Being a rookie is tough, but being a rookie parent is in many respects tougher. If you've been the kind of parent that is heavily involved in your child's extracurricular activities, you may feel a sudden disconnect with a group that is more geographically distant or larger in scope. You may be uncertain how to fit in with parents who have spent many years on tour, or not sure what role your child wants you to feel in the new group. Or, if you haven't traditionally played a forward role in your child's activities, you may feel you suddenly need to jump in somehow, to honor the greater importance the corps has for your child. Either way, many a parent has been left standing uncertainly on the sidelines as a new member walks confidently into a drum corps situation.
There are more issues in being a good corps parent than I could possibly address in a single column, so I'll leave off questions of everyday rehearsals, tour, volunteering, home shows, care packages, and the like till a later date and for today just cover the basics in being a supportive parent in the preseason. I'd also be happy to hear from any parents—new or experienced—about issues I might have missed and can cover in a later column. Most corps have mechanisms for involving parents and keeping them informed, generally starting with a parent meeting on Friday night following the members' meeting. These meetings help inform parents of developments like the setting of the tour schedule, fundraisers that are planned and deadlines for dues, as well as coordinating the volunteer tasks to be fulfilled for the weekend. Any parent who is new to the game will find some welcoming faces amongst the volunteer crew and have the chance to meet the corps administration and volunteer coordinator. Even if you're not planning on staying long enough to help cook the Friday night snack, it's still a good idea to attend the parent meeting to stay in the loop. Corps administrators love to know that members' parents are interested and involved in their kids' lives. If you have experience working in large organizations, for example, the high school band boosters, you will probably have no difficulty jumping right in to help. A few words of caution for the more experienced among you: New organizations may do things a little differently from what you're accustomed to. Most corps have been at it a long time, and have developed their habits from what's worked best for that group of people for any numbers of years. You may have seen the same process done differently, or even done in a way you think is better, but for the time being, please trust in the administrators and longtime volunteers that things are done a particular way for a reason, even if it's not what you're used to. Suggestions that are offered in a constructive manner are always welcome, and no one ever minds being asked to explain methods to someone who is genuinely curious and interested in learning. If you feel totally out of your depth in an organization as large and well oiled as a drum corps, don't worry! Everyone had to start somewhere, and the best way to learn is to simply jump in and do it. Start in the kitchen. An extra pair of hands is always useful when there are 135 teenage mouths to feed, and the drudgery of chopping or peeling leaves plenty of time and brainpower for conversation. Fellow parents who have been in your shoes are the best sources for perspective on the corps, the staff, the administrators and how to be the best corps parent and volunteer you can be. If you have special talents, for example with sewing, public relations, a commercial driver's license, etc., be sure to let someone know what it is. They'll find a use for your talents, even if it's not right away. If you're volunteering for the whole weekend, remember that you're there for all the members and not just your child. Generally, members enjoy when their parents care enough to volunteer, but at the same time, they don't want Mom looking over their shoulder every step of the way. Remember that a large part of membership in a drum corps is about learning to live and function independent of moment-to-moment supervision, so don't hamper your child's growth and exploration by hovering at every opportunity. Smile as they come past in the food line, ask how rehearsal is going, and let it go at that. Younger rookies may cling to a familiar face during the initial phases of membership, so you may even need to encourage your child at times to step away from you and get to know the other members. Beyond that, let your child's wishes determine how and when you interact at camp. Some members don't want to see or acknowledge their parents, others like to introduce their parents all around. Remember that this may be a confusing time for your kid, as s/he tries to integrate into the new family, and don't take either reaction personally. Understand that the administrators and staff have many, many things to take care of in the course of a corps weekend. Do be sure to introduce yourself. Directors want to know their parents and volunteers, but understand if the director can't spend a long time discussing your child's strengths and weaknesses with you. And finally, if you have a less than pleasurable experience as a volunteer, don't just throw up your hands and walk away. Talk to the other parents, the volunteer coordinator, or the administrative staff about what happened and why you were displeased. Remember that it may take more than one time through a weekend to feel as if everything has sunk in and you're comfortable in your role. If you are unable to attend camps with your child, you can still be involved, either by volunteering over the summer, by doing work for the corps long distance or simply by asking how camp went. My parents always lived far from where I was in college, and also from where I marched, so they could not be directly involved in my camp experience, but they always inquired about camps and discussed them with me, so they could understand as much as possible about what I was doing and why it was important to me. Sometimes just asking is enough to let your child know that if it's important to him/her, it's important to you too. And, as with geographically closer parents, let your child's wishes guide your level of involvement. If you have previously not been heavily involved in your child's performing arts activities, don't feel you suddenly have to become a sewing mom extraordinaire, unless your child expresses a strong desire for that to happen. If you do feel prepared to do some volunteering, or feel a strong desire to do so, simply ask your child how much they'd like you to be involved, and go from there. Marching drum corps, should, after all, be a family affair, so in whatever level of support you're prepared to engage, be enthusiastic and positive for your child's sake.