It would be hard to think of something more likely to send our son into a meltdown than being in a huge, darkened hall with thousands of screaming people, flashing lights, and a wildly loud sound system blaring out music. That after an hour and half journey at the end of a long first week back at school, and a hastily scrambled McDonalds meal in a way overcrowded restaurant.
And when the event is a Little Mix concert that has excited and been keenly anticipated for months, the potential for overload and meltdown is even greater. There are so many ways this could go wrong, all of which would have devastating emotional consequences for ages afterwards.
But it didn’t. Instead, with some management, the evening was a huge success.
Our son is a HUGE Little Mix fan. He listens to them all the time. He searches out videos of the tours on Youtube and watches, rocking to himself in his curtained off safe space. He also loves to perform, and before Christmas won his school’s ‘Got Talent’ contest singing the Little Mix song ‘Salute’. He taught himself the dance moves, sung and danced and got the whole school cheering and chanting his name.
So, when he realised Little Mix were touring he started telling everyone he was going. Our first stress was that their London gig had sold out, and we didn’t know how to tell him. But then a second at Wembley arena was announced, and we pounced. So from late December until yesterday, the excitement mounted. And mounted and mounted.
All this week, he’s been telling everyone about the concert. As we left school yesterday he was shouting out to his friends over and over that he was going to see Little Mix. After agreeing on the right outfit – sparkly leggings, ‘rock star’ boots, a tight spandex shirt that holds him tight, a ‘zandana’ on his head plaited just so, we had to drive to the Tube, then a short ride to Wembley. We got quite wet as the rain poured down at Stanmore, and he started to say he wanted to go home. He refused to smile for a picture. I was worried things were going wrong.
At Wembley, McDonalds was a zoo. Too many small children crowded into too small a space. All totally excited. People fighting, almost literally, for seats as the rain continued to pour down. So, overwhelmed, with the tension building, he refuses to eat after a few Mozzarella dippers. He wants to get out. Now. He wants to run home. It’s too much.
Then his mood turns a little. There’s a Curry’s just off Wembley Way. He spends five minutes in the calm staring at washing machines, a regular obsession, and it works. Now he wants to go. It’s time to find Wembley Arena.
Out in the rain again, he’s not so sure. Where we’re going isn’t familiar. We can’t find it. We have to go home. It’s too wet. There’s too many people. Then, round a corner, we’re there. And they have fountains, with LED lights. These are mesmerising and help to restore calm. We find Door One, a side entrance which people with special needs can use. There’s a small, relatively tranquil seating area inside where we can wait until it’s time to go into the main hall. Out of the crowds and rain, with his new t-shirt in hand, he’s quickly chatting happily to three young Italian girls who don’t speak English! He’s excited and happy, they’re enchanted with his infectious enthusiasm.
Into the hall, we find our seats. He looks around suspiciously, but we have room to dance and can see the stage and screen well. He’s happy. He runs through his favourite songs, what he wants them to sing. He chats with our neighbours.
When the first act appears, a young, unsigned singer called Joey Devries, our son stands and screams and cheers – because that’s what you do at concerts! This despite the fact the hall is still two thirds empty. Devries sings well enough, and after 20 minutes of trying to get the hall going, he leaves. Our son is content. He liked the songs, it hadn’t been too loud, nor too stimulating, and there wasn’t too much noise from the crowd. Now he’s anticipating Nathan Sykes, who came, he tells me, from The Wanted.
Sykes, too, goes down well. Our son knows a couple of his songs and sings along. He bounces and gyrates, getting warmed up for Little Mix. He cheers and screams. Again, it’s not too much as it could have been. It’s just right. And, after 30 minutes, Nathan Sykes yells “Thank You Wembley” and the roadies start the preparations for Little Mix.
Now the hall is full. The noise is a little too much for our son. The buzz of anticipation a little overwhelming. But instead of freezing, or melting down, he asks for headphones to cut out the noise and sits, rocking in his chair, finding his centre. It’s a sign he’s growing up, and knows better how to help himself. Cameras start to show the crowd on the big screen, happy facing waving down at us. He hides under his seat so they can’t find him. He doesn’t want to be up there. And then after a twenty minute wait, the lights dim, the music starts to blare out, the screams reach a crescendo and the main attraction hit the stage.
At this point it could have gone horribly wrong. Our son looks around, at the stage, at the crowd on each side and behind us. He has his headphones on, but he’s not sure. If it’s all too much now, I dread what will come next. The tears, the flight, and the upset for days and weeks to come.
But it doesn’t happen. His eyes light up, and he starts to bounce up and down and sing the song that Little Mix begin with. And so it goes for the next two hours. He sings every word. He loves the videos with their bright, flashing images. He loves the lit up bunny ears many of the crowd are wearing. He loves the beat. He loves the base, although from time to time that gets a little intense. He hears his favourites and sees his stars dance to them. In his own concentrated, studied way he follows every moment. He can identify the confetti blasters at the bottom of the stage. He sees every detail on the screens. He knows exactly what costume with what detailing each Little Mixer was wearing for which song. He absorbs everything. He loves it. He’s on his chair jumping, he’s back on the floor dancing. He screams, he sings, and the event is a triumph.
As it’s done, we leave in the crowd and he can’t stop chattering away, recounting every little detail with a huge smile on his face. He loves Little Mix. He loves Wembley Arena. He loves the tube train. He sits in the car and rocks and sings the songs he has just heard performed. We get home at 11.30, hours after bedtime, and he doesn’t want to wake Mum so he tiptoes quietly to bed. He wakes in the morning and bursting with joy, a serene smile on his face, he tells Mum all about it. He declares the whole experience was “epic!”
Music is a huge part of our son’s life. He lives for it in many ways. It is one of his biggest talents. It’s partly the way his alcohol affected brain works, the difficulty in communication between the two halves of the brain gives him a greater focus for music and rhythm. On a stage he really comes into himself. He has presence. He loves also to listen and watch. This experience could have been just one step too far. I was worried almost until the end, but it worked and I am so happy it did. Relieved and happy. Now he knows what to expect, and can’t wait for the next event. His world has broadened a little and he has seen something spectacular. On the way home we talk about his singing and dancing. About the school talent contest and about how he can perform for people too as he gets older.