My youngest came into the world dancing, twirling, and humming a cheerful 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 – reams of pink, hair bows, bloomers, baby dolls, and ballet dresses. As a toddler, she woke up smiling with open arms waiting for hugs. She spent her days both dancing with poise and grace (as much as a 2 yr old can have) AND 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 has takes residency in our yard, writes elaborate 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, (almost) finished well-worn workbooks, scrambled to wrap up the final details in preparation for our eldest 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.
My 11-year old son spent the last few months preparing to play three pieces of Bach in his sister’s wedding. Mastery 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. Our negligence eventually caught up with us. Two weeks before the recital, I perched on the piano bench beside my sweet girl as she practiced. The reality of the situation quickly became clear. There was a fair amount of work left to do, not only to put the final touches on her piece, but just to play the basic notes and rhythm correctly. It was minutes until bedtime, and the piano teacher would be coming for a final lesson the following morning. I was tired. She was tired. We needed to make weeks’ worth of progress in minutes. It wasn’t the best setup.
My daughter 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. Despite her chatty contribution to the problem, I was aware that her inadequate preparation was ultimately my fault. I was the adult. I had neglected overseeing her practice for the past several weeks due to my primary focus being the upcoming wedding. She was trying. Yet as she continued to stumble through her recital piece, 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 turning 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 played the correct notes at the right time. At that point, it was 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? Much to my amazement, her teacher removed the sheet music, and my girl played the piece straight through. No big deal. As if she’d had it perfected for weeks. 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.
It struck me that this is the heart of parenting: repeatedly coaching, encouraging, nudging – measure by measure. Until one day, that which we have diligently (and imperfectly) stumbled through, argued over, yet pressed beyond, becomes seemingly effortless. I’ve been given the sacred privilege of playing a part in the miracle.
As I look back upon those few pivotal days, 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 relationships with others cost 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 see through the bumbling notes and believe that more is possible. And I want to count it an honor to walk with others through the beauty and challenges of life – measure by measure.
“He who began a good work in you will carry in on to completion
until the day of Christ Jesus.” Phillipians 1:6
– – –
I wrote this piece three years ago. This month, virtually the same situation played out in our home yet again. Only the details of circumstance had changed. And that, I suppose, is the point.