the smile at the edge of the audience

We are all in the dark waiting for the band to start. My dad nudges me.

"Have we ever seen a concert together?" he asks.

"Of course we have.... haven't we?"

"Not like this," he says. "I've never been to a show like this with you." 

We cheer our plastic cups together as my mom sings along to David Bowie but with lyrics that are all wrong. She's so excited. She can't stop smiling.

Me, too. 

My parents were at my sister's first show with the Polyphonic Spree. They flew out to Dallas, where Rachel lives, where the band is from, where my sister is getting her doctorate in flute performance at UNT. My parents got on a plane and flew there to see her play. They have flown there many times to see her play. And before, when she was getting her masters in Ohio. And before that when she was getting her Bachelors in Michigan. And before that. And before that. And before that. 
before the show at El Rey

They have been in every audience since we were all small. They have made every performance, even the seemingly insignificant ones, bringing me bouquets of flowers when I played the role of the silent ballerina toy that said nothing in the school play. 

"You don't have to come," I would say, even though I knew they would be there. 

They have always been there. 


We're all in the light waiting for the lights to dim. It's the second showing of Sound of Music at a neighboring school that Fable does not attend. She loves theatre so much that she was willing to audition for another school's play that, we were told, was in need of more young actors. (Our school also opens its doors to children outside who want to audition. No child-who-wants-to-perform-in-a-school-musical-left-behind style.)

"Are you sure?" we asked her, after Archer said, no. "You won't know anybody most likely... and it will be at another school."

"So what, Mom. You think I care about that stuff?"

No. Of course not. You're right. 

My parents are here for this show, too. Both Fable and my sister have two performances this weekend and we joke about attending a double-header within a double-header. 

The music suddenly swells and the lights dim soon after and Fable appears dressed like a nun with a light in her hands and I am trying not to cry as Revi points to her sister from my lap. 

"It's Fable!" she says, "LOOK, MOM! IT'S FABLE!" 

For the rest of the show we are all a wreck. Fable plays three small parts but does so beautifully and with such composure. Her hands are always just so and when she delivers her lines she does so confidently. I forget that she is seven she seems so much older and I feel so lucky to be in her audience. To wave at her at curtain call. To recognize her voice specifically, as the children come together in their costumes to sing Climb Every Mountain. 

That's my daughter up there. The one in the nun costume. The one dressed up as the lonely goat. The one with the braids... 
It feels particularly timely -- this story of a family escaping to safety. And after the week's events, in Paris and the response to the refugee crisis, this feels hopeful... it feels like the only thing that could possibly change the world. Children singing and dancing and acting out the story of people who, DID SOMETHING -- who risked their lives to do the right thing.

You must always do the right thing. 


Rachel is amazing. The lights go up and she starts to play and I rush the stage to be next to her. Tonight is the one week anniversary of the Paris shooting and it feels so right to be here, to be in a venue watching a band who sings about love and light and reaching for the sun. 

The last time I saw The Polyphonic Spree play, I was with my sister. And before that, I was... twenty? Twenty-one? Another lifetime? Another lifetime.

For Rachel, too. For all of us. I was living with my then boyfriend around the corner from the El Rey. Rachel was thirteen and hadn't yet picked up a flute.

And now...

This is what it looks like when everything changes.
IMG_7592 (And stays the same.)
Rachel sees me and smiles as she plays, her lips curling upward as she blows her flute. She knows I'm there. I told her I would be. This isn't the first time I've elbowed my way to the front of the stage to stand next to her. And it will not be the last. 

That's my little sister up there. The one in the robe with the curly hair. The woman playing the flute.... 

Woman. It's hard for me to even say it, is that strange? She's my sister. My little sister -- who still feels like a little sister to me, even though she's taller than me now. Even though she's up on the stage looking more adult than I have ever felt. Even though she's well into being a grown-up. 
I turn toward the crowd and immediately spot my parents. They're the oldest people here for sure. Their gray hair is easy to spot in a sea of peers. My mom is clapping. She knows all the words, too. She knows all the words better than I know all the words, I am starting to realize. 

She has been studying. Listening. Her daughter's in the band, you know. 
And in the same way I can't keep my eyes off my sister...

And couldn't keep my eyes off Fable. 

And Archer. 

And Revi. 

And Bo... 

I can't keep my eyes off my parents, either. Their joy is exactly how I feel in this moment. It is how I felt last week at Archer's dance performance. It is how I felt earlier today when Bo and Revi stood on the table and put on a show in full costumes. It is how I will feel tomorrow watching Fable in her play again. 

I will look like my parents.
I will look like my parents. 

When you're a child on the stage you don't understand how your parents could possibly be proud of your one line. 

Of your speech. 

Or debate. 

Or the song you sing with your classroom in matching deer horns... 

Sometimes I get as much joy looking at the parents... looking at the audience... watching the waves of pride fill the room. We are all here because of love, I think. 

We are all here because of love. 
I go back and forth between being locked in a beam of her light and theirs.... and mine. And hers. And theirs. And mine. And right now, it feels like the antidote to all of the darkness that has felt paralyzing as of late. If I didn't have these moments to collect and stow away in my overhead compartment...


And I totally get it. I GET IT SO MUCH.

...Because I have children, too. Exceptional children. Children who are willing to walk into a room of strangers and audition for the most sought after role, knowing full well that, "I probably won't get it but I'm still going to try." Children who are willing to run for Student Body President even though "I'm so nervous." Children who dance in the aisles of grocery stores and sing on the corners of streets. Children who speak up. And climb up. And hold hands. And let go.
Archer Isaacson, Student Body President
The other day, Archer asked why I felt the need to stay and watch both of his ballroom dance performances.

"They're basically the same exact performance," he said.

"Yes, but it's YOU and there is nothing that gives me more joy than being in your audience." 

"... and someday you will understand." 

The lights go down. 

And they come up. 

Fable takes a bow.

Bo and Revi clap their hands. 

My parents are smiling against the lights. 

Rachel looks like a goddess up there. 

Archer raises his fist. 

My parents' faces say it all. 

I am so proud of them. 

Of all of them. 

Of being their mother.

And daughter. 

And sister. 

And being here. In this moment. In the audience. Surrounded by people who are here because of love.
IMG_7719 We are all here because of love.