At 60 miles per hour my piano rocked and rolled off the pickup truck and onto the highway. “Kersmash” went my new-used upright. “Kersplat” went my $50 investment. “Kerplunk” went my artistic aspirations.
It happened when I was in high school. “Piano for sale” read the ad in the Post Bulletin, the daily newspaper for Rochester, Minn. The asking price was within my price range, I could pay for it with the money I made from cooking fried chicken after school in the local fast-food joint.
I wasn’t particularly musical but for some reason I had a dream of playing the piano. The classified ad spoke to me. Fifty dollars worth of possibility beckoned me. I telephoned the seller and sealed the deal.
The men-folk of my family offered to transport the piano, loaded it into the back of a pickup and headed back to our house via the freeway. I didn’t go along for the transfer because there wasn’t enough room. I waited for the arrival of my would-be masterpiece but I got a phone call instead, informing me that the piano had flown off the truck bed onto the highway as the men-folk were driving full speed ahead.
It was kind of sad, I suppose, but mostly funny. Case in point — why professional piano movers exist.
We laugh about it even now, yet I have questions. How did that not cause a major vehicle pileup? Who picked up the bits and pieces of ivory and pressed wood? What exactly does a smashed piano strewn across asphalt look like?
I took it as a sign I was not meant to play the piano.
Now, over 30 years later, my 12-year-old son hates the piano and has trudged through his four years of learning to play it with a wretched attitude. He detests practice, forgets lessons, resists recitals and resents his parents for making him play.
Kerplink is my vision of procreating musical genius.
Worse yet, I keep wondering if I’m making my son take piano lessons because of my own shattered piano dreams. Am I making the classic parenting mistake of projecting my unresolved passion onto my child? Am I making him do something he hates just because I didn’t do it myself? Am I perpetrating the dreaded “when I was a kid …” onto my son?
This is but one of the many questions I have about my mothering style. How do I even begin to settle my many parenting mistakes? I could buy my son things, but that would spoil him. I could give my son candy, but that would lead to diabetes. I could do everything for him, but that would produce an inept man. And yet I’m ever so tempted to do all those things for my son, if nothing else but to make up for all the times I’ve made mistakes.
He’s almost a teenager and I worry I’ve done almost nothing to prepare him for adulthood. I could easily panic for the fear of what I’m doing wrong, for the ignorance of how I should be a better mother. For example, should I let my son quit piano? Or should I force him to push on? I honestly don’t know.
When I get into this flurry of doubt, I’m reminded of how good it is to cling to that good old catch-all Lutheran word: grace.
Grace reminds me to listen to the rhythms of forgiveness, instead of the crashes of my failures. Grace reminds me that I’m not raising my son on my own, but am part of a loving community of influencers: my family, my friends, my church, my incredibly wise husband.
Grace reminds me that probably the most important thing I could ever say to my son is, “I’m sorry” because then he will learn to do the same. Grace reminds me that I am so very inadequate, yet loved anyway. And I hope my son understands the same goes for him. That he is loved, no matter what his mother does, doesn’t, forgets, wants, needs or indulges. He is loved.
You should have heard my son at his recital last week. I was so nervous because I knew he hadn’t practiced enough, not for lack of nagging. I told him that I didn’t care how his recital turned out, I was just glad he tried, or at least kind of tried. He knew that I knew he wasn’t enjoying the whole piano lesson thing, yet I wanted him to know I was grateful he tried.
As I sat in a silent room full of parents, it was like slow motion as he walked to the grand piano for his turn. I wanted to jump into his body and play on his behalf. But it was his recital, not mine. And to be clear, I’m at a far lower level. With his curly hair dipping into his eyes, baggy pants and untucked shirt, my son shuffled to the bench and sat down in front of the ebony and ivory. No sheet music.
He would play by memory as his teacher required. I was so full of motherhood nerves yet I told myself what will be, will be. My ruffled tween-age piano player performed music by Valenti and Springer, two pieces carefully chosen by his instructor, a one-woman virtuoso at teaching curmudgeonly boys to play music. My son played and my heart melted for his relative precision. He practically nailed it, not that it mattered.
Kaput went the idea that I’m in control.
I may be his mother, but it’s grace that gets me by.
Terri Mork Speirs is a writer, mother and the communications manager for the Des Moines Area Religious Council. She recently completed a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing.