For days, I dreaded it. Not some Serious Doctor Appointment. Not a new form of therapy. Not a trip to the dentist. No, I was dreading Max's class trip to a local theater to see a musical production of The Magic School Bus.
Max has never in his life sat through a performance in a theater, not even for the movie Cars 2 (for that, we went to a drive-in and even then he freaked out). And so, I knew he was going to get upset about the play even though for weeks we'd talked about it. And I knew I'd get upset that he was getting upset. These sorts of situations generally leave both of us feeling Not Good.
The day, however, started off with pure, unadulterated glee. When I walked into Max's class, he laughed so hard I thought he'd cry. It's what he does when he's ecstatic. And then, joy of joys, he got to ride a school bus with me sitting beside him and his best friend C in the seat in front of us.
At the theater, a lot of classes from other schools were milling around the entrance. Max made it into the lobby before he started shaking his head and saying "Noooooooo."
"It'll be fun, Max—Mommy's here!" I said, and I gently tugged him into the theater. Happily, the last two rows were reserved for his school. I grabbed a seat at the end of a row and pulled Max onto my lap. He began to whimper-wail and generally look terrified. I bear-hugged him. For once, I wanted him to watch a real, live play. If he could just see what it was about, maybe he'd like it.
Minutes went by and Max wasn't letting up, no matter what I said. I offered my iPhone to play with. Not interested. As I sat there—tense, upset and feeling like a child abuser—I had an epiphany. I could a) keep getting uptight about the wailing and the general situation; or b) decide that I wasn't going to react to it.
I went with Plan B. If Max continued to wig out after the thing started, we'd head to the lobby. But I couldn't leave before it began because there was no way he'd return to a darkened auditorium. Sitting it out seemed like the best choice.
The minutes passed slooooowly. I thought about lemon cupcakes I wanted to make (I have a thing for cupcake blogs). I held Max tight and pictured myself mixing the batter with the kids. I felt calmer. Max sniffled and looked warily toward the stage.
"Do you want to take him outside?" his teacher asked, right as I was decorating the cupcakes with pale-yellow buttercream frosting. (Disclaimer: I'm a far better baker in my imagination than I am in real life.)
"No," I said, firmly. "I'm going to see what happens when this starts."
"Do you have headphones?" she asked.
At which point it became very clear: I am so the opposite of a perfect parent. Because I'd totally forgotten Max's noise-blocking headphones. (Which actually would have been very effective for me.)
Another kid in his class wasn't using hers and we borrowed them. Very quickly, Max calmed down. Then at last, the lights dimmed and the play started.
Max watched, mesmerized. I spent most of the play watching him and doing a happy dance inside my heart. Once in a while I'd lift up up one side of the headphones so he could hear the music.
Max quietly sat through the entire one-hour performance. He walked out with a huge smile on his face.
I was so proud of him.
I was proud of me, too.