If I were on Family Feud and Alex Trebek posed the question, “Name one place you would not take a child,” I would pounce on the buzzer and respond with a resounding, “A bar!” So, how is it I started hanging out in them nearly a decade ago with my underage children? I’m a counselor, for Pete’s sake. People ask me all the time for advice about child-rearing. How can I justify saying one thing and doing another? When I was their age, I wouldn’t even attend a church-sponsored dance – being fairly certain my soul would burn in Hell for all eternity if I did – so how did I come to sink so low?
Or is it that I really didn’t sink at all?
My bachelor’s degree is in music. I guess that makes it my first passion. While a hearing loss changed the course of my career early on, it did nothing to diminish my love of a brilliantly orchestrated song or a skillfully executed riff.
My older son Keith was a drummer. Each Christmas, beginning as an almost-2-year-old, Santa brought him a new drum because the older one was loved, quite literally, to pieces. As he grew, he heard the same percussion parts I heard in music, but he could recreate them – something I couldn’t do. And what a voice! One music teacher tried to convince him to audition for the Houston Boys’ Choir which sent him running and screaming toward his go-cart so he could burn some rubber and send dirt flying to ward off whatever he thought the mere suggestion would do to his testosterone levels.
Kevin could sing on key beginning at about eight months. There was no mistaking his songs from the baby seat in the grocery cart. A lady, who reminded me of Gladys Kravitz, once yelled across aisles, “Harry, come quick! This baby is singing ‘La Bamba!!'” For his fifth birthday, he asked for a guitar, and I knew in my heart-of-hearts he didn’t mean a toy one, so the boy got a real one that was just his size. In school, he played French horn beautifully, and after school I often found him in the band or orchestra rooms getting tutored in how to play other instruments. He taught himself to play piano.
A certain look I recognized came across their faces when they heard something in a piece of music that moved them. It was never long before I heard it painstakingly recreated on their respective instruments. I loved watching that happen.
Maybe you’ve already jumped ahead of the class and know how my boys ended up in bars as teenagers. Keith was a freshman in college and Kevin a freshman in high school when they got together with some of Keith’s buddies from high school and formed a band. Their first practices were in my garage in 2003, and last December, the band opened for Bob Seger at the American Airlines Center in Dallas in front of 23,000 people. Lots of interesting venues fill the dash between the two dates.
I learned more about bars than I ever imagined. In Texas, teenagers can work in them but can’t just be in them without a parent. So, while our kids could legally stand on stage and make money, they couldn’t walk off stage and hang around without us. This is where what I like to call “bar etiquette” comes into play. (Who knew there was such a thing, right?) Apparently, if you open for another band, then in the world of bar etiquette, it is considered rude and socially unacceptable to leave before the headlining band has played. The consequences of breaking this rule are severe – tantamount to professional suicide, so we moms and dads followed our underage kids along and stayed and listened to the headliners so our guys would not be black-balled by the powers-that-be.
For the first two years, this was a typical scenario. Some weekdays, I drove Kevin from marching band practice to the other kind of band practice. On Fridays after the football game, I drove him to his gig and waited for 2:00 a.m. to arrive. Thursdays were the worst when they played out of town. Remember the old M-W-F college classes? Not so nowadays. Classes are M-W and T-Th, making Thursday nights the big nights in college towns. Egad! How many times did I grab Kevin, bags packed, from marching band practice Thursday evenings and make a mad dash to play a gig in a college town 2-3 hours away? And every Friday morning we were up by 3:30 and headed back so we could both be in our respective desks at 7:30. Oh, how I wished on more than one occasion that he would have answered differently when I asked, “Are you SURE you feel ok today?” But alas, he always felt fine, and we were in class and at work on time every time. He, of course, was the only band member not in college, so he was the only one with classes the next day. **Sigh**
In another strange twist regarding kids in traditionally adult places…..during tenth grade, Kevin applied for and was accepted into a program at Lamar University where each year 35 juniors enter and finish high school while concurrently enrolled as college freshmen and sophomores (There’s another blog post waiting to happen!). When he graduated from high school, he had lived in a college dorm (one reserved for high school kids only) for two years and had 56 college hours under his belt. For the first year, instead of picking him up from the football stadium on Friday nights, I drove 2 1/2 hours to his college on Fridays, took him to his gig(s), and drove him back to college on Sunday nights. No, he wasn’t old enough to drive himself to college at first, and he wasn’t old enough to hang out in bars without his parents; yet, he was in college and working in bars. Overachiever.
I had the time of my life, and they had experiences I wouldn’t trade for anything.
Some of the finest, kindest, most loving people I have had the privilege of knowing are those I met in bars while hanging out with my underage boys. When Keith died in 2005, the church was filled with friends from every aspect of his life – neighborhood friends and sports teams, public school and college friends and teachers/professors, old church ladies who loved him and young children who idolized him, his business associates, and yes, his bar and bar-owner friends. What a wonderful testament to his life that at age 21 he loved and was loved by people of all ages and from all walks of life.
There is a great deal of discussion this week in the blog world about kids in adult places, so I thought I would weigh in. At the end of the day, is it a good idea to take your kids to a bar? No. Almost never. There are times, however, when you realize that for every hard-and-fast rule, for every black-and-white situation, there exists a gray area. We lived in that area for several years, and they were some of the best of my life.