So She Wouldn’t Forget

At no one’s urging, my daughter sat at our piano and sounded out the simple tune of “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” practicing it over and over until she could play it quick and smooth. I joined her to add a couple of complimentary chords, so that she would understand the potential of a song.

She wanted more. I dug out my son’s first lesson book. He’d taken piano and voice at a private music school, then picked up cello and guitar in his public middle schools, but no matter how hard I’ve tried, I’ve yet to convince my daughter to take lessons to learn to play an instrument. She doesn’t want to set a timer for thirty minutes of daily practice or be required to perform in a recital. She flipped through the first few pages of my son’s old book and began asking questions. Where do my fingers go? What are the keys called?

I showed her how to identify the notes A through G, how patterns repeat over and over on the keyboard, how to move her fingers through a scale. I walked away as she began randomly striking keys to hear how their notes combined. She called me back when she discovered a pleasing riff she wanted to share.

I explained that the notes she’d chosen were a portion of a chord, then demonstrated how she could create some easy chords herself. She added two she particularly liked to the end of her riff and decided this was a song. She asked me for paper to record where her fingers had gone so she wouldn’t forget. I printed off a few sheets with keyboard diagrams she could color. She kept at composing for the better part of an hour, asking me to listen each time she added a new progression to her song. She had no purpose besides pleasing herself, no motivation to continue besides the sheer joy of creating.

When I was my daughter’s age, I spent hours alone in my bedroom spinning records over and over, memorizing lyrics and melodies, learning to sing by imitating what I heard. I wrote song lyrics out on paper, studied the forms they took, tried to mold my own words into similar shapes. Those days continue to resonate.

We grow up and we require better reasons for spending our time. We seek measurable results, quantifiable benefits, proof that the outcome of our lives will be worth the cost of our days. My daughter doesn’t want the applause of an audience or an award of excellence or royalties from publishing her song. She is content hearing the harmony she has made. She has not yet learned to need anything extra for her effort.

I sit here shaping these words against an imperative to defend every minute I spend. I fight to remain faithful to the pure impetus of creation, to serve as a reliable witness, my daughter’s student in this lesson.

 

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I’m participating in Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge. This is #17 of 52.

 

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Mother Love

Last week I got sick with a nasty cold, and I wanted badly to check out of my life for a few days. There were things I should have done that I didn’t do, as happens when one is sick. The hardest thing about being sick, though, for me, as a mother, is letting down my kids. I got to thinking about this after I blew up at them one evening when I was feeling particularly sorry for myself and wanting to be the one cared for instead of the one who always has to do the caring. The incident itself was unremarkable, but for days afterward, I ruminated on our relationship to each other, on the roles of mother and child.

Mothering is more difficult than I ever imagined it would be before I became a mother. The first few weeks after my son was born, I remember being in a state of shock over the fact that I could not go anywhere ever again without either taking him with me or arranging for his care while I was gone. This should have been expected, but it was something I’d never contemplated previously. I had been a singular, independent being, then suddenly I was one half of a conjoined duo. Another being was completely dependent on me for survival. Yes, sure, I had help from my husband, who is a very hands-on dad, but that didn’t change the fact that primarily it was me who had the responsibility of making sure our son’s needs were met.

It is still me, the mother, that my now teen and preteen kids depend on. Nothing is right in the world if I do not listen to their stories, if I do not help them with their school projects, if I do not counsel them on their friendships. I am expected to provide them food and remind them to eat it. I am the one they need to take them shopping when they outgrow their clothes and shoes. I am the one who calls the right doctor and gets them the right medicine and holds them close no matter how contagious they are. My husband is still the hands-on dad he’s always been, but I am always the one my kids need above all others.

I am the mother, and mothers are supposed to care for their kids before anyone else, including themselves. I know that my kids love me, but I understand also that their love is based on my satisfying the need they have for a caring mother. Last week they knew I was sick, and I know they cared that I was sick, but that didn’t stop them from needing me to care for them. When I lashed out in protest, they experienced, for a brief moment, the despair of not having a mother who cared about their needs. Shortly thereafter, I apologized to them and, within a few hours, they had recovered from their brief despair and our relationship was back to normal. That was only possible because I have proven to them repeatedly, through our daily interactions, that I do care about their needs. Continue reading “Mother Love”