Friday, May 28, 2010

Musical Touch

When I was first married, we had a tiny house with 2 bedrooms, each about the size of a coffee table.  My sister was moving out of state and wanted to get rid of her piano.  Unbeknownst to me, she made a deal with my beloved husband:  he paid to have the instrument moved to our house and he could have it.

I first learned about this deal when the behemoth was being hauled into our second bedroom (no kidding, I have friends with bigger closets).  When I asked about it, he was giddy with excitement:  "Isn't it great?!!  Can you believe Perrine didn't think this was worth moving to Virginia?"  I said, "Wow, Sweetie, uh, so you thought it would be a good idea to bring it here?"  

Because, uuuuuhhhh, the one thing we needed was a giant musical instrument that neither of us could play.  Actually, I had taken lessons as a child and had heard my elders remark that I had "touch," which was what passed for musicality in our family.  The truth is, I wasn't much for practicing.  I just wanted to sit down to the keys and amaze the whole room.  After that kept not happening, I gave it up as a hopeless cause.  Suffice to say, there was no good reason for me to give up that kind of house space to a piano.

A few years and one mortgage on a larger residence later, and our sweet daughter Gem turned seven and entered second grade.  We had decided that she should learn to play a musical instrument.  Since we already owned a big honking piano, we had it tuned up and found a teacher.  Mrs. Cradic was a nice lady in the neighborhood and an excellent, patient teacher for Gem.  

From the beginning, Gem liked playing.  She practiced conscientiously and matriculated under Mrs. Cradic's tranquil guidance.  Liked playing, but did it mostly because it was required, like reading and math.  There were times when she said she wanted to quit, but we didn't let her (didn't let her quit school, either).  There were times when she really enjoyed piano, and those became more and more frequent.

Now that she's almost 14, we are all reaping the rewards of Gem's hard work.  She is at the stage now where she plays for herself.  Her classical training mixes nicely with her teen penchant for rock/heavy metal.  She got a chance to participate in a Jazz ensemble at NOCCA, too (not her thing, but had a great time).  

I love working in the kitchen, looking over the stove and watching her as she works out a musical puzzle for herself on the keyboard.  The sound tracks of movies (Pride and Prejudice!), computer games, and iTunes all provide new musical ideas and directions for her curious mind and eclectic sensibilities.  So far the only thing she doesn't like are Christmas carol sing-alongs (maybe this year...Good King Wenceslaus is my favorite).

Gem still studies and practices what her teacher (since Katrina a new teacher -- also much loved) assigns.  She also plays whatever strikes her fancy.  When we signed Gem up for lessons, what we wanted for her was to have this music, this skill that she can enjoy for herself and share with those around her for the rest of her life.  It is such a delight to see this dream taking shape.  Lucky us!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Temper, Temper

Yesterday we were packing to go to a family wedding a long drive away. True to form, my beloved husband asked me all details of the plans (route, times, places) about 4 - 5 times. As we were loading the car this morning, he did it all again. At various times during the drive, you guessed it. It's in him, and it's going to come out.

I find these repeated reviews unhelpful. My first instinct would be a snarky retort, but I know that love means biting my tongue. If I just answer the litany of questions with good humor (and a little feigned interest) we move on to the next topic relaxed and casual. If I let my temper get the better of me, we all end up stressed and snippy.

Years ago I learned that if my husband came home tense and in a bad mood, my reaction made all the difference. Instead of taking offence, I decided to think about how hard my beloved husband works, the frustrations and stresses he deals with every day. I realized that he just needed a safe place to express all of this. With a few minutes of my responding to his agitation in a loving way, he would be telling me about things that happened at the office and thanking me for listening and understanding.

It works the other way too. Times when I have been annoyed at something and fussed about -- what? silly, trivial things ... he has responded to me with patience and tenderness. He knows me so well...knows that I was not really upset at him. He just listened while I let off steam until pretty soon we would be laughing together.

Some say that love is most rewarding in the early days of marriage.  (Then what?  It's all downhill?)  But I have good news for newlyweds:  in my experience, love gets better with the years.  In my case, after almost 23 years love is smoother and easier.  Beloved husband and I have continually striven over the years to anticipate and care for one another's emotional needs. With the passing days, months, and years we accumulate more and more instances of love and caring for one another until it has become our instinct to (mostly) respond to an angry word with a soothing gesture.

Love is a choice, a discipline, as much as anything else. It is a living, changing thing that we are continually creating. Keeping my temper doesn't come naturally to me -- I have to work hard at nurturing my loving relationship with my husband. I know how to value a husband who works just as hard.

When we wake up tomorrow, I know I'm going to hear, "What time is the wedding? Where is it? Do we have the directions? Is it casual or dressy? Is it...?" I'll try to answer with a smile as if it's the first time I've heard it all -- and I will not roll my eyes.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Woman's Work

When my daughter was three, we were driving along somewhere when she (obviously a victim of my penchant for fairy tales) said, “Mommy, you’re our servant.” I managed to avoid hitting a telephone pole and sputtered, “WHAT?”

“Yes, you cook and clean and take care of the house and us. That’s what servants do.”

Now, I consider myself a feminist. I think that women can do the same job as men and shouldn’t be held back or paid less just because they’re women. They should have the opportunity to have a meaningful profession outside of the home.

I work very part time (about 7 hours a week on a schedule of my choosing) so that I can do my real job: make a comfortable and peaceful home for my family. I take pleasure in planning and preparing nutritious meals, keeping things clean, organized, and in good repair. I find creative outlets in sewing, gardening, cooking, and so much more. There is intellectual challenge in budgeting, planning outings, education, entertainment, and other things too numerous to mention. It is truly emotionally satisfying to be the trusted confidante and sounding board for my husband, daughter, family, and friends – and to trust and confide in them in return.

Now that my daughter is 13, I think she has a greater appreciation for and understanding of my job (and knows better than to call me “the servant”). But I run into all kinds of people (even homemakers) who don’t have the appropriate value for the vital contributions of – I’m just going to put the word out there – housewives.

How does feminism – the valuing of women – turn into the de-valuing of the very important work that is traditionally a woman’s? Makes no sense.