A Tale of Two Concerts

Ryan's spring concert
If this photo was any good at all, you could see there was no distress on Ryan’s face. But, you’ll just have to take my word for it.

It was spring concert week for us this week as both kids were set to perform with their respective school choirs. Riley was up first on Tuesday, with Ryan following on Thursday. The contrast in how those two evenings went for Ryan reveals a lot about how he deals with one of his least favorite issues: waiting.

We always have a plan for these events. With Ryan, it’s important to minimize the time he has to wait around. A lot of times that means taking separate cars, and carefully planning arrival and departure times. Only Tuesday, there was some confusion as to the order of the performances. So even though Veronica took Riley early, there was still almost an hour to wait for her part of the show by the time Ryan and I arrived.

He hung in for the first part of the wait, complaining every few minutes. But as it lengthened, he got progressively more upset. A couple of times he slapped his hands in frustration and complained loudly. We used all the usual tools: Take a walk, go to the bathroom, play with my iPhone — but they did little to distract him.

He kept it together just enough to get through Riley’s performance and then he and I bolted out the side door of the auditorium the moment it ended, while Veronica waited to collect her.

Thursday night, it was Ryan’s turn to perform. Drop off time was 6:30, with the concert beginning at 7. Except Ryan’s part wasn’t first. By the time Ryan came on stage he had been waiting with his classmates for more than an hour.

Now, we couldn’t see or hear what went on in the cafeteria while he waited. But had he been as exasperated as he was on Tuesday, it would have been written all over his face. Instead, he calmly walked out with a smile, took his place in the risers, and belted out his parts with enthusiasm.

So why was one wait intolerable while the other wasn’t even a mild annoyance? There are a couple of factors at work. For one, the first wait was unexpected, and of an uncertain length, while the second stuck pretty much to the prescribed schedule.

Another reason is that Ryan’s concert took place at his school, in front of his classmates and teachers. He cares very much about how he behaves in school, but it is completely compartmentalized. He will do everything in his power to keep his emotions in check at school, but the second he steps foot outside at the end of the day, all bets are off.

Ryan was not concerned how his behavior was perceived at Riley’s school, even though it was his school last year and there were many familiar teachers, parents, administrators and students in the audience. And so, when his patience ran out, his anger threatened to boil over in a very public way.

Except that it didn’t. He stopped himself a few levels short of a full meltdown (either that, or the performance started just in time). There’s another difference in how he handles his emotions. Once he moves on from an upsetting episode, it is forgotten, as if it never happened. Five minutes later he can be smiling and happy.

For us, it takes longer. These episodes leave scars of frustration and the “why does every little thing have to be so difficult?” variety. I guess that’s one benefit of viewing the world in absolutes, either/or scenarios that are strictly black-and-white, the way Ryan does. Such a worldview comes with clean lines, but sharp disparities from one moment to the next. Ours is a messy Technicolor jumble as one event, one episode, one memory blends into the next.

Sometimes I think l like Ryan’s way of seeing things better than mine.

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