If you’ve ever played at a music festival (the classical kind) you know how it is; the hushed whispers, the lady putting up program numbers for the next musician, the expectant waiting for the adjudicator to address the still-jittery participants, the polite applause. It’s all nerve-racking. Of course, I didn’t tell that to Belén and Susanna last week when they were getting ready to perform in the festival for the first time.
“We’re going to listen to stories and advice from another music teacher,” I said, not wanting to make them anxious. “It’ll be fun.” Important lesson: never trust another person’s definition of fun.
I fed them several other lines like these and maybe it was more for myself than for them. I wasn’t playing, not even accompanying them, but I was still nervous. And when Mamas get nervous it’s never good for anyone. Add to the nerves a little hustle and you’ve got the perfect atmosphere for saying and doing things you wish you hadn’t. Getting the rosin, guitar picks, instruments, music, and extra dress shoes into the car before 8:30 am was proceeded by a lot of barking. And we don’t have any pets.
I think The Rush is what does it most often. The other day we were hurrying to a hockey game–we thought we’d walk instead of drive–but it wasn’t the lovely stroll I’d had in mind. The side walk was an icy canyon, with mountains of crusty snow on either side, making it impossible to share the goat path with anyone else; especially my own daughters who kept jostling in front of me and then halting 2 feet afterwards. But that didn’t stop me. No way. We had somewhere to be, someplace to get to. I barreled forward, tired of accommodating, and kindness in general. Another important lesson: when being kind seems too demanding it’s best to pause, pull back and let your child walk at least 10 feet ahead, or as far away as safely possible. I pushed and elbowed my children out of the way so I could keep up my momentum undisturbed. Fed up with lurching forward on tiptoes whenever they decided to stop in front of me, I let them know it while shoving them aside, ranting about how they needed to get out of my way. Yes, that’s right, I shove small children into snow banks.
Their tears were dried by the time we made it to the game.
It’s hard to be congenial with family; the ones who are supposed to love you through thick and thin. How unfortunate the ones closest to us take the brunt of our anxiety, stress, disappointments and pressures. And how pitiful that little things, like getting to a music festival or hockey game, become ways to terrorize our children… and that it’s only normal. Unfortunately it’s not just our children who view candid clips of our worst selves, but our spouses have front row seats, too.
“Be careful,” my mom said once, after she heard a comment I made to Stan.
It’s not a natural impulse to be careful at home. After all, it’s supposed to be a place of refuge. A place to let your hair down. A place to be yourself and loved for who you are. And yet, the words “be careful” keep ringing in my mind. (Thanks, in part, to this Patty Griffin song)
When marriages are over a decade, or many decades, long it seems excessive to talk about being careful with someone who knows you so well. When children are old enough to let their mother walk in peace, being careful might seem synonymous with coddling. But being kind to those who are most vulnerable with us probably isn’t a bad idea. Yes, the human spirit is resilient but it’s also precious, and it’s best to be careful with our most precious things. I wish I could remember that all the time, not just when sitting quietly at my keyboard.
Be careful how you bend me
Be careful where you send me
Careful how you end me
Be careful with me
…And the fun part of the festival? Well, if you ask them I think they’d say it was fun. But then, maybe they’re just remembering the ice cream treat afterwards.