The Blessings of a Botched Piano Recital

 

0-7My son, seven at the time, froze at his first piano recital. I’m talking about the stuff of recurring nightmares some people would have for the rest of their lives froze.

It was the typical recital set up. Students sat in a row ranging from ages seven to 18. One by one, they faced the audience, stated the name of the piece they had prepared, then sat at the piano and played. The room was full of proud parents and grandparents ready to burst into applause.

Sam was the fifth student in line. He played the first 40 seconds of the song with no problem while I proudly recorded his performance from the first row. Then, in the middle of his rock and roll version of Old MacDonald, his hands stopped. They didn’t skip a note or simply pause for a second. They stopped. My muscles tensed as if preparing to get up and help. I knew it wasn’t my place though. His teacher was in the chair nearby anyway. Surely she would do something.

The teacher didn’t help. I looked at my husband. No, he whispered. This isn’t your show. 

Sam started the song again, but froze at the same spot several more times. I put down my camera and glared at his teacher though there was nothing she could do. This was Sam’s performance, I tried convincing myself. Not hers. Not mine. This isn’t my show, I repeated silently. This isn’t my show.

Okay, fine, if it wasn’t my show, then why was I sweating so profusely you’d think I were the one sitting at the piano starting the same song for, yes, the sixth time now.

My parents were there. My husband’s parents were there. I couldn’t look at any of them because in my mind, I had failed. I didn’t make him practice enough, I thought. In my attempts to let him take some ownership over the whole practicing process and not be the helicopter mom that I sometimes can be, I trusted Sam when he said he was prepared. I should have pushed him more, I thought. I should have been more than a helicopter, I should have been a 747.

I felt sick, like I might faint, as Sam started the song yet again. That’s it, I thought. I will faint and take the attention away from Sam. It will be an act of heroism and motherly devotion that he will remember for the rest of his life. 

From her chair, Sam’s teacher advised him to start again from the beginning. The beginning! What good was coming from starting at the beginning? Sure, she had been a piano teacher for three decades, but come on. My boy needed help. That I didn’t sit next to Sam and put my fingers over his to play the right notes should go up there with the greatest examples of self-restraint in all of motherhood.

Sam eventually made it through the rest of the song, bowed, and took his seat. We, his parents and grandparents, were extraordinarily proud that he had not run straight out of the room like I imagined I would have done in his place. And of course that was the issue right there. Sam had shown all the strength and fortitude any parent could wish for a child in that moment. But I was too busy projecting how I would have felt sitting on that piano bench. I couldn’t seem to separate myself from Sam—I was Sam, Sam was me.

Unfortunately, the next 45 minutes of the recital were excruciating, even worse than the performance itself–at least for me. Sam reclaimed his seat among his peers and stared ahead while other students took their turns. I was anxious to see Sam’s eyes, but he wouldn’t turn around. I wanted the warmth and love on my face to tell him that botching up the rock and roll version of Old MacDonald was okay. That his ability to stick with it until he got it right said more about his character than anything else possibly could. Why wouldn’t that rascal let me do my job?

I’m not proud to admit that I distracted myself from worrying about how Sam might be feeling by hoping somebody else’s child would make some kind of glaring mistake. I didn’t want Sam to be the only kid with an imperfect performance, I thought at the time. But I know now I also didn’t want to be the only mom with a child who had made a mistake. I was making the entire recital all about me.

“I messed up a little,” Sam said when he found us afterwards.

“But you stuck with it,” I reminded him. His grandparents said variations of the same thing. We all did the dance of trying to keep him from any shame and embarrassment. But Sam didn’t need our worrying and protection. He didn’t need our anxiety, our helicoptering, or our attempt to shield him from any discomfort. He certainly didn’t need me to imagine how I would have felt if I were him. Because I was not him. And that was a good thing. Because my little boy was a self-possessed person who was taking responsibility for his recital. It was his show.

“Can we still go out for ice cream?” he asked.

And off we went. I knew at that moment that the blessing of this botched piano recital was learning to have faith in my son and learning to have some faith in myself as a mother. I feel confident that given the chance, Sam will make it through many of life’s songs, no matter how many do-overs and false starts he has to endure along the way. I wish that same confidence for my other three children. I wish it for all of us.

Nina Badzin is a freelance writer living in Minneapolis with her husband and four children. “Blessings of a Botched Piano Recital” was the piece she performed as a cast member of Listen to Your Mother in the Twin Cities. You can read more of her work at http://ninabadzin.com and connect with her on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/NinaBadzinBlog) and Twitter (http://twitter.com/ninabadzin)

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This entry was written by Nina Badzin

About the author: Nina Badzin is a freelance writer living in Minneapolis with her husband and four children. She has written about parenting, marriage, friendship and more in The Huffington Post, The Jewish Daily Forward, Kveller, and elsewhere. You can read more of her work at www.ninabadzin.com  and connect with her on Facebook facebook.com/ninabadzinblog and Twitter (twitter.com/ninabadzin).

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  • Heather

    This was absolutely beautiful. I experienced this as I watched my son score for the other team in a soccer game this spring. But I don’t think I processed the learning until reading this. THANK YOU.

  • http://www.annemackin.com Anne Mackin

    Oh, Nina, I want to weep with empathy at this. You described it so beautifully and your insight into the “over identification” is spot on. I’ve experienced the same excruciating crucible of parenting watching my adolescent son on the tennis court when he gets nervous and starts missing shots. Full-body-bind-tension, I’m embarrassed to say!

  • Randi

    Thank you for this honest piece, NIna. We want to fix or undo all of our children’s mistakes, their bad days on the fields, their botched recitals. But we can’t. I see this more than ever with my two teenagers and some of the decisions they make. It is so true–that as mothers we must keep the faith, not just in our children but in ourselves.

  • http://www.jolinapetersheim.com Jolina Petersheim

    Love this essay, Nina! I hope I can have your same sense of willpower if placed in such a situation.

  • http://www.adesignsovast.com Lindsey

    This is so wonderful, Nina – thank you for sharing it. “This isn’t your show” is something we all need to hear sometimes, at least I do … and I love the way your son recovered and saw it through. And the ways that our sense of our children and of our own selves can be tangled together is so, so familiar to me. Complicated. What a powerful lesson this is. xox

  • http://rasjacobson.com renee schuls-jacobson

    Oh Nina! We’re made of the same stuff, I tell you. I’ve been through this with my son, most recently with the fencing. I’ve wanted him to be a killer. I’ve wanted him to win. And he wants to do succeed, too — but sometimes the greater lesson is just to keep going, to power through those dark moments. Because it’s that tenacity that will serve both of our sons well in the future. Sam learned he COULD finish. He didn’t need you to rescue him. He got through it.

    So more power to you for staying in your seat, for chewing the inside of your cheek, and for staying silent.

    Soooooo hard.

    Proud of you, mama.

  • Lisa Weinberger

    Nina, this is beautifully written. I felt your maternal urge to do whatever you could to fix the situation in that moment — I would have wanted to jump in, as well. Thank you for sharing this! It’s amazing what our children can do, and how resilient they can be, when we get out of their way. I can’t wait to see the video of your reading :)

  • http://www.stephaniesprenger.com Stephanie Sprenger

    This is beautiful, Nina! I’m so glad I was able to read your piece-and congratulations! I can definitely relate to this, and pictured myself so clearly in your shoes, fighting the urge to “rescue” my child from discomfort. Great job!

  • http://www.mydishwasherspossessed.blogspot.com Kathy Radigan

    I found myself feeling nervous for you as I was reading your piece. I think these moments are always so much more worse for the parents than it is for the kids. You must have been so proud of the fact that he just kept at it and then did it. What a great memory for him, I messed up a little, fixed it, my parents were there and we went for ice cream! Excellent!

  • Deborah Milstein

    Nina, this is so well-done–I was right with you all at that recital! I don’t have children but I played terribly at many a recital growing up (for sure I never practiced enough, no matter what my mother did). My poor mom, I never even considered how she might feel!

  • http://piperbayard.wordpress.com Piper Bayard

    Got queasy as I read this. I was that kid. Froze in the middle of “Nicholas and Alexandra” when I was fourteen. Sat there blank for an eternity and then went back in my memory to the top of the page and started again. Made it through. Went on to perform again. Never froze again. But the memory is as fresh as if it happened this morning. I will always feel a kinship with your son. :)

  • http://brendamarroyauthor.com Brenda Marroy

    What a beautiful story. Many parents think their role is to mold a child into what they think the child should be so it was refreshing to read your words. Unfortunately, many parents would have shamed their child for not being perfect. Your children are fortunate to have a parent such as you. I love your willingness to remind yourself it was not your show and to sit still and let him have his experience. Kudos to you.

  • http://unscriptedmom.com Julie Burton

    Nina, You really nailed it as you describe how so many of us moms feel as we watch our children struggle. Oftentimes it is way more difficult for us than it is for our child/ren. Watching you and listening to you read this piece at the Listen to Your Mother show in Minneapolis in May was so memorable as you were able to express with your written words and your voice all of the emotions that were evoked as you watched Sam “freeze.” I will never forget watching my son have a complete meltdown on the pitcher’s mound when he was 11 or 12, and I literally wanted to go out there, pick him up and carry him off. I prayed that the coach would pull him but he didn’t. It was excruciating to watch, and actually it was pretty awful for my son as well, but it ended up being a very important learning experience for him. Thanks for sharing your insight in this wonderfully honest and sincere piece of writing.

  • http://ninabadzin.com Nina

    Thank you, Lisa! Resiliency is the perfect word. You know I love everything Wendy Mogel writes about it, which really inspired my title. Thanks for reading the essay and taking a minute to let me know!

  • http://ninabadzin.com Nina

    HEATHER- Oh, that’s a hard with the score for the other team. Maybe even harder in some ways than a recital because as a team you all are working together whereas a recital is more individual. OUCH. I’m would have been sweating buckets. I know that!

    ANNE- I like that term “over-idenfication.” I think it’s a real thing!

    RANDI- So honored to be here.

    JOLINA- you will! I can just tell.

    LINDSEY- Thanks for pointing out that line. It is something we need to remind ourselves of often. And sometimes are kids need to hear it, too, because everything isn’t about being their show either!

    RENEE- Thank you! Actually, this is a related topic to the extra-curricular activities conversation in general, isn’t it?

  • Melissa Crytzer Fry

    Fabulous piece, Nina. The helicopter parent … Exactly how I’d be if I had children! Kids teach us adults such valuable lessons!

  • http://www.schoolofsmock.com Jessica Smock

    We — as teachers and people who study resilience — are used to talking about resilience in kids and in parenting in the abstract: the effects of overparenting and underparenting but as academic or theoretical concepts. Thank you for sharing a story so that parents can connect to those important concepts in their everyday lives! Beautiful, Nina!

  • http://leftbrainbuddha.com Sarah Rudell Beach

    Nina ~ This is a fantastic story and a great reminder to us mothers about not over-identifying with our children and their struggles. I get so nervous during my daughter’s dance recitals because I know how embarrassed I would be if I messed up. I can just imagine your thoughts as you waited those 45 minutes! But our kids are resilient if we can support them, teach them to dare greatly, and then know when to step back. I loved this!

  • http://ninabadzin.com Nina

    Loving all the comments. Thanks to everyone for reading and taking the time to reflect with me.

  • http://inastateofmotion.wordpress.com inastateofmotion

    Beautifully written! It’s hard not to look at our children and feel the things we might be feeling if we were in their shoes, and realize they are their own little creatures who will react in ways either different or stronger or weaker than we might.

  • http://annieneugebauer.com/ Annie Neugebauer

    What a beautiful essay, Nina! I felt like I was there the whole time. Well done.

  • http://Www.sinceyouaskeddawn.com Dawn

    SO many life lessons in this one tiny experience! And yet, it’s so hard or us mammas to realize that sometimes the best parenting we can do is step back and let our kids LIVE. Kudos to you for figuring this out – your children will grow up to be strong, confident, capable adults :-)

  • http://lisaahn.com/ Lisa Ahn

    An amazing piece, Nina. I know I helicopter — I 747! Especially with my oldest child who is like me — but not me.
    There is so much encouragement and faith in this essay. I’ll keep that with me, and try to slow the spinning blades. :)

  • http://www.staceyloscalzo.com Stacey

    Nina- what a beautiful piece about such an important life lesson. I had a similar experience last spring when my oldest daughter played goalie for her soccer team. She cried as she let in goals and I cried standing on the side line. If only these children came with owner’s manuals!

  • http://www.aroundthebirthingball.com/newblog/ Olga

    What a wonderful piece, Nina. So well-written and so true. I cried. And took some mental notes.

    Thanks!

  • http://www.styledandorganizedliving.com Leticia

    From another kid who froze. I had the very same experience trying out at the end of 7th grade for 8th grade cheerleader. It was in front of ALL the girls in 7th grade AND parents! I froze during my cheer. I didn’t get past, “Ready!! Okay!” Three times I did that, wishing someone would come to my rescue. Anyone! Finally, the judges told me it was okay, and I could leave the gym floor. I sobbed!!! I don’t ever cry but I did that day. My life was over on so many different levels. My blessing? I never stand up in front of a group without remembering the horror of that day. But, it’s never happened again.