Maybe it’s the sunbeams I stared into through my camera lens yesterday, as our band gathered into the staging area, or the pollen in the air, or maybe I have something in my eye. Pretty sure I’m allergic to backlit sun-drenched brass sections looking like angels are bending from the sky to kiss their foreheads.

I had the privilege of chaperoning the NHS marching band to the Starlight Parade in Portland yesterday. I love our band. I love watching them embody something Glennon Doyle says: “We belong to each other.” I love watching them lift their chin to let a friend reach in and close the clasp at their throat or adjust the chin strap on their shako (that’s what the hats are called). “I trust you,” they say, exposing their vulnerable soft parts. “I can be trusted,” they say, with their helpful hands.

I loved looking into the eyes of each student with a squirt bottle in my hand and saying silently, “Trust me.”

“I trust you,” they say silently. They open their mouth.

We used to call it “baby bird style” when Quinn was in second grade and we’d squirt water into the open mouths of the kids on field trips. I realize/remember when I watch another band mom, Carol, hydrating them, that our mouths open, too. It is so human, so motherly. Here comes the airplane. Ever since we started squirting things in their mouth as babes in arms, from breasts or bottles, spoons or fingers, we’ve opened our mouth when we want them to open theirs. We are mirrors.

Speaking of they/them. Happy Pride. I know one reason the band room is home to many kids is that they don’t exactly fit the regularly sanctioned acceptable categories of high school. The band room is home to the neurodivergent, the nonbinary, the nonconforming. Which is why I like taking them to Portland, where the 2023 Starlight parade Grand Marshal is Poison Waters, a drag performer and social activist. I like the exhibit behind us in the parade being TriMet, the bus I rode to work while I was pregnant with Quinn, with the slogan All Are Welcome. I like the Portland crowd with their rainbow light sabers and their heart-shaped glasses and their clowns on bicycles and their llamas on leashes and their boy children in tutus and their girl children in dinosaur crocs and all their children dancing and wielding guns that fire nothing but bubbles.

I like that their band teacher introduced so many of the end-of-year awards at their spring concert using they/their as he talked about each student, however they identified. I like that they can be boys tucking ponytails up into shakos with bobby pins and girls with pixie cuts or pigtails and nonbinary young people being whoever they want to be.

I like how kids from a rural coastal town go to a city fair. When told to be in groups of no fewer than three, their threes adhered to each other like Velcro and grew into fifteens, wandering under huge, gnarled city trees, venturing together into the dust-mote-filled sunbeams to hop on carnival rides, then congregating again under the boughs to loan each other cash for slushies and elephant ears. I like how they belong to each other.

They all have doubts and fears and preoccupations. I know I did as a teenager. I want to tell them… I still have so many doubts and fears and preoccupations, most recently upon my return to being a band mom who barely sees my son. The last Starlight parade we attended, I had a sixth grader who lived with me half time. Since then, a pandemic pulled us apart. We are coming back together. We are still here. We are not the same. But we still belong to each other. The band room is still home. I want to tell them to keep reaching for what they love, and especially for the people they love.

A beautiful mural featuring a blue bird up at the top of a tall building on SW 2nd and Salmon caught my eye, and I felt sure it had not been there four years ago on the parade route. Sure enough, this painting, called Inheritance, was created just last year. In it, an elder’s hands offer a bowl to a younger set of hands. The bowl brims with fir cones, trilliums, and butterflies.

I want to tell them: Look up, little birds. Do not let anyone tell you that you shouldn’t look up.

Also, there will be school bus fender benders, anxiety, garment bag chaos, missing shoes, forgotten backpacks, mood swings, vomit, blisters, dying phone batteries, and body odor.

There are enormous bands before us and behind us, with military-level discipline and polish and prestige, plumes spearing from their caps in waterfalls of sparkle and glitz. The band behind us filled at least four buses, maybe more. But I’ll take these kids, these coastal sardines packed into one bus, the ones who worked for their uniforms (the sophomores through graduating seniors remember the many nights they haunted the haunted house in 2019), with their proud plumes of blue feathers. I’ll take them and I’ll tell them silently with my eyes: Soar.

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