Friday, October 8, 2010

Lesson 14: Dixie Chicks at heart

This story is one for the ages.  I have told it hundreds of times.  In case you missed hearing about our brush with fame during the summer of 2006, it is written in red below. 

I was reminded of the Dixie Chicks concert in Pittsburgh several summers ago, because my sister, my girls, and I are heading out to see Carrie Underwood in Cleveland on November 1st.  Karen is dressing us for the occasion.  I have already been warned--no T-shirts (read blog post 12)---this is a "blingy event."  The last time she dressed us, we reaped the benefits (read below).  Maybe the same will hold true this time.

If this ends up being my last blog, know that I gave up this whole mother-wife-teacher thing and joined the band with Carrie Underwood.  The thought of being a roadie sounds quite nice right now.

The story is a long one, so I broke it into chapters for you.  You may need a couple of nights to read it, or a couple of cups of coffee and some snacks if you like to nibble and sip while at your computer.  It's worth the time investment, though.  Enjoy your story:

Chapter 1:  Misunderstood
It was the summer of 2006.  I was starting to get a handle on my life, and we began to be able to go more places.  During what I like to refer as "the dark years" we really didn't venture out much.  It was just too tough with Natalie.  She was anxious and miserable out of her home environment and basically tortured everyone around her until we brought her back to the nest.  With countless hours of therapy, she began to desensitize a bit, and we began taking short jaunts out of the house to go to the cottage or to visit family. 

Every time we got into the truck to leave the driveway she began throwing one of her classic tantrums.  Behavior Modification 101 teaches you to IGNORE THE BEHAVIOR.  We just kept going about our business and wouldn't change our plans.  She would scream and cry something that sounded like "potato chips" over and over.  Natalie's speech came very slowly, and at that time it wasn't clear.  She still does not have anchor-person diction, but we are used to her and can understand her just fine. 

These hell-raising tantrums literally went on for weeks.  It seemed like we were moving backwards instead of forwards in her progress.  I was frustrated, sad, and the thoughts of taking up smoking to calm my nerves kept toying with me. 

In Behavior Modification 101 you also learn never to give a kid what he or she wants when they are acting inappropriately.  However, there was a time when we finally gave in, spun the truck around, pulled back in the driveway, and ran into the house to get her some potato chips.  I handed her the bag, hoping to shut Natalie up, and she threw the bag at me.  If there was ever a day that I was going to lose it, it was this day.  I was like that cartoon character you see whose face gets red, eyes bulge, steam spouts from the ears, then their head pops off.  That was me.

But this tiny voice from the back seat says, "Mommy, I think I know what Nata-wee is saying."  It was precious little Ellen--just 5 years old at the time.  "Nata-wee isn't saying potato chips.  She's saying Dixie Chicks." 

At that moment, Natalie reached over, placed both hands on Ellen's cheeks, and sobbed Dipsy Chips, Dipsy Chips!  She was looking directly at Ellen with the most passionate look in her eyes that I have ever seen to date.  It was one of the most joyful and miserable moments of my life.  I was relieved that we finally knew what she wanted.  Then I wept for Natalie, thinking of how awful it must be to want something so desperately and not be able to communicate it. 

We went inside, grabbed the Dixie Chicks CD, and popped it in the player.  We were absolutely amazed that she knew every word to every song.  We estimated that she only listened to that CD once, most likely while riding in the truck.  She must have associated a ride in the truck with that music.  Autistic people are very routine and particular.  Any disruption of the slightest sort makes them go completely haywire.  This explained everything.  We drove around for hours listening to that CD, hearing the sound of Natalie's flat, monotone voice belt out those lyrics.  It was the most beautiful sound I had ever heard. Needless to say, the CD never left the player all that summer.  Out of guilt we promised Natalie that if the Dixie Chicks ever came to the north, we'd be there to see them.

Chapter 2:  Misgivings
For those of you who know me well, I always make good on my promises.  As luck would have it, the Dixie Chicks were just embarking on their new tour Taking The Long Way Around.  They started in July in Detroit and their second tour stop was Pittsburgh.  They chose a northern route as they were making their first comeback since speaking out against the Gulf War and President Bush.  Bush publicly denounced the Dixie Chicks and before you knew it, army tanks were rolling over copies of their Cd's from Baton Rouge to Baghdad.  They lost tons of support from their native Texans and gun toting NRA members, and consequently took some time off for awhile.  The songs on their new album were written in response to that event.  Not Ready to Make Nice was written about President Bush.  I didn't post that one, but it is worth a listen.  You can find it on youtube--it is one of their most artistic videos. 

The tickets were in high demand in the north and were selling quickly.  By the time I snagged us four seats we were in the nosebleed section of the Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh.  We didn't care.  We were just so happy to be going.

Karen, my fashionista sister, insisted that the girls have the perfect outfits.  She scoured the city for the perfect cowgirl garb, complete with hats and little, pink cowboy boots.  I balked at first and protested that it was not necessary, but my sister guilted me into allowing it.  I had to admit, they sure did look cute.

I was completely nervous about taking Natalie to a concert.  We couldn't leave the house most days, so the realization of what I had just committed to hit me hard.  I didn't know how she would handle the crowd or the noise.  After one night of pacing the floor, wondering if I had made the right decision, I did what I always know to do.  I prayed to God.  I sent Him up this simple prayer--"Lord, have I made the right decision?"  Shortly afterward I felt at peace and was able to sleep, so I knew that it would be OK. 

Chapter 3:  Missus Maines 
We left VERY early the day of the concert.  I wanted to be sure we were there early, before all the cars and the people.  Natalie does much better watching a place slowly fill with people than walking into a huge crowd.  If this statement reminds you of yourself, I always maintain that there is a little autism in all of us.

We were the very first car in the parking lot.  I brought a picnic and we found a nearby tree and settled in to watch the people arrive for the concert.  There were only two other people walking around the parking lot, two women, one with a large camera hanging around her neck. 

The women spotted the girls and started walking towards us.  I thought to myself, "Pittsburgh Press for sure."  But when the woman with the camera spoke--I detected a heavy, southern drawl.  She appeared to be about the age of my mother.  She was with a girl who resembled her, but a younger version, maybe in her 20's or 30's.  Photographer lady said in her twangy voice, "Y'all look so cute I just had to come over and take your picture!" 

While I was posing the girls for the photo, I noticed they were wearing ID tags that appeared to show the cover of the Dixie Chicks album.  My husband kept mouthing to me "They are with the band!" looking like a complete lunatic while he was doing so.  Finally I inquired if they were from the newspaper.  The lady with the dancing eyes and huge camera lens stated, "No child, we're with the band.  I'm Natalie Maines's mother (the lead singer), and this is her sister."  I gushed about how cool it was to meet them, shook their hands, and gave props to her daughter for having the balls to speak her mind.  They took the photograph and went along their merry way.

Now those of you who know me well know that I tend to get overly excited from time to time.  I put about 100 long distance charges on the cell phone calling everyone I knew until I killed the battery.  I still had more game in me, so as each person came into the parking lot, I told them the story, too.  While we were waiting in line, I was telling a rather animated version of the tale to a large group of people, I saw Mrs. Maines and Sister Maines walk through the crowd waiting to enter the arena.  They appeared to be looking for something.

I exclaimed, maybe a touch too loud, "That's her!  That's Natalie Maines's mother!"  No one looked too impressed, especially the big, square-headed, thug standing in front of us.  He obviously got bored of the tale the first six times he heard it and was clearly ready to get away from me. 

Just then, Mrs. Maines spotted me.  She smiled and waived and came rushing over and said, "Oh, there y'all are.  We've been looking for you!  We went backstage and showed Natalie, Marty, and Emily your girls' picture.  They thought they were so cute that they want you to sit up front!"  I flashed big-guy-square-head my most charming smile, then listened to what Mrs. Maines had to say.

Chapter 4:  Misty
Mrs. Maines wrote down our seat numbers which were nearly as high up as Mount Everest.  Honestly, I think they were the second row from the top.  She said someone from the band would be up to see us.  Of course Ellen had to pee and we promised Natalie nachos.  I told Ellen to pee her pants and told Natalie that she could starve, because "This could be big."  Sure enough, the roadie band manager named Mindy came and found us.  She escorted us through the backstage where the band was warming up, into our new seats.  We were seated in the soft, wide seats, with armrests, to the right of the stage about 3 rows up.  

Growing up in a working class family, I had not really had the opportunity to experience the "good seats."  This was always completely fine with me, as I'm a simple girl at heart.  I never felt the expensive seating was worth the money.  After all, you were there to hear the music, right?   They had the big screens, so it really didn't matter how far away you were.  W-R-O-N-G!  I want to be rich.  I want to be able to afford the best seats in the house for every single thing I go to.  And I am just one winning lottery ticket away from that dream.

We were seated with the husbands of the Dixie Chicks and their nannies.  The Dixie Chicks were in their child bearing years and took 7 children under the age of 4 on tour with them.  The children all were wearing these huge ear muff style headphones to protect their tiny eardrums.  I noticed that the nannies who hung out with their husbands were all kind of chubby and not too cute---smart move, Chicks.  The band manager even brought us out autographed photos of the Dixie Chicks right before the concert began. 

The concert lasted for 3 hours.  They played from 9:00-11:00, then came back out for an hour encore.  The place was rocking as everyone missed their Chicks.  The performed with the kind of energy you see from a team who comes fighting back from a losing season.  There was even a couple of George Bush Sucks banners flapping around the place which I found quite humorous.

What got me misty though, was sitting next to Natalie, who was completely oblivious to all that happened that evening.  She just sat and smiled at me, swaying to the music and singing every word to every song.  When the concert was over, Ellen said, "Wow.  I want to go to a concert again."  We just laughed thinking that the next one may not quite measure up to her first.  The night was unforgettable just the same.

Since then the girls have gone to a few more concerts and have loved every one.  We are really looking forward to seeing Carrie Underwood.  I confess, I've grown a fondness for this new type of country music--the more modern style of Carrie, The Dixie Chicks, and Taylor Swift.  Even though we live in Harborcreek, maybe we are just Dixie chicks at heart.  Maybe there is a little bit of southern in all of us, too.  I'll fluff the girls up, get there early, and prance them around the parking lot for a bit.  Hey--if you read blog post, Lesson 7 about the lightning, it really can strike the same place twice.  So, you never know.......

And if the mood so strikes me, and I really am tired of this mother-teacher-wife gig,  I'll ship the girls home with my sister.  I'll even give her the keys to my van--to keep.  If I never write another blog post again, know that I'm just fine.  I'm with the band. 

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