Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Destiny is Often a Determined Parent

A lovely young family lives here now and they are making my Grandparent's farm their own

Hope's 90th, June 25, 2009

I thought I would be sitting on the screen porch with my coffee blogging, but alas, I am the chief executive chauffeur. The CEC. Last week I spent an average of three hours a day in the car, getting the children to where they needed to be to fulfill their destinies.  Art. Music. Outdoor life. Friends.

The result? I've washed a load of Mary's clothes everyday. . .grass stains and blood and paint and glue.  The blood from the thirty-seven mosquito bites she has picked.

Calvin has lyme disease. The bullseye deer tick bite. So we will run a month of antibiotics that will make your stomach shiver. Lucky for him, we, I should say, he, caught it early. And he's not picking it.

Our construction?  It is at a full halt. Mud. Crud. City plumbing inspectors. I am madly compensating for my complete lack of control regarding this. . . by micromanaging every other detail of the house and garden. Someone leaves a dirty sock at the front door? Library book on the floor? Hell hath no fury like a suburban stay at home mother undergoing two simultaneous construction projects.

Let's get a pizza again tonight, dear.

I've transplanted every cotton picking fern and hosta and perennial until I truly have green thumbs. My pedicure is ruined. I've recycled about six cubic yards of mulch from the back yard to the front yard. Mostly alone. You may wonder why I would move "used" mulch while we pay someone to put boulders in with a tractor in the back yard.  I guess it's just the Iowa farm girl mixed in with the suburban write-the-check mentality.

I'm reading a book by Twyla Tharp called The Creative Habit.  It was recommended to the SPTG by our May guest clinician. Twyla's a dancer and choreographer. I'm LOVING this book. But, it's making me think about mistakes I've made and continue to make and the choices I make everyday. She gets me all excited about a creative routine in my life--involving exercise and practice and discipline and beauty and art and self-fulfilment. Solitude breeds art.

She doesn't have kids.

She talks about nature versus nurture--Dr. Suzuki's mantra.  She writes, "destiny, quite often, is a determined parent." She's talking about Mozart in that paragraph. Everybody thinks of Mozart as touched by the hand of God but his dad also got him to every teacher in Europe and taught him every instrument and counterpoint and took him to every concert imaginable.

I watched a documentary on Margot Fonteyn, another dancer. I'm on a dancer kick. Her mother moved her to England from China so that she could take ballet from the best teacher. The teacher was old and said no. The mom rejected that response and said, no, you will take her. The rest is ballet history. That night I dreamed about Rudolph Nureyev, but that's beside the point.

Story after story about some parent who pushes through. Taylor Swift's parents moving to Nashville.

Of course these are driven children. They deserve their parents sacrifices, I believe.  

Where does that leave the artist with children? Trying to create a creative routine for three people and nurture three talents and still take them to the pool in the afternoon?

And checking for ticks.

And another pizza.

Twyla discribes her biggest mistake as trying to do everything. She suggests doing one thing and doing it really well and passionately. Giving it your all. Gerber, we make baby food. (Note sarcasm and reference to the french horn teacher I hated. . . )

I pull tiny weeds from the garden in patterns of a few square feet.  There will always be weeds. The whole garden will never be perfect all at once. There has to be a rhythm and a give and take. We missed piano practice this morning to go to a drum and guitar lesson.  I haven't been to yoga since the kids were home from school. I guess I'm stretching myself in other ways. . .mostly my patience. Does that count?

We can't do everything well. We can't give our kids everything they need and still get everything we need too.

I don't have the answers, at all.

It feels like often my Creative Habit is extremely sleep deprived and chaotic and not at all focused and artistic. The only thing I can do is to pick one weed at a time and save one hosta plant and drive to the lessons and the camps and think about what we are doing and how it fits into the big picture. Cull out the activities that don't feed us. Have some faith that a mother who gets a little of what she needs is a better mother and stay up later to practice. Sneak away to Gerten's greenhouse for an hour. Order another pizza. It isn't Twyla's beautiful routine--it's considerably less disciplined and it's a heck-of-a-lot more noisy.  Lacking solitude?  Yeah.  My own Creative Habit will be extremely different than hers, but no less determined.  It will have to be broader--even than that of the parent of an only child who moves across the country for the best teacher.  And it will have to be flexible. Tick bites happen. We have to give each of our children what they need hopefully close to when they need it.  And we have to secure our own oxygen mask first.

That's why after ten days of not-blogging I'm sitting here at my reclaimed from my family computer while the giant wrestling match ensues upstairs, intermixed with sounds of keyboards and drums and tears and laughter.

What do we really love? What feeds us?

Twyla's words are meant to help us find our voice. Sitting here writing for a few minutes has helped me regain mine.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Senior's Surprise

Friday night Cassy, Grace, Alec and Aidan surprised me by showing up at my doorstep and driving me to a lovely italian dinner. Just the five of us. I actually was dressed and had my hair combed because I was expecting Cassy to come and watch the kids while Bill and I went out for a bite to eat.

Mary had been waiting on the front porch for about 45 minutes, watching for Cassy's car. All day the kids were asking me--would Cassy bring a movie--would Cassy bring a new game to play. . . I had NO idea they were in on it.

When the doorbell rang I opened the door and saw them all standing there. My first thought was--we don't need this many babysitters. My second thought was--Cassy, I don't care how chummy we are and if you are almost 18, you CAN'T HAVE A PARTY WITH BOYS AT MY HOUSE!

Then I saw that they were all dressed up and they had a gift for me--a large professionally framed photo of the five of us. They were here to take me out and Bill would stay home and eat leftover cheeseburgers.

I imagine they felt very grown up taking me out and I felt very young recounting my college stories to them. At one point Cassy said something like, "it sounds like everything in your life happened for a purpose." It's true. God blessed the broken road, that's for sure. All the bands and all the boy friends and all the taking much too long to achieve college degrees. . . meeting the right teachers like Doris Harrel at the right time and the right friends, like Ginny and her religious revivals. It's okay if you get a little bit off track now and then, but I told them, all religious rules and parental politics aside, the bottom line is that there are three things you must do. . .

Number one is to stay alive. Mostly that means being careful about cars. How you drive and with whom and when you get into a car. Your life is the most valuable thing you have.

Number two is that you have to meet your potential. God has a path for you too. That means not getting so much into anything else that you don't become yourself.  Like a boyfriend or girlfriend. Or drinking or drugs. Or video games. . . whatever your temptation is.  Have fun, experience life.  Play in a country band in Texas dance halls. . . but don't get too far off the path.

Number three is that eventually you have to give something back. I'm still working on that. I guess that one takes the rest of your life.

One of the moms in my studio, Mrs. Wicklander, was giving the seniors some words of wisdom after a run through at my house. She told them something like--you don't know the gift that you are yet to receive with this music. The gift will follow you all your life. As you experience life the meaning of these pieces and this music will change. The birth of a child. Getting married. The death of a parent. Under her words was the message that you can't fully play this music yet because you haven't fully lived life yet.

I had to look away because the words struck home. The very Brahms Intermezzo in A that Aidan had just played was my "go to" piece when my friend Ginny was dying of breast cancer. A-major with it's angelic overtones and the chorale in the middle and the dark B section that skirts that veil between deep sadness and anger. The words of wisdom were true.

The girls asked me about Bill, how we met and how long we were engaged and stuff like that. We knew each other twelve years before we dated. I highly recommend it. You will be happy single, but if you have to get married--make sure to marry your best friend. Motorcycles and electric guitars will come and go. Friendship and character endure.

Yes, there is a path. God does have a plan for you. You will be blessed by your obedience. Your parents will not be there this Fall. So, it might be obedience to God or perhaps your craft or your own conscience. Maybe even the words and expectations of your childhood piano teacher. But you will be blessed by obedience and discipline.

That's more advice than you asked for and I see that your thoughts are drifting to picking out towels for your dorm room and class schedules and freedoms. In any case, thank you for a very memorable evening. I'll never forget it.

As you go on your way may Christ go with you 
May He go before you to show you the way
May He go behind you to encourage you
Beside you to befriend you
Above you to watch over you
Within you to give you peace!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Summer Sabbatical Week One

I just dropped Mary at gymnastics. I checked her in and watched her for a few minutes.  She couldn't get the smile off her face and looked like she was coming home.  She gave the teacher a big hug and commenced to be the first one in line to lead the group of advanced beginners.

Two minutes and thirty-seven seconds later. . . I'm home typing on my computer. I'm giddy. One huge step toward world peace and less gas consumption. At least in my little corner. Let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me. . .

You might remember that I'm taking this summer off of my studio teaching. This is day three. Mary and Calvin have each practiced a focused hour with me everyday. Calvin before breakfast and Mary afterwards. She has already learned two Book Three songs in three days. We've checked off 18 reading pieces. She's on fire and I'm convicted. Putting her practice last on my list, at 8:00 at night when bedtime is 8:30 when I've already spent eight hours at the piano and she is at the end of her programming day is just not fair.  I'm not sure what to do about that but I've got some time to think.

Besides that--I've been in a gardening induced coma. A transplanting fool.  The bulldozer comes for the backyard on Monday and every fern and hosta is sacred. . .whatever I don't get moved will be gone. I hear their little voices screaming as the bobcat drives over them and the work boots crush them. I did all Grandma Hope's peonies--ten of them with their three inch thick roots.  Don't worry little catmints--as soon as the rain stops I'm coming back for you. . . I'LL. . . BE. . . BACK!!!!!!!

More rain. I will not turn on the heat, I will not turn on the heat, I WILL NOT TURN ON THE HEAT.

I'm scared.

I'm scared that practicing with my kids and eating dinner together and shopping with Calvin for healthy foods and taking them to the library will grow on me.  I'm scared I might never want to teach again. I'm sacred that if I take a break I may never start up again. I'm sacred that having my act together will be addicting. What if I really like not running around like a chicken with my head cut off? Then what?

That's why I did two things. I made the Fall schedule. I'm starting a little four-year-old Matthew, with shining eyes. Secondly, I signed up to do the teaching practicum with Caroline Fraser in July, knowing that observing her and getting feedback on my teaching would make me not be able to wait to actually get my hands back on some little hands and ears.

The timing is right for this break. These four seniors sucked the life out of me. Sunday night, after all the recitals and parties were done, I sat at the piano and I didn't even know what to play. I've spent quite a few years now practicing their repertoire and choir music. What would I just sit and play? I used to know 100 country and pop songs by ear but none of them came to my fingers--another proof of time passing.

To everything there is a season. A time for everything. A time to read and sit on the porch in the rain.  A time to formulate a sustainable plan. My reading list?  "7".  The book.  "Crafting a Rule of Life."  "The Creative Habit." "The 10 Second Rule."  And then. . . Anna Karenina.. . .

Oh yeah--the backyard bulldozer thing and the jackhammering of the basement floor to start the plumbing for the finished basement.

I won't be bored.  And. . .

I'LL. . . BE. . . BACK!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Come on Summer

Multitasking Mother
A day without rain is like. . .
Well. I don't really remember.

We seem to be stuck in another weather pattern. Cold and rainy. Please, God, don't let it snow on the last day of school.

This is the last week of my teaching semester. It's really bitter sweet. I'm taking a sabbatical this summer. I'm looking forward to that. I'll still be teaching at MacPhail's Suzuki camp and I'm taking the teacher practicum with Caroline Fraser in California, but besides that. . . and practicing with my kids everyday, I'm not doing any music. Period. Well, except the listening. . . I made new playlists on the itunes. But nothing else. . . unless you ask. . .

It's a bitter sweet week because all these little kids are graduating from high school. They really shouldn't let such little kids graduate. It's just they they got so dang tall so fast.  Once they are 18 they are harder to boss around too.

It's bitter sweet because I feel like a haven't spent enough time with my own kids lately. Yet, next week we'll be together 24/7 and it doesn't take long for the giant three month wrestling match to ensue. This summer I'm hiding the ukulele and the recorders. Some live and learn . . .

The bottom line is that I do best with a routine. I love routines. I'm not easily bored. The lifetime challenge it seems, is to find the right routine. One that make use of our talents but doesn't strip us down to the bone. One that has margin for good food and family and music and mental health.

This year the routine just about left me without an oxygen mask. Between Bill's new job and SPTG and the list of stuff that you are not even interested in me typing. . . it was too much.

Press the reset button. Here are some ways we are changing. . .

Mary has decided not to pursue the 2020 olympic gold gymnastics all-around medal. Instead, we are going back to the gym .5 miles from our house and she's going to take recreational gymnastics twice a week and basically bounce her butt off on the trampoline whether she points her toes or not. Instead of making a car payment toward the gym every month, turns out the second rec class each week is half off. When she made the team at the elite gym, we got the schedule and she started to cry. Really cry. It wasn't just because she realized we had spent the money for her high school dream car on a lost cause. She knew in her heart she didn't love gymnastics nine hours a week. So. We are all happy and she starts next week with her old friends and teachers. It's an open door. If she changes her mind later we will simply refinance the house.

Second item of change. No more downtown "extracurricular" music lessons. There are two separate stories here, of Mary's guitar lessons and Calvin's jazz piano classes. Long story short, for the moment I need a break from paying a babysitter to take them there and gas and parking money and tuition (above my hourly rate for exponentially less commitment and preparation. . . I must add) and the fast food that they have to eat because the long drive is over dinner. Full stop. Reassess later. Those were a very, very expensive three notes that Mary learned on guitar this year. As it would go, after I told the teacher we wouldn't be coming back he let her just "play some chords" the last four lessons and she learned four songs that she is singing and jamming to and having a ball picking up the guitar on the hour. . . PRIMAL SCREEM. . . .

I thought I was a pretty good communicator. . . but I see that I still have A LOT to learn. And I have some work to do on my anger graph.  Dr. Suzuki would not be proud of the comments I made on the teacher evaluation.  I'm sorry.

My role in the government of the Suzuki Piano Teacher's Guild has come to an end.  I'll still be chair of the graduation and be on the board as past president, but it should be a little less. We are working toward complete online graduation registration next year and that is going to ROCK!  No more late night data entry.

There are other changes too. I'm starting a book by Jen Hatmaker called "7." I'd like to get a group of smart, cool, awesome woman to read it together.  If you are interested in being in a email "book club" where we just read the book together and comment back and forth without ever actually meeting, please email me and I'll put you on a list. I'm really excited. The book is about fighting suburban excesses, with a Christian focus. Her opening mantra is, "Lord, let there be less of me and my stuff, so that there can be more of you." Or something like that. That is how I feel much of the time. I don't know if I'll actually make any radical changes, but sometimes just thinking about changing is almost as good. Please join me if you are interested.

Summer routine?

There is no such thing. Every week is different and unique. Plus,we are having construction in the basement and backyard. So far, it's just a master's thesis project Bill and I have been preparing together the last year or so. We have the whole thing planned out and the plumbing and design elements. We have drawn and redrawn. Picked faucets and carpet samples. Fought and made up. We are hoping to turn in the project and get an A+ on our design. No one has actually shown up to do any work, but hope springs eternal. They should start next week, which is just as well, since I wasn't really looking forward to concrete dust in the whole house before the two remaining senior recitals this weekend. I know that seems like common sense--making them wait--but what is it with contractors--when they say jump we jump, as though their time was some sacred gift that we could never get back if we said we needed to wait another day?  Lucky for me the folks at the City of Eagan building permit place are running behind and I didn't have to die on that bridge.

Tomorrow is Mary's last day of school and it will be the first ever last day of school picture in a snow suit. Well, at least two layers of sweatshirt and wind-breaker. The teachers are getting wilted lilacs because none of the usual flowers are blooming yet. C'est dommage.

Cabin game of choice, yes, I am the railroad tycoon.  You might notice that the other player has mortgaged Boardwalk and is low on cash. . . 

Grandpa's chicken

Copyright Bill Kotrba--I love this photo

It's colder than it looks
Come ON summer.

I've used up my time. My hour of therapy is up. I have to let you go. Thanks for listening. If you want to join the book discussion and you don't know my email--you can contact me through the link to the studio website above and I'll get the message!