Tuesday, January 29, 2013

To Be Loved Alone

It's Mary's hand.  Believe me, it doesn't always look like that. . .

Saturday night I took her to the University of Minnesota gymnastics meet against three other colleges.  The little team she is joining was invited to do the warm-up and we wanted to see them and the college girls as well.

Well, little old me didn't know there would be a wrestling meet and a hockey game at the same time at the sports complex.  Lost and late.  There was no hope to see the little girls warm-up.  But, I must have done something right in my life because on the way out the door I printed a little black and white map of the campus on typing paper.  It saved us.  Driving in the dark and snow and traffic she looked out the windows and told me what buildings we were going by.  I would have been disoriented beyond the pale. We found a parking ramp, one that wasn't for season ticket holders or visiting dignitaries. . . Okay.  I haven't been to a collegiate sporting event since the Cyclones played the Hawkeyes in Ames in 1982.  I'm out of touch.

As the minutes ticked by at stoplight after stoplight she watched the clock.  Mama, we're not gonna make it are we?  No, honey, we're not gonna see the girls.  When I finally pulled the SUV into a postage stamp parking spot and we crawled out the tailgate she said, "thank you Mama for driving in all that traffic to take me here."

They threw towels and all the little girls ran to get one.  She was slow and shy and missed it.  I went to raise my hand and they were all gone.  It's okay, she said.

Thanks again for the popcorn.  And the ice cream.  And the stuffed gopher.

Sometimes, your kid just overwhelms you with gratitude and grace and sweetness.  In the words of her guitar hero, Taylor Swift, "I had the best day with you, today."

Why don't we do this more?  One on one?  I've had the same experience with my son.  He's a different creature alone.

I believe that deep down, we all have the need to be loved alone. To develop singular relationships. I know I do. I don't want to be one of a thousand friends. Maybe it's the introvert in me but I always do better one on one. That's why I love teaching kids one at a time.

Our children are like that too.  Sometimes they just need us all to themselves.  I need to remember that.

W.H. Auden - "For the error bred in the bone of each woman and each man craves what it cannot have, not universal love but to be loved alone."

Thursday, January 24, 2013

In the Bleak Midwinter

How am I grouchy. . . let me count the ways.

It barely got above freezing all week.  The low was negative fifteen. It's hard to get warm.  My thoughts of a year of spiritual margin are completely derailed. Train wreck with casualties. The little box cars on the calendar fill in so easily. Chugga-chugga NEW EVENT.  Next thing you know you're stuck half way up the mountain with no helper engine in sight.

The kids were home two days this week for god knows what and then Mary was sick two days as well.  I'm kidded out and I'm sure they've had enough of me as well. I spent every spare minute working on the SAM stuff.  Wednesday my husband gets home in time for a three minute family dinner before I leave for choir. Myriad other irritating details of the week too boring to relate. To add insult to injury the cats just sleep all day.

I called my mother to vent.  She was in a funk too and we simultaneously realized it's just that time of year. The bleak midwinter. I forgot to take my sunshine vitamin D tablets and with Mary home I missed my exercise classes this week.  A couple nights of five hours of sleep.  How quickly we can spiral down in the dark sub-zero days.  Even the people we love the most are in our faces.  Thwarting my margin.

I had a list of midwinter emergency enlightenments on my old phone.  Mary deleted it this weekend replacing it with a list of alliterated friendly fabulous fairy foods. The only solution on both lists was chocolate. I did my share by having four cheerful chocolate chip cookies for breakfast.

Some days you are just gonna be in a funk.  I guess the important thing is not to stay there for too long. There are several versions of our stories. Our realities are usually not as dramatic as the screen play versions in our heads. Things are never as bad on paper.  Sometimes it helps to write it down.  It's helping me right now.

The other low hanging midwinter fruit?  Sleep. Exercise. Laughter. Chocolate. Love.
Tomorrow I'm going to do a little of all of it.  My story is pretty blessed. We are all pretty blessed.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Home, Sick Home

Mary is home today.  She is just a little sick.  Sore throat.  So, lucky for her that means we get to record Minuet Two off and on all day for the Suzuki Association of Minnesota Graduation. The CDs are due postmarked Saturday.  I've got nine to do.  Hers is Book Two.

The first fifty or so attempts she messed up the B section.  Bach is like that.  Then we got a great one and the Garage Band application crashed.  We lost it. In more ways than one. Big tears.  Then another good one and the mics were turned funny.  But, by now it's much easier to get a perfect run-through.  We will try again tonight.

We've have a little-bit-of a heck-of-a-time getting all these audio and video recordings this year.  We are cutting it down to the wire.  That's my fault.  I still have one Gigue left to record this week.  Ominous sanctus recordous goodous.  Let the patron saint of recording be with us.

The elephant in the room is, of course, if it's so dang hard to make the recording, you are probably not ready to graduate.  There I said it.  Go ahead and hate me.

But, I love these kids and I want them to meet their goals.  So sometimes we cut it close.  Sometimes the studio audience is dangerously small.  Sometimes the tempo is not a slam dunk.   It's not the olympic trials here, the point is for the child to grow.  There is growth in fifty failed Minuet Twos.  I'm not even gonna count the K. 330s this year.

And. . . I listen and critique the recordings a little bit differently knowing how hard it might have been to earn them. You just never know what the kids went through to get that seemingly terribly mediocre recording.  I know how easy it was for my son to nail it.  And I know about the fifty Minuet Twos.  So, let's let kindness prevail.  Even if the best we can say is, "I'm so glad you made a recording. . . "

Friday, January 18, 2013

Good Luck, Cassy!

Last night I had the dream again.  The dream where I have finished my masters except the recital.  I played the qualifying jury and now I can't figure out how I'm going to start over with all new repertoire and get it together for a recital.  How can I do this with two kids and a house and a husband and a studio?  I wonder if they would let me play the same repertoire, or if they would notice. . .

I dreamt this because yesterday was Cassy's last lesson before her audition at the University of Florida.  Last month it was Aidan auditioning at Luther.   So, I have auditions on my mind.

I've told the story before, but it's my blog so I'm gonna tell it again.  This is not a dream, this is real.

I'm playing a practice run-through of the rep for my master's qualifying jury for Ralph and Doris Harrel in their home in San Marcos.  The qualifying jury is where you have to prove you can be in the masters program. You will play in front of the whole piano faculty. My music has been nit-picked into oblivion back at the U. The notes are virtually worn off the pages in a heap on the floor.  It's Schubert and Poulenc and I can't remember what Bach and Chopin but I'm sure that's what it was.

I play the sixty minute program and then I wait for the comments.  Two Juilliard grads will certainly put their two cents in. Certainly something about the phrasing or tone or timing.  Nothing.  I get nothing.  Doris thanks me for playing and gets up to fix a simple lunch.  Remember, this is she who would spend an hour with me on Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. . . 

Occasionally in life there comes a point where we are good enough.

After lunch as we said goodbye, Ralph looked at me with a huge twinkle in his eye and said, "Go show those sons-a-bitches you can play."

Thanks, Ralph and Doris.

So, seniors, you have a lifetime of learning in front of you, you have not arrived, there are other teachers out there that I will pass the baton to, but for this moment, for one moment, let yourself be good enough, and go show those folks you know how to play the piano.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Breaking Into the Past

Yes, the trip to Austin was great.  I loved teaching all the kids and I have a few great blog ideas from them and the parent discussions.  But, today is my birthday and I only have a minute to write.

This was my home for six years, all by myself.  The upstairs unit. The rent was $450 a month.  My piano payment was $200 a month.  My car payment was $400 a month.  My student loan payment was $220 a month.  I taught fifty, yes fifty students every week.  I had three gigs with my band every weekend.  I worked at Bank One in the morning from 8:00-12:00.  Then I started grad school.

You probably will not be surprised to know that I made the little garden there.  My dad put up that fence to give me some privacy from my neighbors.  I hauled all the little stepping stones from a junk heap down the street. It looked much cuter when I was in charge.  Parents of my students donated garden plants to me. Fifteen years later not much has changed.  Those steps held the three guys who moved the seven foot Baldwin up and down them.  They are still standing.

There was only one AC unit when I lived there. . . and the paint is still holding it into the rotted out window frame.  Two beloved cats got run over in the street in front.  Gershwin and Rhapsody.   I must say those were two of the worst days of my life. . .

Okay, there were NO party beads hanging from the trees then. . .

But this, this is where I learned to be alone.  I loved that place.  I made it so sweet.  I spent every spare minute and every spare dime fixing it up.  I wallpapered and painted every square inch of the inside.  I went to the city wide garage sale every month to furnish it. The desk I'm writing at now first found it's home there, after I stripped and varnished it. I tore up carpet and scraped the tile underneath.

All by myself.

I'm glad I had that time.

Alone.  There is a good alone and there is a bad alone.

I'm glad I have had them both.

Friday, January 11, 2013

I'm Leaving on a Jet Plane

It's noon and I've taken care of the bunny and the cats and the plants and the laundry.  Groceries are coming this afternoon.  Bill should have a pretty clean slate for me to leave town for the weekend.  Agendas for the Tuesday morning SPTG meeting are printed and as many as possible emails are answered. Book 1 & 2 flashcards are printed and cut for me to give to the Austin piano kids and the outlines for the parent discussions are printed on yellow paper in my suitcase. And. . . there's still a third of a pot of coffee in the thermos and I actually had a minute to talk to my mother on the phone!    Mary Lynn is picking up the kids from school and taking Calvin to a Regis salon for a hair cut. We used to fly for free now we get free hair cuts. . . . Lucky for us Mary Lynn's daughter is a stylist there!  Then she and the kids are dropping me at the airport and I'm off. I think I will get Chic-fil-a in the airport.  It's a great day!

The title of my parent lecture is "Lower Your Expectations, Enjoy the Results."  Notice it didn't say "accept bad behavior at the piano" or "lower your musical standards."  Just lower your expectations.  Come to practice with the goal to enjoy your child.  What will we remember in 10 years?  How productive we were, or the quality of the experience we had with our kid at the piano?  If the kid ends up hating piano or worse yet hating his parent, then we have failed. I'll be completely honest and say that this is the hugest challenge of my life. I work on it every day and check myself constantly. Many days I come up short. But I have learned a few things practicing with my kids the last eight years and I think they are worth sharing.  So here you go:

Lower Your Expectations. . . Enjoy the Results
Heart of Texas Suzuki Piano Institute Parent Lecture
January 2013

The talented student—we come to the lesson with grandiose and lofty goals.  Then when every practice isn’t amazing we worry that the child is not meeting his potential. He’s slacking . . . now he’s misbehaving.  Now he’s crying.  Now I’m crying.

Where to start?
Stop before you start. 
Reflect.  Dr. Suzuki reminds us that it is always the parent and teacher who need to reflect.  The child is never the problem.  (That doesn’t mean we accept poor behavior)
If, no—when, you get frustrated, get help from your teacher and other experts. 
You are not alone.
Don’t let practice be negative for longer than a day. 
Keep a file of parent education ideas and insights.  Here are some that I come back to over and over and over again.

·      Lower your expectations for the practice session.  Really.  Come with an open mind.       Make the goal to enjoy your child.  Period.  What will we remember in ten years, how productive we were, or how we loved sitting with our child?
·      Focus on one thing.  Don’t get greedy. “Shoot One Arrow.”
·      Have a little faith that it will all get done.
·      Shorten, yes, shorten the practice.  We are teaching our children to enjoy learning.  If the practice is always long they will come to dread it.  When it happens, be thankful, but don’t come to expect it.
·      Be creative. This is the best way to lengthen the practice and strengthen the child’s attention span.  (See positive practice ideas list)
·      Keep it easy.  Focus on making the task easy.  One task.
·      Child’s concentration determines the lesson.  We are either teaching our child how to concentrate, or how NOT to concentrate.
·      Work at the child’s pace.
·      Do what is working and repeat it.  Four times.
·      Never Hurry, never rest. . . be consistent.
·      Let the method work.  Do the listening.
·      Acknowledge the feelings of your child.
·      Let the brain learn efficiently—small segments, many repetitions.
·      Let the child learn through her senses.
·      Enjoy your child. 

References: Helping Parents Practice Ideas for Making it Easier by Edmund Sprunger  A MUST READ
Parent Education by Jeanne Luedke: www.parent-child-education.com

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Cosy Homes

I just finished writing my parent lecture for the Heart of Texas Suzuki Workshop this weekend.  I love doing this because it forces me to reflect upon all the mistakes I've made and all the screwed up things I've said to my own kids while practicing piano. Lecturing other parents can serve as some sort of cosmic redemption for me.  My worse fear is that there is a hidden camera in my studio and all the video footage of my sins will be aired in a documentary discrediting my lecture.  Actually, the truth is, I love these talks because sharing information with other parents reminds me how to be my own very best parent.  That's the positive spin.

Cosy Homes Make Happy Childhoods.
That's what the poster says.  The poster my grandma had in our room in her house for years and years.   Now it's framed in my laundry room. It was an advertisement for hot water radiators.  Little girls playing in their rooms with their dolls.  Clean, quiet heat.

Three weeks ago the humidifier on the furnace broke.  You remember the woe-is-me mold blog entry.  I PROMISED my husband I would not blog about him fixing it himself.

I don't want to break my promise, so you are going to have to use your imagination about the state of our house with no humidity. Imagine the cats are wandering around looking like something between Einstein and Thomas Edison.  Imagine that I'm worried my cell phone will spark and cause them to spontaneously combust. To keep the pianos safe in this drought I'm having to run the little Sears humidifier full blast in the piano room.  Imagine it sounds like a jet engine gone astray. There is this little noise every time the furnace kicks on. It sounds like our neighbor dragging his metal garbage can across the driveway.  My mind keeps turning to a scene from The Christmas Story where the dad is working on the furnace in the basement and soot comes up through the registers into the kitchen.  This is also the scene where the little boy learns a full slate of profanity.

Well.  I'm off to put more lotion on. And chapstick. And eye drops. And then to Target for Cling Free sheets for the laundry. And some of that spray to keep my yoga pants from sticking to my shins.  Then I'm off to Austin this weekend.  I should be able to rehydrate there.

Oops.  I think I broke my promise about the blog. I have full faith in my husband. The new part is in the mail. It wasn't his fault. Who knew the brand new humidifier from Home Depot would come with a faulty valve?  Who knew the other whole host of hoopla that went on AC/DC conversions bla bla bla. . .  Thank you Bill, for working a sixty hour week and spending your weekend fixing the furnace.  And your next weekend.  We sure wouldn't have wanted to pay for that service call.  You are eternally my hero.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Oh, I Used to Take Piano Lessons. . .

A piano we looked at. . . 

A Steinway is a Steinway. . . 

The price was right. . . but

. . . there were a few issues.  The soundboard and the studio steps. . . alas.  Not today. 
"Oh, I used to take piano lessons!  How much do you charge?"
This is the textbook response when I announce my occupation to a stranger.
As in--if the price were cheap enough and if it was convenient, they could earn redemption from their sins of quitting by forcing music upon the next generation, their own children.

I never have a adequate response for this.  What I want to say is something like, "I'm not the piano lessons store--what we're marketing here is a lifetime love of music and the building of your child's character."  But somehow it always comes out as an hourly rate.

One of the teachers in our group, Suzanne Greer has an article in a blog called  Studio Helper Blog.  She addresses this same topic, which has been on my mind for a long time.  I think about my teacher trainer Doris Harrel and my first conversation with her about the Suzuki Method.  Somehow there in the lobby of the UT music building Doris made it sound like the most beautiful awesome inspired teaching in the whole world and in the first meeting, I knew my life would never be the same.

I didn't ask her how much the training was.  It turned out to be very expensive and I was still in college.  I was poor.  She worked with me, which in turn has inspired me to work with anyone in my studio who has ever approached me about finances.

The thing is, I was already sold.  That training was the greatest investment of my life.

So, how to come up with an elevator talk?  The Suzuki Method in 30 seconds or less.  Yikes. My degree is in piano, not marketing. Usually when the phone rings with a new parent on the line I'm braiding Mary's hair and the cats are eating raw chicken on the kitchen counter and Calvin is practicing drum set in the basement. Blah. Can I call you back?  The bottom line is that we have to get prospective families into the studio. They have to see us in action. They have to see how comfortably and lovingly the children play.  My website has been very helpful too--families can read about the process and think about the commitment.

I'm still not good at expressing myself on the spot.  But I'm going to work on a stock response, maybe keep it on a 3x5 card in my purse and by the phone. . .

Every child can learn, but not every family is a great candidate for a Suzuki family.  For those that might choose to be, we want to share our enthusiasm and love. Their lives will never be the same.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

New Year's Resolutions

As I was tucking Calvin in last night I saw a paper on his bureau.  I asked what it was.  It was his New Year's Resolutions.  Hmmm.  I'm not a huge resolution person but I asked to read it.

Wow.  I'm not going to tell you all his thoughts, and I asked him if I could write about this, but. . .
I was so impressed.  All the things he wrote were really cool.  Number one was "be nice to Mary."  Number two was "less technology--more time outside and playing/reading."  Number three "do a devotion every day." All on his own he came up with a dozen ideas for the new year.

I often worry that there's too much ipad, youtube, youpad, ipod hoopla in our lives.  Okay, maybe substitute nag for worry. Seeing that list fueled the little flame of trust in my heart. The most important things in life don't need a charging cable. And, a kid might realize that on his own without being given 24 minutes of "nook" time and 14 minutes of Mine-craft a day.

So, Calvin, you're on your own.  No limits.  Family rules still apply--no TV during the week.  No unauthorized yucky games.  No online privacy.  No closed doors.  I get first dibs on my own computer.  Short of that I'm trusting you with your time.  That is, after piano, band, jazz lesson, chores and school work.  Knock yourself out.  Watch every online youtube tutorial of bygone apple operating systems that you like.  It's going to be okay.  I trust you.

One small thing. . . those really awesome headphones that you got from Grandma and Grandpa?
Use them.