moments such as this that help make our lives worth living. Jason still retreats to his room for hours on end (typical teenager), and his hormonal outbursts still make me want to voluntarily commit myself at the local Mental Health Resource Center, but things are a little easier between us for the time being. We will just keep working on the changing our world together, one day at a time, one song at a time. He actually wants to start working on a song with me he heard (wish me luck!), and even wants me to help him figure out the chords to a song he and a friend want to sing together. Imagine that. I feel perhaps we are rebuilding that bridge that was nearly torn down when his father left 5 years ago, and it is starting to feel good. Now if I could only get him to push my lawn mower over it, I’d be sittin’ pretty…
Drastic changes for the better have been made to preserve a sense of family between the both of us since he changed schools in December, and it is an arduous, continuous process. “Cool Mom” moments still only come far and few between, but as long as I stay focused on my son, everything else seems to fall into place right when and where it should be. Any “Cool Mom” moments that may come along the way are just gravy, baby.
In reflection, I’m glad I decided back in December to scale back playing out to once or twice a month to devote more time and energy to being here for him. A fellow “Cool Mom” singer-songwriter musician friend of mine told me that you can’t schedule a time with your teenager to talk to you. They need to know you are there for them, even when they’re in their room all the time. I never forgot that, and will give him as much time as he needs, whenever he needs it. I firmly believe the gift of time is one of the most precious gifts of all, and that gift is one of the best lifetime investments any parent can make in their children. It’s worth every wrinkle, every gray hair, and every second.
In conclusion, this “Cool Mom” moment at the school might be a fluke, but I hope it is the start of a new chapter in my relationship with my son. Even if it isn’t, I know he was proud of me, and at least for one night at his school (I’ve got 400 witnesses), I was a “Cool Mom” again. I’ll take it!
Glad I wore my blue raspberry tie-dye… 🙂
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If you like my story and song, please check out my website www.cindybearmusic.com I wish you peace, love, joy and music. Take care, 🙂 Cindy Bear