Sunday, April 17, 2011

Stage Parents

Hear the story read by the author.

In the town of Normal, Pennsylvania, there’s a little church at the corner of Wilson and Elm.  The choir director, Shane Reed, is dating Audra Park, a young, single mother and member of the choir.  One recent Friday Shane went to pick her up for a date.  When she answered the door, she was laughing so hard tears trickled out of the corners of her eyes.

“Is it the shirt?” Shane asked.  He had bought his shirt a week before after being encouraged by a perky salesgirl, but he had suspected her compliments might not have been entirely genuine.

“What?  No,” Audra said.  “Look.”  She gestured into the apartment.  Her six-year-old son Tyler was singing a classic rock song into a microphone as his babysitter, Katie O’Donnell, accompanied him on a plastic guitar.  Tyler mimicked the rock star gyrations of animated musicians on the TV.  “It’s a video game,” Audra said, observing Shane’s confused expression.

“Tyler’s got a good voice,” Shane mused.  It wasn’t surprising – Audra was one of the best vocalists in the choir.  Clearly the apple had landed near the tree.

“Yeah,” Audra agreed.  “And some pretty impressive dance moves.  Shall we go?”

Shane thought about Tyler’s voice on the drive to the restaurant.  He’d been looking for a way to bond with the boy since he and Audra started dating.  Over dessert he asked, “Do you think Tyler would be interested in joining a children’s choir?”

“I think that’s a great idea,” Audra said.  She’d also been looking for a way for her son and boyfriend to get closer.

Shane announced the children’s choir during the next church service, noting that he had posted a sign-up sheet for kids between the ages of four and twelve in the hall by the Sunday school rooms.  Audra added Tyler’s name as soon as service was over.  Tyler couldn’t understand why he would want to go to choir practice when there were perfectly good video games to be played at home, but being six he was forced to accede to his mom’s wishes.

Jill Boyer had not planned to sign her four-year-old daughter Mary up for the choir even though she was just inside the lower end of the age range.  Mary didn’t usually respond well to the “organized” part of organized activities.  But when Jill retrieved Mary from Sunday school, they passed Mary’s classmate Sierra and her father, Arthur, by the sign-up sheet.

“Would you like to be in a children’s choir?” Arthur was asking Sierra.

“Oh, yes, Daddy!” Sierra shouted, jumping up and down and clapping her hands with glee.  Arthur wrote her name below Tyler’s.

Mary saw this and asked, “Can I be in the choir, too?”

“It’ll be a great experience,” Arthur said as Jill considered her response.  “Sierra has a beautiful voice.  I know most children this age can’t really carry a tune, but I suspect Sierra might have perfect pitch.  I’ve been thinking I should get her a voice coach.  She could probably be a professional singer.”

Mary was tugging on Jill’s pant leg.  “Please, Mommy, can I be in the choir? Please, please, please, please…”

“Sure,” Jill said and snatched the pen from Arthur.  “I’ve always suspected you had perfect pitch, too.”

Of course Jill suspected no such thing.  But according to Arthur, Sierra was the most glorious little human being with whom God had blessed the world since the times of Jesus.  It got on Jill’s nerves.

Shane decided Easter would be a good opportunity for the children’s choir to make their debut.  He planned to have them sing that classic children’s Easter hymn, Morning Has Broken.

Shane had never conducted a children’s choir but he figured he could handle it.  After all, many of the adult choir members often behaved like children.  Sure, Arthur lobbied him to give Sierra a solo, but hardly an adult choir rehearsal went by without someone complaining about Shane’s choice of soloist.  And Arthur was easier to handle since Shane simply declared that there would be no solos in the children’s choir.

Of course none of the adult choir members had ever spilled juice on the sheet music, or broken into tears after skinning their knee, or started an eraser fight.  Mary did all of that in the first fifteen minutes of rehearsal. 

Shane had arranged the kids by height, the older and tallest kids in the middle of the back row, and the younger, shorter kids in the front row and to the sides.  Mary, being one of the shortest, was on the far left.  However, after the eraser fight, Shane decided to move her to the center.  He enlisted the girl directly behind her, twelve-year-old Becky Goodhart, to help keep Mary in line.  Shane’s plan worked for rehearsal, but was to have unintended consequences for the performance.

Unlike Mary, Tyler was quite well behaved all through rehearsal.  Which meant that by the time Audra arrived to pick him up, Shane realized he’d barely spoken to the boy.  His plan for bonding was not working out as he’d hoped.

On Easter morning, Mary talked excitedly about the impending performance all through breakfast.  Jill may have signed Mary up out of annoyance with Arthur, but now she was delighted by her daughter’s enthusiasm and commitment. After a thirty minute search, she located the family’s camcorder in Mary’s room where she had been using it to film a movie with her dolls.  Jill scraped a wad of gum off the camera and slipped it into her purse.  Maybe she would finally get some video of Mary that she could show the grandparents without having to edit out the embarrassing parts.

Arthur also planned to videotape Sierra.  This was no surprise to anyone.  Sierra’s short life to date was one of the most documented in the history of mankind.  Carefully labeled DVDs of Sierra occupied a whole shelf of the living room bookcase.  As the kids marched out to take their place for their performance, Arthur set up a tripod in the center aisle.

Jill had taken a spot on the opposite side of the aisle.  She hadn’t brought along a tripod, but she steadied her camera on the back of the pew in front of her.  A bit of gum she’d missed helped hold it in place.  And to her delight, Mary’s central position gave her a nice, unobstructed shot.

Sierra’s position at the far edge of the choir did not offer such a clear shot to Arthur.  He wondered what Shane was thinking putting the most talented vocalist off to the side like that.  “Sierra,” he hissed as the kids were lining up.  She looked over and he gestured for her to move toward the center.

Shane had not seen Arthur’s gesture and did not know why Sierra was leaving her assigned spot.  “Sierra,” he whispered, “get back to your place.”  Sierra returned to the edge of the choir.  Shane signaled organist Walter Tibble to begin.

Arthur glared at Shane’s back.  The man was clearly an idiot unqualified to lead a choir of dogs.  He motioned urgently for Sierra to move back toward the center.  Sierra was a little confused by the contradictory messages, but she obeyed her father’s latest instruction.  Shane tried to motion her back again, but the little girl’s gaze was fixed on her father.

Meanwhile, Jill had zoomed in for a close-up of Mary.  Her daughter looked like an angel.  This was uncommon – usually Mary seemed to represent the other team in the divine rivalry.  Suddenly, a carefully coifed head of hair topped by a pink bow filled the viewfinder.

Jill zoomed out.  Sierra had come to a stop directly in front of Mary.  Jill waved to get Mary’s attention.  Mary waved back.  Jill motioned for her to step out from behind Sierra.  Mary tried to obey, but Becky, ever alert to her mission, pulled Mary back into place.

Jill looked over at Arthur and hissed, “Would you please get your daughter to go back to her spot?”

“But I can’t see her way over there,” Arthur whispered back.

“Well, I can’t see Mary over your daughter’s head,” Jill replied.

“Then maybe your daughter should move,” Arthur snapped.

“Maybe your daughter should learn to cooperate with others,” Jill shot back.

“Mommy, shh!” Mary shouted from the front.  “We’re singing.”

The congregation laughed.  Jill flushed with embarrassment.  Arthur gloated until Shane took Sierra’s arm and guided her back to her proper place.

The children finished their song without further incident.  As they walked off, Sierra and Mary held hands.  Jill was proud to show the video of the performance to the grandparents, but only after editing out the part where Mary had shushed her.

After service was over, Shane noticed Tyler going up to the youth group room.  He followed and found Tyler playing a football game on the youth group’s video game system.  “Can I play, too?” Shane asked.

“Sure,” Tyler said.  They spent the next hour bonding.  When the game was over, Shane was quite happy, even though he lost seventy-three to fourteen.