(I'm a little late in posting, but the sentiment is just as heartfelt.)
Hi Baby Boy. I love you. Happy 9th! Today is also a day that is mixed with sadness, as it has been 8 years since Mommy's buddy, Jake Meier left us unexpectedly. I didn't know if we would be able to still make it a happy day, but thank you both for the special rainbow in the sky despite not having any rain.
We remembered you today by celebrating teachers who share their love of the arts with kids. We wish we could’ve visited every school and left surprises for all the teachers in the world, but maybe you can talk to Santa and help us make that happen soon.
My little bear cub, we treasure all the sweet footprint art, finger paintings, and coloring pages you made while you were still here. We loved seeing you overcome by music’s power as you stomped your Velcro shoes and clapped along to the cadence felt straight into your heart. We were ecstatic about all the future preschool productions to come, and we could almost guarantee you would be that little boy making faces at us and waving in the middle of a song. Mommy and Daddy were very private about posting too many pictures of you online, but I have a feeling you would’ve become a viral sensation just to prove to us that you always had your own plans.
Baby Boy, Mommy didn’t grow up in a school that offered things like musical theatre, drama, or dance, but she DID get to participate in choir and band (She might have also signed up for band despite Grandma’s explicit instructions forbidding it, but that is a story for another day.). I had the same music teacher from 6th-12th grade and I will never forget her as long as I live.
Mrs. Yeargin came into my life as I made the transition from elementary school to the illustrious middle school. I remember being excited that I would get to change classes throughout the day and finally have a locker to decorate and secure my private thoughts. Sixth grade was also an incredibly awkward time when teachers talked about things that we had yet to explain to you and that made me want to go hide under my desk until they were finished. The boys in my class also never missed an opportunity to point out how these discussions of puberty and hormones were obviously not yet part of my reality as a late bloomer. Still, I had started shaving my legs the year before to keep up with what little trends made me fit in.
If fitting in was something to try to attain, normally people don’t think of joining band. However, in our small town, every kind of social group was represented there. It didn’t matter if you played basketball or quiz bowl or whether you were gay or straight. At half-time of every game where we marched, you were sure to see the quarterback of the team with black chalk under his eyes and a trombone in his hands. Standing next to him was the class clown with his trumpet and then the shy kid and his saxophone. Still, a few rows beyond them you would find the captain of the cheer squad and her snare drum ricocheting “Go Big Blue,” and every other group in between. For one hour of every day, the lines in the cliques were drawn with pencil that Mrs. Yeargin kept pushing to help us erase.
Yes, I learned much more in her class than how to play the flute and piccolo, or simply the words to “Beautiful Dreamer.” From the minute I met my new band and choir teacher, I knew she would make at least two periods of my day fun. Mrs. Yeargin was a lady with a quick-witted sense of humor who laughed easily. She also knew when to let us talk and when it was time to silence the chatter. She was someone who had to ask for help putting away instruments in the top, wooden cubby, but when she wanted her class to listen, you can bet 100 wide eyes stopped whatever they were doing and paid attention to the conductor behind the music stand.
She called us her “kids” and treated us like her own, constantly picking up piles of stiff, high-waisted pants and wayward shoes, and always managing to find the owners of each before the uniforms were needed again. She had us laughing so hard we were crying as she presented us with “awards” we had earned for various antics throughout the year and welcomed us into her house even after her eyelids couldn’t stay as open as her door.
I met Mrs. Y at a time when our regular family chaos was mixed with confusion and false hope after two-years of my daddy’s fight with Lou Gehrig’s Disease. He had already lost his voice and the use of his legs, and his arms were quickly catching up. She did not ignore the things she knew were already weighing on my mind and her office became a safe place for questions, tears, and prayers. She pushed us outside our comfort zones and taught us to dream bigger than the city limits of our small, farming town. She went above and beyond to provide opportunities that we never would have had on our own.
She took us to Stillwater every year, where I ate at Eskimo Joe’s for the first time and where we learned to play colorful, plastic cups on the sidewalk outside. We got to participate in OSU Band Day, where despite being a Sooner fan, I couldn’t deny the thrill I felt while being on the field in front of the crowd at my first college football game. She accompanied us and sent in hundreds of audition tapes so we could go to Tri-State Music Festival, a three-day event where we got to stay in a hotel and eat pizza multiple times a day. She showed us the wonder of walking out on the ice and being announced under the lights to sing the Star-Spangled Banner for a Blazers hockey match. She taught us to be grateful for what is most important in life after losing our friend and 4 out of 5 of his family members to a drunk driver. A few months later, she encouraged those same humble voices and spirits to sing “Angel’s Among Us” for a ceremony for first responders of the Oklahoma City bombing.
She got up before the sun and drove a bus and her patience all over the state. She listened to us when we needed her most, and sacrificed time with her family to talk to us long after the last bell rang. She gave us courage to stand up for what is right and to dig your heels in when you know any other way would compromise your principles. Despite all the unique ways her students marched to the beat of their own drums, she knew that together we make more beautiful harmonies.
She was there for me when I was called home from school when my dad had finished his mission here on Earth, and she continues to be here for me as we do our best to cope with the massive hole in our hearts from losing you. Yes, there will always be a special place in my soul for cummerbunds; pastel, floral wrap-skirts; and Mrs. Yeargin. Thank you for staying with us until the last conversation, parent, or daylight disappeared. I love you.
Caleb Baby, I wish you could’ve had a chance to meet her. Please inspire others to thank all of their teachers, but especially those in the arts. Classes like the ones I described are disappearing and not all of us find our way so flawlessly and instinctively the way you did. People like Mommy still need this instruction and creative outlets. We would give anything in the world to sing the “bus song,” “star,” or any other song you wanted us to sing to you. In fact, because of music teachers in my life, Mommy wrote you your own version of “star.” I pray you heard me, Sweet Boy.
Keep letting all of our voices be heard in all the artistic ways we have been given on this Earth.
I love you.