Friday, September 27, 2013

life lessons learned in piano

Daniel and I often butt heads during his piano practice time. He likes playing the piano well enough, and he loves his teacher, so getting him to practice in the first place isn't the big challenge. We clash whenever I - how to put this delicately - offer suggestions to help the practicing go a little more smoothly.

I am really and truly trying not to interfere. He is good at learning independently, and having Mom breathing down your neck pointing out every little mistake is only going to make the whole thing stressful instead of fun and enriching. I get that. And I want his teacher (who is excellent, and whom I completely trust to work with him on all the things that might give him trouble) to be the authority figure, not me.

But every once in a while, he'll hit a wall with something like scale fingering or playing a rhythm incorrectly for the second week in a row, and when that happens it's impossible for me to keep my mouth shut. It goes the same way every time. "Daniel, I see you're frustrated with this scale. Can I show you a little trick I know?" "Nooooo! Stop it, mom, don't DO THAT!"

In general, this has gotten better (except for the scale fingering - that's a big hurdle when you start adding octaves), and I believe a big reason for this is that Daniel is learning the value of putting real, actual effort into learning a skill. He's a kid who naturally does well in school. He's a good reader, quick with math, and being only in second grade, has yet to encounter a project or subject that is truly difficult for him.

I've had many piano students like this in the past - smart kids who do well in school without having to try exceptionally hard, and then after the first few months of piano lessons, it takes actual work and repetition to learn the assigned pieces, no matter how smart or talented they are. It's kind of a shock to the system for those kids who, for the first time, have to put repeated effort into learning something well, and they often want to give up trying.

That's the danger of telling kids "You're so smart! This is easy for you!" Because then when it's not easy, they don't see the value of putting in the effort to learn. I know I'm not to first person to point this out, but I've known it for a long time.

Anyway, now that Daniel has been taking piano lessons for over a year and has experienced the satisfaction of working hard on pieces that seem difficult, he doesn't get so frustrated when he can't play something perfectly right out of the gate.

I believe this particular life lesson (if I may be so bold), that of granting patience to yourself as you put in quality time and effort into learning a skill or completing a project, is hard to learn. It takes practice. It takes repetition. But the satisfaction and confidence to be gained once the effort pays off in a successful performance or really great science fair project, or what-have-you, is well worth it. And as someone who spent so many years studying the piano and other keyboard instruments, I feel like I've learned it over and over again.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

good smells

I like to come home to a house that smells good. Like fresh air and something baking. Or onions cooking in butter - that's really one of the best smells there is, if you ask me.Good smells don't always happen in my house. As often as not, I walk through the kitchen door and I smell the trash that really needs to go out, or the fruit on the counter that has started to turn, or the compost that should have gone outside yesterday, or the tired smell of stale laundry.

But today my house smelled good. I bought raspberries at the farmers market and made muffins. I made soup for supper and left it on the stove before taking the kids to soccer practice, so when we got home it smelled like something fresh baking and cooked tomatoes. It was nice.

This evening my house smells vaguely like something burning. Stuart has taken to roasting coffee in the basement. Sometimes this sets off the smoke alarm, sometimes it's doesn't. Tonight, it did. Poor Daniel had just gotten to sleep when the vile beeping woke him right back up. Not to worry, we assured him. It's just dad roasting coffee again. Everything's all right. And everything is all right, a little smoky, but all right.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

conversations with a 7-year-old

Me: Daniel, come up here for a minute!
Me: Daniel, come up here for a minute!
Me: Daniel!!!
Stuart: Daniel, your mom is calling you. Go upstairs.
Daniel comes upstairs: What?
Me, pointing to an opened juice bag lying on the floor of the living room: What's the problem here?
Daniel: It's juice.
Me: Right, and it's open. On the floor of the living room. So there's sticky puddle here. It's your juice from your soccer game and I need you to clean it up. Get a rag and put water AND DISH SOAP on it or the floor will be sticky. If you don't want to finish juice, you should pour the rest out in the sink and throw the container away. Don't leave it on the floor.
Daniel grabs a rag out of the closet and drops three more on the floor of the hallway. He gets it barely damp in the bathroom sink and heads for the spill.
Me: You need to pick up the extra rags you dropped on the floor.
Daniel: (blinks)
Me: Pick up those rags, please.
Daniel picks up the rags, then heads for the juice spill.
Me: You forgot something.
Daniel: What?
Me: I told you to get a rag and what else?
Daniel: What?
Me: No, I said water and what else?
Daniel: Ummmm, a towel??
Me: (exasperated sigh) No, a rag with water and soap. Otherwise, the floor will be sticky.
Daniel stands helplessly by the kitchen sink.
Me: I said dish soap, remember? Here. I'll help you with the soap. By the way, what should you do if you don't want to finish the juice?
Daniel: Throw it away?
Me: No. What should you do first?
Daniel: What.
Me: What should you do with the rest of the juice?
Daniel: Pour it out?
Me: Yes, pour it out. Then throw away the container.
Daniel: Oh.

I'm sorry to say the rest of the day didn't go much better. By this evening I was out of patience and cranky and I'm sorry to say I let him know it. I know his ears work (now) and I know his brain works, but when I talk to him there's a short circuit in there. Or something.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

new year

This week marks the start of school. Daniel is in second grade, which he is totally taking in stride. He brought home his first homework assignment this afternoon. He felt quite proud and important to have homework and immediately took it to his room to complete before he even asked for his after-school snack. (You think that enthusiasm will last for the next ten years? As if.)

Anya, of course, started kindergarten, and after three days...well, she and I are still adjusting. She has been excited about starting school all summer. She was placed with the teacher she wanted, and while we didn't know any of the other kids in her class already, it seems to be a really good, interesting group of children. She's been a kindergartener for three days now, and for all three days she has woken up early, been ready and eager to walk out the door, has run up the hill to school with her big brother and his best friend...and promptly fallen apart when it was time to say goodbye at the sound of the morning bell.

Honestly, I fully anticipated that I would melt into tears, too. I barely kept it together her last day of preschool in June. I've been nervous about the start of KG all summer long. But the first day of school, despite her anxiety at saying goodbye, I was pretty okay with all of it. Stuart, not so much. When her lower lip started to quiver and she reached out for yet another hug, he went right back again and again, and I think if I hadn't said, "We just need to go," he might have followed her into the classroom.

Yesterday and today, the same thing happened. Getting to school was just fine, but then saying goodbye was a little rough. I went into her classroom this morning to volunteer for an hour or so, and when I left we had to go through it all for a second time: "Bye mom. *sniff* I love you mom. *sniffle* Bye mom. *voice quavering* I really love you, mom."

At the end of the day, she had a giant grin on her face, and happily ran off to play with another kid while we waited for Daniel's class to come out of the school. I don't know how long this separation anxiety will go on, but I know she'll be fine. The same thing happened for months when she was in preschool, so it could take a while. I guess having been through this already, I'm not too worried about it.

I'm already sick of the question, "So what are you doing with all your hours of free time now??!!" As if I suddenly have nothing to do but sit around eating bonbons all day. As if the laundry suddenly started washing itself, dinner appeared on the table on its own, the plumber showed up to fix that leak in the basement on his own, and after nearly six years out of school/the workforce a job suddenly fell in my lap. People, it's only day 3. I'm still figuring this out, too.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Monday, September 02, 2013

goodbye, old tree

The big tree is gone. They came last Thursday to take it out. The crew showed up at 9:00 in the morning, took down the power and phone lines, and then slowly and carefully backed this baby into the back yard: 

Getting the bucket truck back there was a nail biter, let me tell you. Between the trunk of the tree they had to remove (not in the picture) and the deck, there was not a single inch to spare. 

Then, they started to cut it down:


This went on for several hours. It was loud and messy. Since we had no power, I had to go elsewhere with the kids to entertain them and find something to eat. We ended up watching a movie and hanging out at a friend's house until the tree guy called to tell me that the tree was down, the stump was being ground, and they were cleaning up. When we got home, this is what was left of that silver maple tree:

And this:

Also, there was another large pile of firewood in the back yard (way more than I asked for, but that's okay), and yet another pile of large logs by the street that didn't fit in the first truckload. That was one damn big tree! It was tempting to keep this nice big log as a bench:

But we didn't. It probably weighed a ton (no exaggeration) and I don't know how we would have gotten rid of it when we didn't want it anymore. So after the kids posed for a picture, the tree guys hauled it off.

Now we have a lot more sunshine in the back, enough, I hope, for a garden someday, if we can clear out the invasive shrubs and old tree stumps and persistent weeds.

We also have one of these new dome climbers:

Can you believe how big these kids have gotten? They used to be so little! Sorry to get all nostalgic, but  Anya starts kindergarten tomorrow. She's ready. I'm ready. But it might be a little tough for me to leave her at the door.