It was a freezing cold night in November 2003, and I was about halfway up the exceedingly steep stadium steps at Bridgeport Central High School when I noticed her. Though most of the occupants of our section were wearing at least one green garment, this particular parent had taken school spirit to a whole other level. For, in addition to the standard-issue band jacket (which was covered in patches of bowl-games gone by), she was wearing a green cap adorned with pins, photo buttons and green blinking lights. And if that wasn't tacky enough, she topped off the whole "Glamour Don't" ensemble with a green feather boa artfully draped around her neck. I noted the years 1998 and 2001 sewn onto the sleeve of her jacket, indicating that she was a "lifer," meaning an alumni parent who returns year after year, even though their kids have long since graduated. I nudged my husband and cocked my head in the direction of the overly-bedecked spectator, and we simultaneously rolled our eyes heavenward as if to say, please, Lord, don't let that happen to us.
But at that point in 2003, it was easy to be all judgmental about our prospective post-band parent futures, because we were newbies, still in the shell-shocked stage that began the previous spring, when a profusion of flyers announcing upcoming summer rehearsals and band camp dates started arriving in our mailbox, followed by weekly calls from our "band buddy," who reminded us to procure our kid's drill masters (ugly marching shoes), spandex, dot books, and other assorted equipment we'd never heard of in our lives.
As new band parents, we quickly learned that just because the schedule says that rehearsal ends at eight, eight was really just a ballpark figure. So if I wanted to get home in time to watch the live finale of "Dancing with the Stars," I'd be forced to wait, for example, until the trombones quit clowning around in set 64.
And as marching band parents, we also found that we could no longer socialize like normal people. Friends whose kids were not in the band would look at us funny when they would ask us to go out to dinner and I'd beg off, saying things like, "No can do. We have a performance at Brien McMahon, and then we're parking cars at the boat show, and after that, picking up garbage at the Oyster Fest. Nope, October's not working for us either. There's the show in Trumbull and then a competition in Syracuse..."
Though I initially resisted (I mean, who looks good in green?), items known as "band wear" gradually began finding their way into my wardrobe. And truthfully, it wasn't long before the Marching Bears found their way into my heart.
Yes, there were the endless meetings, fundraisers, schlepping, donating and giving up all pretenses of a regular social life. But all of those inconveniences were forgotten every Saturday night, when I'd watch our kids making beautiful music while marching and dancing to intricate choreography in front of hundreds, and sometimes, thousands of appreciative fans, frequently winning the first place trophy, which of course I believed they deserved every time.
Time marched on, so to speak, and seven years later, when our second son graduated high school, my husband and I were officially released of our band parent duties. No more instruments, mouth pieces and neck straps strewn all over the house. No more late-night carpooling, committee meetings and bake sales. No more sitting in the bleachers in the heat, the rain, the cold, and oh, did I mention the rain? That's right, we were through.
Or so I thought, until a few weeks ago, when I received an email urgently requesting alumni attendance at the upcoming championships. The band had been greatly affected by Hurricane Sandy, and every green body was needed for support.
So on Saturday night, Nov. 10, I was back in the stands, dining on a hotdog of indeterminate heritage, and cheering my head off for the Marching Bears.
As they had in the past, the kids blew me away, and at the end of the night, their show, "Gypsy Caravan," was deemed No. 1 by fans and judges alike. And later on, during "circle" (a tradition where the winning band plays a private encore for family and friends), I struck up a conversation with a couple of newbie parents, and offered to take a picture of them posing with their son, who was proudly hoisting up his tenor sax.
"So, which child is yours?" the slightly confused freshman mom asked, noting the past years of 2007 and 2010 sewn onto my sleeve.
"Well, I guess you can say that they're all mine," I answered truthfully, and at that moment, I realized that I had morphed into the very lifer I had made fun of long ago (minus the boa). I hung around a few more minutes in order to hear the kids enthusiastically recite their traditional chant: "Feet?" "Together!" " Shoulders?" "Back!" "Chin?" "Up!" " Eyes?" "With pride!"
By the time I returned home, the rich melodies and exotic scales from the band's beautiful performance were still reverberating in my brain. I removed my green jacket, and as I gingerly crept down the stairs to return it to the basement, I began silently chanting the inventory of my now-older alumni-parent body parts: "Neck?" "Stiff!" "Back?" "Sore!" "Knees?" "Aching!"
But when I got to the last part, nothing had changed. My eyes as ever, were filled with pride.
Layla Ann Silver is a freelance writer who would like to give a special shout out to the Norwalk High School Marching Bears-2012 Musical Arts Conference National Class Champions. She can be reached at email@example.com.