14 Jul

“I didn’t get pep band conductor,” my daughter said when I came into the room.  I looked at her and my heart sank.

“I’m so sorry.  I know you really wanted to be picked.  How do you feel?”  I gently put my hand on her shoulder.

She burst into tears.  Aghast, I put my arm around her and tried to console her; my words of comfort sounded empty and ineffectual to my own ears, like worn-out platitudes and tired clichés.

“You can audition again next year.”

“You tried your best.”

“I’m proud of you for putting in the effort.”

The sound of her sobbing was tearing my insides apart.  In time she would get over this disappointment, the depth of which was only commensurate with how much she wanted the position.  For now though, it was painful to watch.

When we moved into our leafy suburban town, we had heard of the high school’s reputation for academic excellence, which translated into a premium on the town’s real estate values.  What we didn’t understand then was how fiercely competitive it would be, even for minor leadership positions like football pep band conductor.  More than a dozen students had signed up to audition and there was some jockeying for position amongst the students.  One boy told my daughter that the music teacher had specifically told him to apply.  This remark, thrown out casually, made her wonder whether he was trying to psych her out, messing with her mind.

The selection process consisted of conducting the Star Spangled Banner with the freshman band and being interviewed by the music teachers.  With only one opening, the odds of being selected were less than 10%.  Still, she went all out to prepare for the audition.  She practiced conducting every day.  Passing by in the hallway, I would see her standing in front of the mirror, moving her hands and arms in fluid and sweeping motions, keeping tempo to music only she could hear.  She went after school to ask her music teachers for help on the finer points.  And like any other upper-middle class parent programmed to do anything to help her child succeed, I even sought out a local professional conductor to help her.

The audition went well and she received positive feedback from the musicians.  So her spirits were buoyed as she went into the interview.  During the interview though, a couple of unexpected questions stumped her; she blurted out answers that caused the teachers to laugh. Unclear whether they were laughing at her or with her, she came out of the interview feeling less sure.  Still, she was hoping for the best.

I was tempted to email the teacher – to what purpose I didn’t even know, only feeling the need to do something, to “fix” it.  But I refrained because as difficult as this was, she needed to learn how to overcome disappointments on her own.  I didn’t know how to help her except to offer lots of empathy, since I was never very good at handling disappointments.  In my youth, I would ruminate moodily, feeling like an utter failure, and console myself with a pint of Haagen-Dazs ice cream.

Soon the demands of junior year left her no time to brood as she plunged into its hectic pace.  Later, she found out she had gotten into the wind ensemble after trying out twice for it and this helped ease the sting.  This year when they announced auditions for pep band conductor again, she decided not to audition, and there was no bitterness on her part.  She said,

“You know, the conductors didn’t look like they were having much fun.  Maybe it’s ok I didn’t get it.”

She had gotten over her disappointment.  Perhaps she had something to teach me about overcoming failure.  One thing is for sure, don’t eat a pint of Haagen-Dazs.


I want to thank my daughter for allowing me to write this.



3 Responses to “Disappointments”

  1. Seth Freeman July 14, 2011 at 2:49 PM #

    A touching story, well told, as usual, Wanchee. Praises to your daughter for working through the whole deal and finding wisdom. I’ve been down the disappointment road too. Once, I got turned down for a certain job and really grieved it, feeling that happiness itself lived in that firm’s corridors. Now I cringe at the thought of being there. I could have used some of her advice.

  2. Janet Holmes July 14, 2011 at 3:39 PM #

    Attention-holding piece Wanchee! Brave of you both to put it in writing – and a good to hear of a calm acceptance a year later. I always like a happy ending!

  3. Penny July 21, 2011 at 8:46 AM #

    Thank you to both of you for sharing this special story. Your daughter is brave and this learning experience will go a long way for her. I’m so happy to know that she has no bitterness now and didn’t eat a pint of Haagen-Dazs ice cream then 🙂

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