Caroline, my youngest, came into the world dancing, twirling, and humming a happy tune. The baby of five, she plays her role in the family flawlessly. From the moment we brought her home, we not only loved her, but we loved all that came with her – lots of pink, hair bows, bloomers, baby dolls, and ballet dresses. As a toddler, she woke up smiling with open arms (literally) looking for hugs. She spent her days either dancing with poise and grace (as much as a 2 yr old can have), OR chasing her big brothers with a pink cowboy gun. I’ve learned much from her. She soaks in every ounce of life and lives each moment to the fullest. Nothing is boring. She notices the newest bird that decided to reside in our yard, writes stories for hours (phonetically – reading them can become a game in itself) and has vision for any scrap of yarn or paper. She’s a living craft tornado, sucking up remnants in her path and leaving a trail of destruction, along with a mighty creative craft project, behind.
We are finally wrapping up the school year. In the last few weeks, we’ve completed year-end testing, finished (almost) worn out workbooks, scrambled to wrap up the final details and participate in our oldest daughter’s wedding, made it through the dress rehearsal and ballet recital, and have only to complete the piano recital in order to officially wrap up the year. I’m tired. And ready to be done.
Will, my 11 year old, spent the last few months preparing to play three piano pieces in his sister’s wedding. Perfection of his pieces had received priority over the younger ones’ recital preparation. I generally left the practice schedule of the younger two to their own management. Even the 7-year old Craft Tornado. As with most things, our negligence eventually catches up with us. Two weeks before the recital, I found myself sitting beside my sweet Caroline to listen to her piano recital piece, only to learn that she had quite far to go. Not to put the final touches on her piece, but to get the basic notes and to play the rhythm correctly. It was 8pm – her bedtime, and her piano teacher would be coming in the morning. I was tired. She was tired. We needed to make weeks’ worth of progress quickly. It wasn’t the best set up.
Over time, the most endearing characteristic of another often becomes the most frustrating. Caroline is highly relational. Everything can (and does) become fodder for conversation. How far she sits from the piano. Which line she should practice. What she should wear to the recital. I began our session aware that her lack of preparation was primarily my fault. I was the adult. I had neglected directing her for the past weeks due to preparation for the wedding. She was tired. But as her attempts to practice continued, impatience began to bubble up within me. Her talk to play ratio was 3:1. We weren’t making much progress, and the clock was ticking.
There was one particular measure that she just couldn’t master. It didn’t help that each time she played it (incorrectly), she would stop and look at me – not at the music. She was looking to me for affirmation, support, and encouragement. I was trying to mask my irritation behind a half-hearted smile and the mantra “let’s slow down and work on that one measure”. My husband entered the scene, cheery and somewhat bewildered at my poorly-masked exasperation. With his presence bringing a sense of reinforcement (and accountability for me), we pressed through. Eventually, she hit the right notes at the right time. At this point, we were well past her bedtime, and encroaching upon mine. The next morning, I held my breath as she played for her teacher. Would all be forgotten? Would the prior evening’s work be too little too late? Then much to my amazement, her teacher removed the sheet music, and Caroline played the piece straight through. No big deal. Hmmmm….
I was struck that this is the heart of mothering: repeatedly coaching, encouraging, nudging… measure by measure. Until one day, what we have so diligently (and imperfectly) stumbled through, argued over, yet pressed beyond, becomes seemingly effortless. And I get to be there to see it all. With much practice, the music had been written onto her heart. One day, she too will find deep satisfaction and enjoy playing Bach. That which had once felt insurmountable would seem insignificant.
As I look back upon those few pivotal days last week, I’m reminded that we all trudge through life in much the same manner. We don’t grow and mature by leaps and bounds. Rather, it’s a slow and steady plodding. Working through every day, conflict, achievement, and disappointment, one by one. In lieu of being irritated by the time and energy that relationship with others costs me, I want to appreciate the privilege I have in getting to be there. I want to look at my children, my husband, my friends, (and myself) with eyes that see beyond today. To have vision to look through the bumbling notes and believe that more is possible. And I want to count it an honor to walk with others through life, measure by measure.