It was just a few short years ago as I sat on the white sands of the Gulf of Mexico and watched four fledgling humans flap around in the emerald water as I shouted the words that became an inside joke I would never live down.
“Watch Out For Sharks!” I said in my best Mama voice as I witnessed awkward limbs and freckled-faced belly laughs devour nature. Except for being lanky, I can honestly say the apple did not fall far from the tree when it comes to taking in God’s natural beauty. My son was enjoying a regular day at the beach with his friends, the self-dubbed “Band Nerds” who made sure I could differentiate between them and the “Band Geeks,” obviously more difficult than identifying the “Jocks” or the “Preps” who didn’t even know they existed.
So when I said that one phrase, that gaggle of nerds never let me forget it and everywhere we went for years, what once had been a mockery of Mom followed by laughter so hard I had to whip out my inhaler, then became our affectionate way to say goodbye. I love you. Watch out for sharks. Then all the kids started saying it.
Their commonalities were not only found in the awkward stages of coming into young adulthood and all of the discovery therein, but also all of my son’s closest friends had crossed the threshold into musicianship at a young age. There was a day in the band room in which each instrument found the child much like a sorting hat who could magically determine the inner gifts of each student at the fictional school Hogwart’s.
“For Elijah, the bassoon!” I imagined the sorting hat would have said one fateful day all of those years ago when his band director introduced him to the double reed instrument. This was also about the time his new lifelong friends changed our world by calling him Elijah, no longer Eli as we had always done for the first eleven years of his life.
As my Elijah and the band nerds grew into young adulthood I drove them everywhere from football fields to concert halls. That is until I followed them. In their own cars.
I could no longer pay for “shout outs” over the PA system that announced “Watch Out for Sharks!”, but I could see the corners of their mouths turn upward in a half smile as they stood at attention just before playing a show when the announcer read, “To Elijah, Watch Out for Sharks! Break a Leg…Mom.” They all knew the original backstory.
During the first years of going to concert hall performances, I loved that I could always find Elijah because his bassoon was like the periscope of the orchestra and he had played the theme song from Jaws so much in his room that I just listened for the sound that reminded me of a shark chasing me in the Gulf. That’s how my soprano ears leaned in to his distinctive sound, a craft which propelled him into first chair all-state where I don’t know if I was more proud of him for his solo or for me for recognizing the bassoon loud and clear early enough to hit record. Like all bassoon solos, it was a sound only a mother could love.
Guest conductor, the esteemed Larry Livingston of USC Thornton School of Music, turned to the audience and thanked the parents for investing in these brilliant minds, one of the only musical elitists I had ever heard acknowledge the risk of taking on a career in music. I believe he said if they fail don’t worry they have parents like you to support them, but his silver-tongued skills delivered the message in such a way that I wanted to thank him for the opportunity. He also spoke to musicians young and old who would be declared lifelong bi-vocational musicians, encouraging us to always be found playing music until the “stars weep,” citing the spiritual and neurological benefits of even mediocre musicianship.
The graduation gift I want to present to my son is his very own bassoon. I located his first teacher in Arkansas and asked him where to start. “A good bassoon is going to cost you about $40K, but I don’t play anymore and I will sell you mine that was recently appraised at $16K.” I wondered if it was too late for him to pick up the harmonica.
I have no doubt the One True Master Sorter above will sort out the details of Elijah’s future. Which bassoon and university will choose him I do not know, but watch out for sharks, big bright world. My little star is coming your way as a bassoon for hire with a few Mama tears in tow and I couldn’t be prouder as the fledgling no more takes flight. Meanwhile, if anyone has a bassoon….