When my two children were young, my husband would often leave for 3-month deployments aboard a nuclear submarine. During his absence, my children and I enjoyed the live theater, symphonies, and ballet. We read poetry, books, and attended museums. We planted flowers and had sleep-overs.
When their father and I separated, my children and I moved here and there, eventually landing near my sister in central Illinois. I went to work at Bradley University to supplement our income. Money was tight, and I no longer could stay home with my children. I had to work. We survived with determination, budgets, and with the generosity of my sister and brother-in-law. Because we loved the arts, I took advantage of the perks of working at Bradley and took my children to free and affordable events on campus. The university’s arts and music departments were top notch.
And then one day I read in the newspaper that The Phantom of the Opera was coming to Peoria, Illinois. There would be no reduced tickets; it wasn’t a Bradley event. And on my budget, I couldn’t afford three tickets. I had an idea though. If I put aside a specific amount of money from my next two paychecks, I’d have enough to purchase two good seats for Phantom. And I wanted excellent seats.
The night of the performance, excitement swelled like musical crescendo in my son and daughter. They showered and dressed in their best clothes while I stood outside, wrapped in a quilt, watching fat snowflakes leak from the sky. The snowfall had just begun. After the cold had chilled me to the bone and the shivering wouldn’t stop, I went inside, turned on a stove-top burner, and put on the tea kettle.
My children were as beautiful to me that night as they would ever be. Their excitement created magic, and that magic swelled around me and wrapped me in its arms. My son and daughter glowed from the inside out. It was a snowy night. The flakes were fat and fell slowly from the sky. I felt like we moving around inside a snow globe that night in early March.
My children rushed downstairs and waited for me to finish my tea. Anticipation filled our house. None of us had seen Phantom. I handed my daughter, the oldest, their tickets and asked them to sit on the sofa for instructions. Don’t talk to strangers. Meet me after the performance at the exact location where I drop you off. Don’t separate from each other no matter what. If one of you must go to the bathroom, the other will wait outside the door.
During the drive to the civic center, I again reminded them of the rules. They laughed at me for worrying. Having been to many performances over the years, they reminded me they knew how to behave. We were all giddy. Their hands floated before them as they talked, as though they were catching melodies in the air. Several years had passed since my husband and I separated. The children were older, but still children. Their voices were poetry to me.
The snow was still coming down when we reached the civic center. I pulled the car close to the building and watched my children grab hands and run straight to the entrance. Before they reached the doors, they turned and waved to me. My daughter, her red hair falling over her face, blew me a kiss. My son waved, his hand high in the air. I laughed out loud, and smiled all the way home.
I went back to get them early and parked as close to the entrance as I could get. When the performance ended, snow flurries were coming down fast all over the city. Trees, shrubs, cars, and homes wore fresh white blankets. Trailing behind a large crowd, my children exited the civic center. They spotted the car. I watched them, magic still wrapped around me. Virgin snow caressed their hair, melted on their flushed faces. They slid into the car squealing, talking at once, sizzling with excitement.
I took the long way home, so I could listen to Alyson and Patrick describe the performance: the music, the soloists, the costumes, the set, the actors, and the chandelier. Their words were damp with the wonder and awe found only in children. And though their hair, faces, and shoulders were dusted in snow, a light burned in their eyes.
To this day, I’ve never seen The Phantom of the Opera except through the eyes of my children. And that’s the best way to see some things–through the eyes of children.
Years have passed. My children are now grown. They travel to faraway places without me and have seen Phantom a few times. They still love the theatre and have been to more Broadway shows than I will ever see. My birthday present from my children and my husband this year: four tickets with excellent seats to The Phantom of the Opera at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta. We’ll be there in a few days. I will see Phantom for the first time, and I’ll see it with my family. My children never forgot the snowy night I stayed home. Their gift to me, along with a note reminding me of that special night so many years ago, made me cry and swell with excitement.
My son was this big. He is now grown.
I hate to see the arts cut. Yes, I do.
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