Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Get Up, Get on Up

(Parental Note: Kara did her own take on this, and it’s running in the PC – but she only got 250 words, and I had some thoughts of my own. Once her version has run in the paper, we’ll be putting it up here.)

So, last Thursday – April 10th – we took Mihret to her very first concert – The African Children’s Choir.

That name, by the way? Total misnomer. Choir, to me, implies a bunch of kids dressed up in matching outfits singing songs. The concert was more like a series of production numbers – different songs, with different dances and playacting to go with them.

And there was some storytelling – most of it talking about the choir, and the history thereof, and what became of various kids who had been in the choir.

Kara and I debated for a pretty long time before deciding to take Mihret to the concert. It started at 7:30 in the PM, which is usually when our little one getting tucked in for the night. And we didn’t know how long the concert was, for that matter. An hour? Two hours?

On top of that consideration, we didn’t know what she’d be capable of by the time concert time rolled around. We had to buy the tickets a couple of months back, and we had no idea if she’d be, like, super-active, or one of those kids who can just sort of sit quietly and amuse herself.

There were a lot of X-factors, is what I’m saying.

So it was, with some trepidation, that we headed over to the Appleton PAC and took our seats.

As any parent knows, bringing a baby means bringing a diaper bag. So we had that on the floor. And we had Kara’s purse. And we had an umbrella, because there was a pretty nasty bit of rain going on.

And we all had coats, which we sorta-kinda crammed into our seats. I mention all this stuff because we had to pull most of it off the floor when a latecomer had to get by us twenty minutes into the show.

The PAC, helpfully, provided booster seats. This was nice, but they were sort of impractical. At just over 20 pounds, Mihret barely had the weight to push the folding seat down on her own. This sort of worked out okay, as it caused the seat to tip back just a bit, preventing her from tipping forward suddenly and falling out of the chair.

We got to the concert a couple of minutes before they were going to start, and while I generally like to be earlier, this worked out very well for us. It meant that we didn’t have to let her wander around while we were waiting for something to happen.

Finally, the show got started, and right from the start, she was pretty much into it.

At the dinner table, Mihret can usually sit for 10-20 minutes, depending upon whether she has something to eat or play with, whether or not there’s a mess in her diaper, or whether Kara or I are sitting and playing with her. She made it about ten minutes in her seat at the concert, and then she wanted to get up.

I kept waiting for the moment that Mihret tried to squirm out of our grip and go running around, but the moment never came. First she wanted to stand in my lap. Then she wanted to sit for a while. Then she would kind of crouch for a bit, so that she could see the stage better.

All told, she got through the first hour with only a squeak or two, and we even got her to clap at the right time once.

Then came intermission. By then, it was around 8:30, and while there was some energy in her, I could see it starting to fade. She wasn’t cranky, really, but she had already listened to an hour of singing and dancing, and she was kinda-sorta ready to move on.

On top of this, the second half of the concert had a lot more talking. There was a small screen above the stage that showed images of the choirs and choir members being talked about, yes, but for the most part it was someone talking for three and four and five minutes at a time. We got a squawk, followed by another, and I started to get nervous.

Luckily, I thought to dig into her diaper bag and pull out the snack food. I fed her puffs one at a time while Kara held Mihret on her lap, and after several minutes, the singing and dancing started back up again.

Mihret was much more subdued by then. She stuck her finger in her mouth, leaned back into daddy, and cuddled while the children sang and danced. There was, I think, one more “I’m kinda ready for bed now” squeak somewhere in the concert, but it was clear that she was fine with some cuddling and a show.

And then they had the big finale, and it was over, and she made it all the way through a whole two-hour concert.

Let me state up front that I was really, really proud of our daughter. She sat still (for a toddler), didn’t make a lot of noise (especially for a toddler) and she seemed to really enjoy herself, at least as much as a toddler can in a situation where they have to sit for two hours.

But it was when we hit the lobby that I really felt a jolt of pride. I opted to put the wee one in her coat while Kara went to pick up a t-shirt, so most of what happened next only happened to me and Mihret.

We had spent the concert sitting in front of (and next to) a group of older folks – some appeared to be in their sixties, a few perhaps in their seventies, and I asked a few times if she was being any trouble. I don’t know that there was much I could have done if she was, but I wanted to be accommodating to all the folks around us who were sharing space with a 14-month-old.

One of the couples seated behind us walked up to me after the concert, looked directly at Mihret, and said, “She could teach some of the other concertgoers about manners.” I politely thanked them, and they walked off.

A few minutes later, I got into a lively conversation with a woman who had an adopted son from Haiti, and whose older daughter had adopted from Ethiopia (sadly, she wasn’t there).

And a few moments after that, I had a nice chat with some folks I know a bit from the African Heritage group.

And a few moments after that, I saw a lovely family with a small adopted boy running around with his older, most likely birth siblings.

More than one individual has noted that Mihret probably won’t remember a single minute of the concert, and I had to tell one well-meaning couple that, sadly, while Mihret is from Africa, none of the songs sung that night were from Ethiopia – so no, she was probably hearing them for the first time, just like me.

But even that was okay. I got to teach someone something, and there’s nothing wrong with that. And even if Mihret doesn’t remember a minute of it, we can tell her about it when she gets older. Plus, CDs were purchased.

As for myself, well, I think Kara and I shared some similar emotional experiences, but I won’t speak for her.

Early on the in the show, some of the kids are dressed as soldiers, and they are seen carrying what I presume are fake guns, brandishing them at other children while some of the history of the conflicts in Uganda and Rwanda are explained to the audience.

I never saw anything as threatening as a solider while I was in Ethiopia, but the moment that the soldiers walked out, tears filled my eyes. Whether it was because I suspected some of the kids onstage might have really been threatened, or whether it’s because I’m a dad now, and to see any child in danger is just too much for me to handle, I don’t know, but I saw the next ten minutes through tears.

I got misty-eyed here and there throughout the show, and I think that’s expected and probably encouraged. The kids are there to entertain you, yes, but they’re also there to let you know that some parts of the world are dangerous and unfriendly to children, and that we would do well to remember that and try to correct it.

But the moment that really got me came at the end of the concert.

Up on the stage, a bunch of cute kids, looking a lot like my kid, say, “We know that some of you have asked if you can adopt us. Sorry, but we’re going to go back to our country. But you can take us home with you in four different ways. CDs! DVDs! T-Shirts! Jewelry!”

We all laughed, of course, and then they launched into a funkified version of This Little Light of Mine, and the flags of every country in Africa dropped from the top of the stage.

The Africans and African-Americans in the audience stood up.

Kara took Mihret in her arms, and stood up, because Mihret is, and always will be, a part of Africa.

And I lost it. There was joy in the song, and it was well sung and had cute choreography, but my heart was with my little girl, curled up in her mommy’s arms… until she got restless, and had to be curled up in daddy’s arms.

Because I love my little girl, and I love her country, and being in touch with it – even just seeing the flag, and hearing the voices of young Africa, well, what can I say? My heart swelled, and all that emotion had to come out somewhere. So why not my eyes?


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