Alec and Mrs. L.

I kid my son that I miss watching his baseball games (he was finished last month after the house league season ended) in much the same way I looked longingly at the high school gym at my daughter’s orientation until she finally urged me to go in and sign myself up for intramurals.

I remind them, whenever it seems appropriate and sometimes when it’s not, of my athletic prowess at their age. And as much as I am scornful of the kind of parents who live through their children’s usually meager athletic feats, I can’t imagine how I would keep still if I had kids who were gifted in some sport.

My 11-year-old son plays soccer and baseball, enjoys it, is exceedingly coachable and a good athlete. But when the summer comes and travel baseball takes over the fields in town, he enjoys his only few months away from organized sports.

Funny, but he never takes a break from music.

I remember when my daughter was in second grade and all the other girls had seemingly found their niche – they were ice skaters or dancers or soccer players or actresses. And I remember being actually a little nervous that Amanda, at age 7, did not have a chosen vocation yet.

She dabbled in everything, had fun, but she wasn’t specializing in anything. What was to become of her?

Eventually, after she sat me down and urged me to get help, I figured out that if you’re lucky in life, you will be exposed to a lot of different things. But if you’re truly fortunate, you will find your passion as it finds you.

I think Alec may have found his.

I took him to his piano lesson tonight and like I always do when I go, I sat in the room with him and his teacher, a wonderful woman who doesn’t mind the intrusion. I always go with a couple magazines but I rarely read them. Instead, I listen and not just to the music but to them.

As they talk about E-minors and C-majors, four-four counts and five-seven chords and syncopation, I can’t help but think of my piano lessons from Mrs. Carter, a patient woman who spent the better part of a year just barely getting me through “Swaying Silver Birches” and “One Less Bell to Answer” (I was into Burt Bachrach, what can I say?).

Like Alec’s teacher, Mrs. Carter was smart enough to let kids play songs they had actually heard of with the hope that this might sustain their interest in music. But by this time, I was also 14th chair clarinet in the school band and pretty much knew my limitations.

And Mrs. Carter and I never, ever talked music like Alec and Mrs. L. do.  

They seem to get lost in their conversations, their heads tilting toward one another as they nod and laugh in this secret language to which I am a stranger.

After less than two years, I am told Alec can transpose. I do not know what this means but I think it’s good. He came home tonight and as he always does, went directly to the piano where he told me he was composing a song of moderate tempo.

“That’s 120 to the quarter-note,” he explained and I nodded.

I remember when we bought our piano. Alec had just begun lessons about six months before and it was clear that the little keyboard from Costco wasn’t going to cut it. We planned to find the cheapest (used) piano we could get and maybe stick it in the basement.

I actually thought it might be disruptive in the living room.

Of course, we ended up investing in a new one – “Promise you’ll still like piano for at least another year,” I remember saying to him in the piano store – and we put it in the living room where it is a source not of noise, but of graceful melody  that we cannot get enough of.

There are countless ways we fail to influence our kids. Alec picked the tuba as his first instrument in the school band.

“How about trumpet?” we asked. “The trumpet is nice, and look how you can actually lift it.”

“Nope,” he shook his head.

“How about trombone?” we tried. “It’s bigger, but we can still tell it’s you playing it.”

“Nope,” he said again.

The tuba was the biggest, explained our son, who still can’t see above it. But two years later, he is still loving it and if he doesn’t end up playing piano in the Chicago Symphony, maybe he’ll be the dot above the “i” in the script Ohio in Ohio State’s marching band. Or maybe he’ll just play for his own kids.

Either way, my husband and I are not sure from where this love was born. We can only listen as the music dances under his fingertips, his soul soars and his passion is ignited.


1 Comment

  1. Yvette

    Melissa: I so love the way my youngest son (30) reacts to many of your entries. He was our sports nut and played basketball through high school. This entry really touched him as he has an 8 month old baby boy and I think really projected himself as a Dad when he read this article. I, too, read this and identified as I only wish for all my 5 grandchildren to find something to be pasionate about as they go forward in life…as you can see…I loved this entry. Will make sure my other kids get a copy of it.

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