Love needs a little smile

By Mir
August 27, 2009

Lord, this has been a long week. I was sick, Otto’s been sick, yesterday Monkey was sick, and thanks to all of that, we’re all behind on work and meals have been cobbled together a la “Well, I found… a green pepper that doesn’t look too old. And a slice of cheese. And I think we have some rice. What could I make with that?” I like order and routine and this week has had precious little of that.

To top it off, Chickadee (having gotten sick last week, instead) has been trucking along as the sole healthy member of the family, but with her skin having taken another turn for the worse. She so dreads the steroids and other interventions that at this point she just dons long sleeves and long pants and hopes I just don’t notice. I do notice, of course, and yesterday I was finally well enough to play Spend The Entire Day On The Phone Trying To Make Headway. It’s my least favorite game, but it was time.

So the good news is that despite her issues with the spacing of kids in our family, the nice dermatologist called me right back and said the magic words I’ve been wanting to hear: “I think it’s time for the big guns. I’d like to send you to a specialist at Emory.”

I may have done a little dance. She went on to tell me why this particular specialist is exactly the right person to see, precisely the doctor who will be able to figure out The Mystery Of The Rash if anyone can, etc. “But she’s very in demand,” she cautioned. “I’ll call over there for you, but then you’ll have to call for an appointment, and you may have to wait a while.” I thanked her profusely, and she called back a few minutes later to confirm that it was a go, I should go ahead and call and get scheduled.

I called. I waited on hold for 25 minutes before being told that sorry, Dr. Expert is booked up through the end of the year and they’re not scheduling any new patients for her. EVER. When I stammered that the other doc was referring us, I was told that I might be able to get an appointment to see Dr. Expert at Grady, instead. I never go into Atlanta unless being lured by the siren song of Trader Joe’s or Ikea, so I know nothing about Grady. I asked where it was. The receptionist said, “Downtown,” like I was a moron. I meekly thanked her, took down the Grady number, and called.

I waited on hold for 15 minutes before being dumped into someone’s voicemail, whereupon I left a message that has yet to be returned. Hopes are not running particularly high, here.

[This section redacted due to chronic foot in mouth disease. Apologies.]

So. Attempt to take care of my kid: FAILED.

Yesterday evening Chickadee was engaging in her latest hobby, which is taking out her newly-procured flute to practice and then pulling an uncanny Don Music impersonation as she discovers, once again, that she’s actually completely unable to make any SOUND with the damn thing.

Here, apparently, is how band works at the middle school: You sign up. Your parents spend hundreds of dollars on an instrument. And then you go to a class filled with a hundred of your classmates and spend a lot of time tapping your toes. Your individualized instruction time in each class amounts to approximately three seconds. And if, as my daughter was, you happen to be absent on the day the flutes are given instruction in embouchure, the band instructor will tell you, “Just keep practicing” without actually, you know, instructing you on what the hell you’re supposed to actually PRACTICE.

As a result, there is now a “test” on Friday wherein Chickadee has to be able to play an introductory piece in her book, and last night—still unable to elicit a sound from the stupid flute—my daughter began to completely freak out.

Having completely failed to procure necessary medical attention for her, earlier in the day, I of course resolved to remedy her flute problem, instead. Because of all those years I spent playing flute and teaching music.

(Except, uh, I never played flute or taught music. Details.)

We sat down together and read the instructions in her flute book. I may have Googled some tips, as well. With a bit of futzing around, we discovered that I was able to correctly blow into the flute so as to produce a tone, so first I made her watch me do it, then we set up camp in my bathroom so that she could attempt to duplicate what I was doing while watching herself in the mirror.

Chickadee became progressively more frustrated as her blowing continued to produce nothing more than a stray squeak here and there. “It’s like whistling, but sort of down,” I tried. No dice. “Here, put the flute down and practice directing air into this straw,” I suggested, once I’d ascertained that she was having trouble narrowing the airstream sufficiently. She sat on my bathroom counter and held a drinking straw under her lower lip, brow furrowed with the concentration of trying to direct her breath into the little hole. “Okay, this time, you blow, and I’m going to slowly roll the flute so we can see if it’s an alignment thing,” I offered, and she blew while I rocked the instrument against her chin.

Nothing was working.

I asked to see the flute again, and this time I tried it while watching myself in the mirror and studying my mouth. I consulted her book again. It said something about raising the corners of the mouth while keeping the lower lip relaxed, which earlier in the evening Chickadee had assured me was completely impossible.

“Hey, I want to try one more thing,” I said, passing the flute back to her. “Get yourself lined up, okay?” She raised the flute to her mouth, sighing, shoulders slumped. “Posture, girl!” I poked her in the waist and she giggled and straightened up, and I pointed at her mouth in the mirror. “THAT,” I said, “That’s what you’re missing, right there.” She quirked an eyebrow at me. “I want you to see if you can play while you’re smiling.” She pulled a giant, fake grin and sputtered over the mouthpiece. “NOOOOOO,” I said, “not like THAT.” She giggled. “Just a little HINT of a smile. Like you’re trying NOT to smile. Know what I mean?”

She nodded, and settled the flute against her chin. And blew. And it sounded just like a flute being played.

She gasped and nearly dropped the darn thing.

“Bingo,” I said.

She did it again. And then she played her piece. And then she really did smile.

I suggested she play it through a couple more times, and I left her to it. She played it four more times and then came and flopped down on the couch next to me, rubbing her lower lip. “Feels different, huh?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said. “Feels funny.”

“Well, you’ve got it now. Keep practicing and soon it’ll feel normal.” She nodded. I waited. She sat there. So I continued, “And thanks, Mom, for spending all that time helping me even though you don’t know anything about flute!”


I nodded. “Also, Mom, you are the greatest mom ever. And I will never misbehave again because I love you so much.”



I sent her to bed.

And left her a little reminder in her flute case.

Happy Love Thursday, everyone. I know that few of life’s problems can be solved with a smile—perhaps fewer and fewer the older we get, even—but I’m not above savoring the ones that can. I hope you aren’t, either.


  1. Jean

    You are the best mom ever!

  2. Dawn

    Best. Mom. Ever.

    The correct mouth position for playing flute is not easy. Extra kudos for figuring it out on your own from the interwebs!

  3. Jan in Norman, OK

    You can now consider yourself an official “Band Mom”. The true meaning of this will grow clearer as the years pass. Blessings on you and your kind.

  4. Zilla

    Congrats on conquering the flute. I hope it continues to go well for her. You are a great mom…hope you all feel better soon.

  5. Miriam

    Good job, Mir! I took private flute lessons for 12 years, and you need to kick that band teacher in the heinie! If I remember correctly when I was first learning to play, our flute teacher had me put a grain of rice on the tip of my tongue and practice spitting it ever so gently. That teaches not only the correct embouchure, but also how to punctuate each note. The Suzuki method is fabulous! Plus, it’s fun for kids! Good luck and hope she flourishes with her new instrument!

  6. Kelly

    While reading this post, I was making the “flute face”, and blowing air downward. Perhaps doing this at work at my desk in full view of my office mates was not the best idea, but I was pulling for you both to get it. I did not play the flute in band, I played the clarinet. However, I do know how to play the flute because my cousin played flute, and I would make her show me. Good luck to Chickadee and you both. Flute practice will have to sound better than clarinet practice, which sounded like two angry walruses having loud angry sex. Or maybe that was just me practicing. I did not say I was any good, just that I played.

  7. Megan

    Thank goodness I played the violin which makes noise regardless of smile or not (not GOOD noise mind you, but noise! I always made a noise). Also thank goodness Child 1 opted out of music, Child 2 did violin (which I knew) and Child 3 did cello which is totally like a violin you don’t stick under your chin (Only it turns out it’s not, really quite so much).

    Also? Can the slightly-disapproving but quite nice dermatologist maybe possibly intervene in person with the Very Busy Emory Person? I know… probably still won’t do any good but dang it…

  8. Ani

    Grady might not be the best place (I believe it is the public hospital, and tends to be underfunded and perpetually in need of help) but if it gets you in to see Dr. Expert, it will do. If you are driving into Atlanta on I85, you will drive right past it as you are heading downtown. It’s just by the highway, a few exits down from Ikea.

    Don’t ask me how to get off the highway and actually reach it though. :-) I usually didn’t make it past Ikea, unless heading to the airport (ugh!)

  9. Aimee

    I play the flute, although not very regularly these days and ergo, not very well. I taught a couple of beginners, too, back in the day; and I think you did a great job. Especially as someone who’s never played! I used straws to teach one of my students how to play the higher notes, and it worked like a charm. I love Miriam’s former teacher’s trick with the grain of rice, too.

    Happy Love Thursday! And here’s hoping Chickadee’s first solo is better than mine — I played the theme from Charlie’s Angels!

  10. Randi

    I think that the flute is one of the most difficult instruments to learn how to play – I played the oboe – another one of the most difficult instruments (and not an instrument that gained me any popularity, let me tell you that!).

    Maybe your band experiences will get better – maybe Monkey will choose drums!

    Or…not :)

  11. Jen

    My son just asked me what was wrong with me. I was trying all the things you described while reading. Apparently I was making a lot of noises. Heh. You rock, you know…

  12. Lucinda

    You rock!

  13. MomCat

    All warm and fuzzy now. : ) Mine did four hours of homework last night, and I was expecting grumps, but when she closed her books, she smiled and hugged me and said, “I’m so happy I’m able to keep up with all these AP classes! Melt.

  14. JennyM

    I wonder how many people are out there making funny not-smile faces at their computers at this very moment. Because I’m glad no one walked into my office just now.

    That’s awesome that you were able to have a breakthrough!

    I hope Very Important Doctor can see you somehow….although, at the rate the other doctors seem to be going, you might end up with that appointment after all before they’re able to come up with something. Jeez.

  15. Tracy

    Congrats on the flute. That’s got to be the hardest instrutment to play. I hope you get to the doctor’s office and get everything else resolved. Why do they make it so hard to just get treated? Why?

  16. Chris

    Grday is right next to GA State. It isn’t so much the part of town anymore as some of the clients. It is a level 1 trauma center (a damn good one at that) so car crash, burn, and gunshot victims are more the norm. It is also a teaching hospital and many of the best doctors in Atlanta rotate there because it is a public hospital. All that said, I had never set foot in the place until a friend was taken there last week, but it was nothing like the scary hype I’ve heard. They are definitely more millitant about visitors, etc., but the staff has been great for the most part. If Chick needs to see a doctor I wouldn’t put it off just because Grady was the location. Another suggestion is Peachtree Dermatology- the founder was a huge innovator in the field and they seem to be able to cure anything. Just something to keep in your back pocket.
    Good luck!

  17. dad

    I’m old. I still have lots of problems that can be solved with a smile.
    Good for you for having the love and patience to deal with all this and maintain your sense of humor.
    Thank goodness it’s Thursday.

    Life is a hoot!

  18. Katie in MA

    I *have* noticed, though, that even though I can’t solve them with a smile, a little smile usually helps. You are the Master of Subtle Morals, Mir. :)

  19. Shannon

    Wow! Did they not have the kids try different instruments before having you purchase/rent one? Around here they spend the first few weeks trying out different instruments, and when everyone is done, the teacher sends home a note telling you what instrument your child will be learning.

    And props to you for teaching her how to properly play the instrument. Thank God that the band teacher at the middle school teaches the kids when they start band in 6th grade. I don’t have the patience for that. (And I never took band, so I have no idea how to play any of the instruments, however, with 2 girls that have played flute, and my son starting band this year, I guess I should at least learn some of the flute).

  20. Jenn

    Wish I could be there to help her!! I DO know how to play the flute. Tell her to keep trying . . . it gets MUCH BETTER.

  21. Anna Marie

    Mir, you are the most fantabulous mom. Seriously.

  22. ttulizzy

    Hooray for the new band mom. Being a former band kid, they are seriously the best. parents. ever.

    For real!

  23. Alix R

    My heart goes out to her – I started playing at 10, after the band teacher tried with limited success to get me to play cello. Flute was definitely a better choice.

    Especially since (at 34) I’m trying to go back and get a performance degree…

  24. pam

    If we think about it we’d be surprised at just how many things can be solved with a smile.

  25. Emma

    Take that old bag of rice and have her practice spitting it across the room, grain by grain. It worked for my and I’ve been playing 20+ years now.

  26. marge

    what is trader joe’s?

  27. loonytick

    The doctor is the same doctor, no matter which building you’re in for the appointment. You’ll be fine at Grady.

  28. David

    Grady is fine. Park your car and go inside. You’re not going to be hanging out on the street in the neighborhood where the hospital is.

  29. Karate Mom

    Aaaah, the joys of band! I started playing the flute in 6th grade and I remember NOTHING about how they told me to make the flute face. Except that now, if I gently blow on my chin, I know that I would be playing my flute correctly.
    (OH, and learning how to play the flute will come in really handy for knowing how to make a noise on any type of straw or pop bottle she’ll ever encounter! Because, you know, that’s a handy skill!)

  30. Jess

    You have a lot of flute players among your readers, me included! ;)

  31. Anna

    Oh, man. We’ve been to the downtown-bad-neighborhood hospital, too. But, the doctors were fabulous, even if there was a two month wait for the appointment.
    And I’m not above calling the referring doctor to say “PLEASE, help me! You said we’d get in with no problem, and they said it was more impossible than a polar bear on Mars.”
    Voila- appointment. :) Doctor-calling-doctor appointment making works better. One doctor even got preliminary advice and an Rx, which meant that my little one was walking again before she even SAW the specialist! So we were two steps ahead of the game.

    I played clarinet, but I was still making the flute face during the story. :)

  32. Beth R

    Sorry guys, I was a tuba player. I wasn’t making the flute face… I was wondering why she chose such a boring instrument! (ducks and covers, laughing hysterically)

    You did GREAT with that, Mir! I would be totally hopeless on how to teach someone to play an instrument I don’t play, even with teh Interwebs.

    Anc Chickadee? Makes me die laughing. Such a sense of humor on that girl!

  33. Ladybug Crossing

    LOL!! I was a flute player as well. LLB can get nothing out of the flute – which is why she plays trumpet…

    As a band mom of two, may I suggest private lessons. She will progress much faster and she will enjoy the instrument so much more…


  34. Kristen

    I love the relationship you have with your daughter. And you made me want to get out the flute I haven’t played in 25 years!

  35. Amy

    I played flute for a LONG time, and the hardest part was the very beginning – learning how to make a noise! :) The second hardest part is when they needed a piccolo player for Stars & Stripes Forever, it was like learning to make noise all over again. :)

    Good luck w/ the doctor.

  36. megumi

    Mir, you are awesome. As a former fife player, I know that it can be hard to get started . Way to stick with it Mom and Chickadee!

    Band moms are awesome :)

  37. Elizabeth Harper

    Grady is fine…I used to call on doc’s there all the time in my past life. Just park in the parking deck and go in. Mapquest it out so you know where you’re going. That part can be tricky even for those who live it the area. There are a lot of one way streets there. Also pull up the hospital online and follow the parking directions. Most importantly…don’t leave anything visible in your car especially a GPS.

    Don’t be afraid of downtown though or you’ll miss out on a lot of what is really good about Atlanta.

  38. Sheila

    Count me among the flute-face-makers. Maybe we should all hook up our Web Cams and send the video to Chickadee– it might put a half-smile on her face to see how many people are rooting for her.

  39. Lauren

    I would take “YOU CANNOT GO TO GRADY” with a grain of salt. I was told the same thing when I did my student teaching at Grady High School (which is two miles away from the hospital). It’s a city hospital, for sure, in a city with a lot of social problems, and it’s reflective of that, but it’s also a well-respected teaching hospital — especially if you’re getting outpatient services. Ultimately, a hospital is a hospital is a hospital — it’s a place where sick people can go to feel better. That’s all.

  40. Tammy


  41. Darcie

    My middle schooler picked drums. D-R-U-M-S. Besides the fact that he can’t carry the bag with his equipment because it weighs more than he does…when he practices at home, my 5 year old runs for cover thinking it is thunder. Sigh.

  42. mamabird

    This was wonderful. I learned to play almost every instrument in band class because I got bored so quickly. I’m so impressed with how you figured it out! Definitely going to keep that one in my brain for when my little girl is older!

  43. Scottsdale Girl

    Marge: Trader Joe’s is HEAVEN

  44. Emily

    You’re my hero! I hope I will bring this post to mind years from now when I’m faced with my own daughters’ band-practice crises. A little smiling goes a long way, indeed.

  45. steff

    patience just might be your best virtue! :-)

  46. Half Assed Kitchen

    Hey, great story. I sure hope when my kids hit band they are more disciplined that I was. I’d sit there and pretend to play my trombone (how nerdy!) while just sliding the slider up and down.

  47. Ann

    So, I guess I shouldn’t tell you that the flautist (or flutist) players were the troublemakers in band in High School? But, we did have fun. Lucky for her, if she plays thru high school and gets to play at football games her fingers won’t freeze to her flute like it would in New England !!!

  48. carolyn

    No one bother to tell you in “pre-mom” training that you must be a master of all trades, do they? I can not begin to count the things I’ve had to figure out and then TEACH my kids. Around here, I’m known as MacGyver, because I can figure out anything.

  49. Heather

    You are full of win, Mir :) You inspire me, truly.

  50. Jen B

    I’d say, call Ms. Dermatologist back & ask to exactly whom she spoke with at Emory, and get their phone number. And call and ask for that specific person. Because most likely no one else in the office knows Chickie’s name or why she needs to be seen.

    And good for you & her for learning how to play the flute! Now the fun begins! (From a former band geek & wife of a former band geek!)

  51. mama speak

    Mir, I’m so impressed w/you. I learned to play flute in 4th grade. But we had the teacher sitting down w/4 of us. I was the kid who picked it up and just seem to know what to do (ducks from flying shoe). I would be crappy at teaching that part of it for that reason. I’m so impressed you figured it out by the interwebs. Considering your description of middle school band, I suggest that if she actually wants to LEARN to play you might want to sign her up for outside lessons. I didn’t do band for exactly the reason her class sounds like, completely ridiculous & a waste of time, even for a 6th grader.

  52. Mandee

    Admittedly, I had the same reaction to Grady as Joshilyn. I clerked at a law firm that represented the GA Hospital Association and the joke there was that if you were shot, go to Grady, but as soon as you can speak tell them to transfer you.

    But, I’ve been covered in mystery hives before, so if Grady is where the potential help is? Get thee to Grady.

  53. Kirsten

    Oh the flute ;) I was a born & bred clarinet player from the time I was 10, but I was curious and convinced my high school music teacher to also let me take other instruments home. By the time I graduated, I had taught myself the bass clarinet, alto sax, flute and some trumpet.

    I’d like to kick Chickie’s music teacher in the behind though… if that’s the way the instruction is going. Music can be such an integral part of student life… I don’t know where I would be if I didn’t have my years of band and choir!

  54. annette

    I played flute from 5th grade until soph or jr yr. At that time we had to decide if we were doing band or being on the pom pom squad. No more concert band option. I then decided getting the attention from boys in a pommer uniform was way more important than expanding my musical ability!(I am glad my kids don’t read this).
    I worked at a teaching hospital in St. Louis. And, I interned at a teaching hospital in a bad part of Chicago. Teaching hospitals are great.Go to Grady if you can get in. Or, ask the specialist at Grady who THEY would recommend if “Dr. Iam Special” can’t get her in.

    We have a Trader Joe’s here and I still don’t get the appeal.
    Maybe it is because we have a big family and it just doesn’t seem right to have to buy four packages of whatever.

    Great job with Chickie, Mir. I wish I had your patience.

  55. Amy-Go

    I think I would call Doc #1 back and FREAK OUT. It might not help, but it would sure make me feel better.

    And hey, another once-upon-a-time flute player, here! Tell Chickie good luck and keep at it! It gets better fast!

  56. mlb

    I can’t speak to Grady, but in many areas of the country the best hospitals with the best docs are in the worst areas. Hopkins is in a not-good area but I think very few people wouldn’t get care there because of the neighborhood. Often, it’s because the neighborhood is not good that the hospital becomes excellent. And call the referring doc and keep calling the appointments line both places. Keep calling.

  57. Andrea

    I agree…keep calling and see if you can get on a wait list. Be flexible in your schedule, call as many days as humanly possible to see if they have a cancellation and take the last minute appointment if one opens up–even if it is later that day. Even busy doctors really dislike vacancies in their schedules.

    And apologize to the scheduler that you are constantly calling–you know you’re being a pain in the butt but you really were told Dr X is the best for your daughter. Ask the schduler what time is best to figure out if there is a cancellation…depends on how the practice confirms appointments.

    I’ve run plenty of diffeent kinds of practices and these techniques worked with us.

    Good luck.

  58. Trish C

    I’d call the dermatologist back and tell her that the specialist’s staff said you couldn’t see the specialist. There may have been a bit of miscommunication, or it’s possible that your dermatologist might be able to get Chickadee in anyway once she talks to the specialist and explains the case.

  59. GrandeMocha

    I played flute from 4th grade thru sophmore yr. Even dated a drum major. Then it became socially unacceptable to be a band geek. Can’t believe that many of you readers are former flute players.

  60. David

    Something, something, something? LOL. I’m pretty sure kid hearing is similar to cat hearing–very keen, but highly selective. =)

  61. Anita Tedaldi

    I’ll send the mafia over to get you an appointment right away (just kidding of course)
    The note in the flute case, so touching! What a mom gesture, you;re there, you’re there when you are not there, you support, love and even find humor to help her!

  62. Traci

    This brought back a long-forgotten memory! In 6th grade I tried to play the flute in band and also was unable to produce a noise. After a week, I finally convinced the teacher to show me what I was doing wrong. Ten minutes of him demonstrating then watching me and offering suggestions followed. Then he told me I would NEVER be able to play the flute because I had the WRONG LIPS. As I recall he said the way my top lip dipped ever so slightly down made it impossible for me to form the correct “o”. I was told to leave. Kicked out of band for bad lips! Embarrassing…no wonder I suppressed this memory for 25 years.

  63. jen

    As a flute teacher, I am totally impressed that you got her to make a sound. Getting a sound from a flute as a beginner is TOUGH, but once you get it, ya got it. One thing she can try, to get a better sound and make things easier, is to blow a tissue against the wall. Harder than it sounds, but she’ll get the idea of using abdominal muscles to support the air so she can blow longer. And kudos to you, for making her learn piano first. That will make flute a lot easier.
    And tomorrow I get to Spend The Entire Day On The Phone Trying To Make Headway for my oldest. I only hope it doesn’t end with me calling for bail. Sigh…

  64. ChristieNY

    Mir I remember clearly not having a flute for the first two weeks of band practice when we started. I was in the last chair with 19 other flutists in 4th grade, and exceedingly frustrated when I finally got it and couldn’t even make a sound with it.

    I ended up taking private lessons and by my senior year of high school was the first chair. Chickadee is off to an EXCELLENT start with you by her side! Great job! =)

  65. tripleblessings

    Wow, way to go Mir! You have once again impressed the heck out of me. I can’t blow a sound from a pop/beer bottle, and doubt I can do flute either. Thank somebody-up-there that my kids are only in grade 4, so I have 2 more years before band instruments to study up…
    You are such an awesome mom!

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