Monday, January 30, 2012

Just Walk Away

I actually googled "Why do my feet hurt so much when I wear high heels?" when I got home from work today.  Duh.  I think the answer is in part two of the question.  I am a slow learner.  (In fact, sometimes I never learn.)  Tonight, my daughter Emily helped me learn a lesson that's been a long time coming.

The evening started off well enough: a nice whole wheat pasta dinner with salad, Don sneaking cheese onto the Leah-imposed vegan table, the children talking with their mouths open and laughing uproariously about things to do with farting and burping and all of us saying what we were thankful for.  In short, we were happy campers.

But then Mama had to go and say the dreaded words: in fact the words dreaded only to me, but that somehow managed to put a mist of dread in the air that then landed right on Emily's head.  

"You gals need to practice your piano tonight.  It's been a few days and your piano teacher is coming on Friday."  (It is my habit to utter this sentence only two to four days before Mrs. Wong, the piano teacher, comes; it is usually said out of parental guilt because I do not want Mrs. Wong to think I am a bad parent because I do not make my children practice their piano even though we pay a lot of money for weekly lessons.)

I hated practicing piano as a kid and by default, I hate it when my kids practice piano.  I know this sounds stupid (and it is) but I actively do not want my children to practice piano. 

When I hunch over beside those keys and watch Emily's fingers furtively guess at the right note which I know she can't even see because her eyes are swollen up with tears, it viscerally brings back all the memories of torturous lessons where I suffered through reprimands and hand corrections because I had succeeded in practicing about ten minutes the week before, lying to my mother and telling her when she called me from her job at the shoe department at Sears, "Of course, I'm practicing.  I'm doing it right now.  Can't you hear me?"  (Plunk, plunk.) 

It appeared tonight that I had succeeded in passing the "I hate piano practice" baton on to my youngest daughter, Emily.  (My eldest, Charlotte, is another story: she sets such high expectations for herself she doesn't need a momma setting them for her.  In her two years of piano she has overtaken me on my nearly ten.  I am as good as dead to her now in the piano-playing world.)  

I want Emily to appreciate music, to be able to play the Reader's Digest version of Billy Joel's "Piano Man" on her first try, if she so desires.  (My goals are not lofty.)  I just don't think she should have to practice to get there.  She should just be able to hang around the piano for a few minutes every week like I did and it will come to her through transmutation or evaporation or osmosis or something like that.    Like it did for me.  Not.

Okay, I don't think she should have to practice with me sitting on the piano bench beside her to get there.  I don't think I should be saying, "Emily, that's middle C.  It's the first note you ever learned.  I don't think I should be chanting, "One two three four" when I've never figured out what a whole note is and my fat fingers trip all over each other on even the simplest of tunes.

Basically, I hate helping my kids with piano.  There I said it.  I love helping them to read and write and teaching them how to bake and do word games and puzzles, but I really actively hate helping them with their piano.  Does that make me bad?  (I'm guessing that to some of you, it does.)

My own piano playing hell ended on the fateful day my mother got a phone call to say, "Are you sure Leah still needs to take piano lessons?  She's been playing for nearly 10 years now and she doesn't seem to have much of an aptitude for it."  Finally my mother threw in the towel and let me quit.  I had won!

(It's true I have no rhythm and I'm lazy, but I still think my biggest limitation was the tininess of my hands - I can barely reach an octave and my hands suffer from over-use and near exhaustion just past the five minute mark when I am tinkling the ivories.  They're just not cut out for the piano. Maybe I should have stuck with the recorder.)

This evening with Emily, I just had to walk away from the piano and take myself upstairs before I lost my temper.  "She's not even trying," I thought to myself indignantly.  "It's her own fault if she loses all her Matchbox car time and has to sit in front of that piano until bedtime.  If she wasn't so stubborn, she could just sit down and practice and be finished in a few minutes.  But will she?  No!"  

And with those self-righteous thoughts, Mommy dramatically swept herself upstairs as big slippery tears dripped from Emily's adorable eyes, mixing with her snotty nose droplets which collectively puddled onto the piano keys, forming a wet, slimy surface that Emily slowly, deliberately massaged into each key.  

Mommies can't be patient all the time.  But mommies can walk away.  And let daddies take over.  

And so I came upstairs, flung myself on the bed (still being dramatic even though there was no one to see me) and sighed grandiosely, thinking to myself, "Children are such hard work!"

I know as a parent (and as a teacher) I have those days where I could rant on and on.  "I work my fingers to the bone for you and what do I get...?"  

You know the tale of lament.  But kids don't care what you do for them.  They just need to know they're taken care of and loved no matter what. 

My lesson for today (and many days) when I feel like I am not being appreciated enough and nobody is listening to the pearls of wisdom that drip from my mouth is to shut up and walk away.  If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say it at all does not exactly apply to childrearing because children need to be corrected and guided to some degree, but 

JUST SHUT UP AND WALK AWAY(even if you must do with a flair of drama because that's just who you are) UNTIL YOU CAN COME BACK AND BE NICE ABOUT MAKING YOUR KIDS DO WHAT YOU WANT THEM TO

does apply.

About three minutes on the bed and the self-realization that "I am Emily: Emily is me" brought me back downstairs to find Emily playing with Daddy on his iphone and having a grand, giggly time.  She got a bit of down time, I got a bit of breathing space, and we were both good to go.

After a few more goes, Emily mastered "The Merry WidowWaltz" and then went on to do several rousing rounds of "I'm a Little Teapot."

As long as Mama was saying, "Bravo, bravo.  Encore, encore," Emily was happy to keep playing.

Lesson learned.  Until next time.

In My Next Life:

I am going to practice my scales religiously and learn to play some Billy Joel tunes with real pizazz.  (I am also going to master all the ABBA songs so I can drive Don nuts.)

I am going to be less of a drama queen (though I can't imagine).

I am going to stop wearing heels, especially the ones that pinch my toes.

I am not going to have to walk away because I will already be good-humored and patient.

I am going to still choose to be a mom (even though I know it's hard).

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