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The uniforms are all part of growing up

The uniforms are all part of growing up

Our son, Jack, is a senior in high school, which means that we are already well into the “season of lasts.” For us, the hardest one of all is the last marching band season.

Marching band has been the center of Jack’s life since he was invited to join the high school marching band when he was still in the eighth grade. His older sister was a senior then and also in the marching band as part of the color guard. She was in her own season of lasts, even while he was embarking on a season of firsts. 

That all seems like five minutes ago, as any parent knows. Even when you are wise enough to understand that you should savor every sweet sip of it, trying to taste those ballgames and dances and recitals is, as they say, like drinking from a fire hydrant. It’s fast, it’s furious, and then it’s gone. You’ll get a lot of it on you and, if you’re lucky, a little bit of it in you. 

Sometimes it seems as if childhood is really just a series of different costumes or uniforms that your kid wears at different stages of childhood: scouts, with its sashes and badges and funny hats; baseball, with its bright pastels and local sponsorship lettering; the marching band, with their dazzling combinations of color and design.  

Maybe this is, like so many things, a rehearsal for adulthood. We try on different versions of ourselves, different careers, different paths, and we dress the part. We’re looking for what fits, what becomes us, as we decide what we’ll become and what will ultimately become of us. 

It is fair to say that our Jack enjoyed his baseball years. He was a Cub, and then a Pirate, and then a Dodger, among other things, for eight years. We have ample documentation of those years, believe me. On my more cynical days, I believe that youth sports is involved in a conspiracy with photography companies to sell you a very fetching, yet modest, package of pictures of your child in various poses for about the same price as a decent beach vacation. 

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Of course, we love those pictures of our little tee ball tike holding his bat at the ready (more or less) with an expression that is half determination and half utter confusion. Those photos are fun, sunny memories. He looked just fine in Dodger blue, let me tell you. 

But what became him most was when he became a Tuscola High School marching band Mountaineer, donning the black and gold. By his senior year, he had grown to nearly 6’5” tall, and with his long, billowing hair, he was quite a sight towering over his tenor drums, pounding them with a speed, dexterity, and level of authority none of us could have possibly imagined when he was a game, but slightly overwhelmed, middle-schooler just trying to fit in, keep in step, and not embarrass himself on the bass drum. 

By any measure, his senior season was literally a dream come true. Not only did he become the tenor drum ace he had once dreamed of becoming, the band was chosen as the Grand Champions of its first competition of the season, the very best band in all of the different classes. Suddenly, there was Jack, holding a trophy half as tall as he is over his head and running across the field with his bandmates surrounding him, a wild, spontaneous party with friends and family members pouring in from the sidelines to join them in celebration, parents trying their best to capture it all on their iPhones to send out in feverish reports on social media.  

The hardest thing about being a parent is also the hardest thing about life in general, and that is learning how to find the balance between holding on and letting go, while coming to an understanding that both joy and pain are strapped in and going on this ride with us. We’d better be prepared to accept both as passengers, because when one is driving, the other is riding shotgun.

We were all braced and excited for the very last competition we would ever see after eight consecutive years as “band parents,” and then the unthinkable happened. Literally half the band got sick and the band director had no choice but to withdraw from the last competition. We were crushed. 

Somebody once observed that you never know when the day comes that you pick up your child for the last time. But it comes. We thought we knew the date of the last band competition, but we didn’t. One hateful virus and it was all over, just like that. 

We saw the band perform this season’s show one more time at halftime of the last home football game of the season, and then march one last time in the Waynesville Christmas parade. That is likely the last time we will ever see our son — either of our children — in a uniform. At least until they become nurses, or teachers, or UPS drivers, or whatever they will become. 

We can only pray that uniform becomes them just as well. Thanks for the ride, Jack.

(Chris Cox is a writer and college English teacher who lives in Haywood County.)

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