Last week, Ben's band  had their first paying gig in Manhattan. It was a pretty big deal -- an attractive Upper East Side venue, a good-sized crowd, and people to help with equipment. They were terrific (though too loud for these old-fogey ears). Even more impressive, to me, Ben seems to do naturally what I'm striving to learn in my improvisation class -- to think quickly on his feet, and to stay relaxed and in the moment through numerous unanticipated complications. He handled technical glitches, his fellow guitarist's sprung string, and some miscommunications among band members with grace and style that a seasoned adult could envy.
The club's management was impressed, too. They offered the band a regular Friday-night spot. An audience member who is a professional musician also offered to introduce them to other club managers. Following up could be a challenge, since two of their members may be traveling with their families this summer (a complication of working with a professional band composed entirely of eleventh-graders), but they're working on it.
We attended the event with a group of friends, all of whom are very fond of Ben, and at the end we swarmed the stage, hugging and congratulating him. He was gracious and responsive, but he needed to cut the fan-club gushing short; they had to strike the instruments and equipment and load them into the van before the next band's set. Afterward, he went out with his fellow band members and their friends.
I have been writing in this column about my dread of his departure for college in a little over a year. But it occurred to me as I watched him disassemble the sound system that, in a major way, he is already gone. His focus has shifted gradually over the past few years from family life to music, his girlfriend, and his peers, which is, I know, how it should be.
And it's fine, really. Or at least not as sad and lonely as I had anticipated. It is hugely satisfying to watch him function as a competent almost-adult in the larger world, and I love the fact that he has such a smart, gifted and congenial peer group. I miss my little boy, but I am so proud of the man he is becoming.
The other night, he recounted a conversation he'd had with his girlfriend. "I told her that even though there are problems here and there, I'm really happy -- I love my life. And that you and Dad have been so important in making that happen."
"That's what I want," I told him. "in fact, it's all I really want. I can die happy."
"Let's postpone that awhile, okay?" he said.
I have no plan to check out anytime soon, and I told him so.
But I could, truly.