The penance and joy of funfests, ball gamesand school plays

The morning fog swirls gently through the trees outside, shrouding the neighborhood in quiet mistiness. It will burn off long before lunch recess, but for now the air is chilly.

“Take a sweatshirt.” I murmur my daily mantra as each kid comes to claim their school lunch and a goodbye hug.

The older ones ignore me. They’re never cold. The younger ones complain they have too much to carry.

“I have to take my costume for ‘Gold Bust or Dust,’ ” my daughter reminds me.

“We are practicing our play today too!” the first-grader chimes in with excitement. Oh dear. I forgot about his play. When is that again?

It’s just six weeks since Passover, but somehow the school year is almost over. There is one more math final to get through, but what’s left of any real school focus is as fine as the matzah crumbs in the bottom of the box. The big family calendar in the kitchen is jam-packed with notes like “end-of- year ballet concert” and “6th grade funfest.”

In the seemingly endless parade of last games and final performances, the ultimate day of school is as difficult to see as the sun on a foggy East Bay morning. These end-of-year celebrations require a lot more than a plate of cookies and two dozen juice boxes.

It’s challenging to be completely present at all their plays, games and recitals: My to-do list is long at this time of year, with house projects, camp necessities and the summer birthday we must celebrate before all her friends are away. We are averaging four to six celebratory events a week right now, and it’s not just my calendar that threatens to implode. I wonder if it’s worth it.

At the Spring Music Concert I jostle for a seat as near to the front as I can find, amid brightly colored fleeces and parents who had the foresight to reserve the best seats much earlier than I did.

I wave like a wild woman when my boy takes his place on the stage. He whispers in his friend’s ear, pulls funny faces and does not stand still for a minute.

He has no idea I am there. What’s the point? I wonder crossly. His part is over but I can’t leave because my daughter’s class performs at the end of the next musical session. Which is hours away.

All the kids sing sweetly. Pound on xylophones. Play the violin and the trumpet and even the cello with their small 10-year-old fingers. But the morning drags in a stuffy cacophony of restless coughs and whispers.

We carve time away from work and errands, meetings and appointments to watch the children showcase their musical talents, but of course we are there to watch our own children. Many parents leave as soon as their child performs. I watch them creep out, one after the other, with something like disappointment and envy. That they don’t stay to watch my child. That I can’t leave.

I am tired, hungry and irritable. I switch seats. There is more room now. I chat incessantly to the friend sitting next to me. I think about everything else that needs my attention. I wish I were elsewhere, doing those things.

I watch my daughter take her place on the stage. She looks straight at me. And smiles. That small, almost self-conscious smile that means she’s happy. I hear her thought: My mom is here. For me.

“Were you there, Mom?” my son asks me later that day. “I didn’t see you! Were you there? Did you see me?”

Jubilant home runs at the final game, fidgety 7-year-olds, and so many smiles at the school performances.

I have years of performances, ceremonies and school concerts ahead of me. At times I will be restless in the uncomfortable chair. I will resent that I didn’t get there early enough and all the good seats are taken. I will wish I were somewhere else.

Outside the June gloom will dissolve into a brilliantly blue late spring day. Up on the stage, my kids will stand in front of the audience. They will scan the crowd, and catch my eye and smile a tiny smile. And they will know that I am there.

Nicki Gilbert

Nicki Gilbert is a writer, Alcatraz swimmer and country music lover who lives in Piedmont with her husband, four kids and dachshund puppy. Her blog is