Chickadee had a piano recital today. It’s been a bone of contention around here for quite a while, because Chickadee loves playing the piano but she hates to practice.
Go ahead. I’ll give you a minute to puzzle that one out. (If you figure it out, could you let me know? Thanks.)
So the recital pieces got handed out, and Chickadee promptly did that thing that kids do, the thing where “Oh, it’s fine,” is the answer to everything. It was fine that she wasn’t practicing, or practicing for just three minutes at a time. It was fine that really, this was supposed to be her PRACTICE piece in preparation for a harder one, but due to her failure to actually learn this one with any alacrity, she’d never been promoted to the next piece. The recital would be fine, MOM, SHEESH.
I went to her teacher and asked what I should do, and was told that I should just let her be. So I did.
I stopped nagging her to practice and she stopped practicing. Until we were down to this past week—the last week—and I started bringing it up again. And it was still all perfectly “fine” and finally, in a fit of frustration, I asked her what she thought was going to happen at the recital.
“I dunno,” she said. “I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
“Really?” I said. “It’ll be fine when you get up to play and don’t know your music and can’t play your piece and you realize that the five-year-olds are playing circles around you because you couldn’t be bothered to practice?”
She rolled her eyes.
We got there this morning and she looked around and three months of pestering alternated with stony but meaningful silences all came WHOOSHING back to her and she promptly began to freak out.
“Mom. MOM. I haven’t practiced enough! I can’t do this!”
Fortunately, I’d brought my stapler. I was able to use it to staple my tongue to the roof of my mouth. That way my teeth were still free to chew my gum.
“You’ll be fine, honey,” I said.
“No. NO I WON’T. It’s going to be terrible! I’M going to be terrible!”
I pulled her aside and leaned in close. “You know what, Chickie? It will be whatever it is. How much you did or didn’t practice is over, now. Today you’re getting up to play and you need to concentrate on breathing and getting through it. That’s all you can do, now. I know you can get through it.”
She seriously looked like she was going to puke on her shoes. I felt bad for her, but I also knew we were in the midst of a life lesson, here, and the best I could hope for was for it not to hurt too much.
We sat and listened to the students playing. Some of them were positively amazing. And then one little girl went up just a few slots before Chickadee. She began her piece and played well for about ten measures. And then she stumbled.
She stopped. Thought a moment. Moved her fingers. Started again. And stumbled.
She looked at her teacher, panicked. The teacher nodded encouragingly, and she tried again. Two measures, then another stumble.
Her lip began to quiver. She set her fingers down gently and tried again, as the first tear slid down her cheek. Again, she stumbled.
She put her hands up to her head and a quavering wail escaped her lips. We all sat there, every parent in the audience welling up on behalf of this poor little girl, as she burst into noisy sobs, clutching her forehead as she balanced on the piano bench, gasping and choking out to her teacher that she couldn’t do it, she’d messed it up too many times, she couldn’t possibly.
With a bit of calming down and coaching, she managed to get through a repeat of the flawless part she’d already played, then stood up and bowed (and was met with the sort of thunderous applause that can only come from an audience thankful the pain is over), and headed to her seat to collapse in tears again.
Every student who hadn’t yet played looked completely stricken.
The recital continued, but there weren’t any more flawless pieces. Everyone was rattled. Even the kids who were clearly the prodigies in the lot, playing complicated music at breakneck speed, had a few little stumbles.
Chickadee’s turn came and she seated herself, began to play, and didn’t make it two measures before she erred. She kept playing, but there was no rhythm (unless you want to count “grim death march” as a rhythm), she missed notes, skipped an entire section, and both looked and sounded like she was being burned alive.
Afterward she was fine for about fifteen minutes—as her teacher patted her and we praised her for getting through it—and then the adrenaline wore off and she realized exactly what had happened.
“I was terrible,” she cried. “I should’ve practiced more. It was all off. I skipped a whole section! And the rest sounded awful. I never want to do this again. EVER.”
I hugged her and smoothed her hair and let her rant. “You got scared when that little girl messed up, didn’t you?” I asked.
“Yes!” she said. “Oh my gosh, I felt so bad for her, and then I felt bad for ME because I was afraid I’d do the same thing. I DID do the same thing!”
“No you didn’t,” I said. “You got through it, and you didn’t cry. This was a good learning experience, honey. You toughed it out.”
She sniffled and gulped. “What did I learn, other than that I should’ve practiced more?” She wiped her eyes. “Like you always said,” she added, leaking fresh tears.
“Hey Chickie, you know what really stinks, when you’re a mom?” She shook her head. “Being right when your kid is sad. It stinks. Takes all the fun out of it.” I poked her and she didn’t quite smile, but it was close.
She sat there for a little bit. “Next year will be better,” I told her. She nodded, rather than insisting she’d never do it again. Progress, maybe.
I’m pretty sure I aged ten years today. At least.