If not for a small, black Converse high-topped foot tapping, my expectations would have been a complete bust. Let's say, for instance, my expectations were a window. Now picture the window shattered, with one shard of glass still dangling in the frame. That's the tapping Converse.
Recently, I performed with a local rock band for Cafe in the Park, an outdoor lunch event in downtown Galesburg. As the group's fill-in drummer, this was a rare chance to play at a venue where my 2 1/2-year-old son, Jay, could watch me.
From the time, months ago, I was asked to sit in with the group, I began imagining my son's excitement when he'd see me perform.
He'd seen me drum one other time, several months ago. I was playing my nephew's drum set in his garage, and my brother-in-law brought Jay in to watch. I was worried the drums would be too loud for his little ears because I bang them pretty hard.
I was wrong. His eyes widened when he saw me and he said.
He wanted to play.
I come from a family of drummers. Both of my sisters play the drums, my mother played the drums, as did her father. It makes sense that my son would want a piece of that action.
So a couple months ago, I set up a drum in the house for him to play. The drum sticks are a little unwieldy for him, but he plays every so often.
All this was leading up to the moment when he'd see his dad rocking on stage with a band.
In my mind it would be awesome. I pictured it in slow motion, like a sappy '70s commercial, my son watching me and me watching him watch me. I'd smile and he'd smile back. I'd bash the drums, and he'd shake his head back and forth to my beat or even dance, the way he does at home. Spectators would turn their attention to this glowing father-son moment.
I'll admit, the whole thing is a little narcissistic, but this was the scene I'd created.
So, on Wednesday, my wife, Sharon, brought Jay and his 3-month-old brother, Finn, to Park Plaza over the lunch hour. It was a little hot and they had to climb the bleachers to find shade, but as I sat behind the drums, there they were. The stage was literally set for my father-son moment.
But as the band began to play, I could see trouble. Jay was actually crying.
My wife isn't sure if it was the volume or what.
Eventually, he calmed down, but he was paying little attention to the stage. I could see Sharon pointing me out to him, and he did make eye contact momentarily, but I could have been washing windows (now THAT would excite my wife) for all he cared.
My wife kept trying to get him interested.
"Do you see Daddy playing drums?"
"Uh huh," he'd say matter of factly. "I want more chips."
Besides the potato chips, he also expressed interest in the bushes behind him. The bushes were not performing.
More than anything, he wanted down from the tiered bleachers.
According to my wife, he declared this intent repeatedly.
"I want down. I want down. I want down. ..."
Thoughtfully, my wife even brought a little maraca for him to shake to the music. I saw him with a dour face shake the maraca momentarily with the enthusiasm of someone buying insurance. Then he chucked the maraca over people's heads. Luckily, it fell to the concrete without taking anyone out.
I did not see the chucking, but I could tell Sharon was struggling. Jay was unhappy. It was hot and Finn was probably uncomfortable, too. She couldn't enjoy lunch for having to keep Jay from diving off the bleachers.
I kept looking over at them and waving, but I was having no effect. Yet, as miserable as Jay was, I still caught him feeling the beat. An umbrella from a table below stood between us making it so I couldn't see his face or body, but through one small clearing I could see a single foot tapping. He was wearing black Converse, as was I - part of the prefabricated magic moment thing.
Seeing his foot tap helped negate the travesty of what had become of my expectations.
But I learned something other than if I want my son's attention I need to impersonate a potato chip or a bush. Magic moments can't be orchestrated.
Tom Martin is editor of The Register-Mail in Galesburg, Ill. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.