It’s Sunday. My husband is preparing a roast and mashed potatoes with all its accompanying kitchen noises. The girls are noisily occupying themselves. I am not needed by anybody, so I sit at the piano for a bit. What harm can some extra noise bring to our house?
The lower keys are slightly dusty under my fingertips. Is this from lack of use, or lack of housekeeping? Definitely lack of housekeeping, I realize, as I notice an even coat of dust on picture frames atop the piano. However, the piano is definitely out of tune, something I must remedy immediately — after I pay to get the carpets cleaned and replace the stained throw pillows and the curtains I hate. Oh, and there’s the matter of my phone that’s acting dodgy.
No, I decide, as the music starts to come more from within than from a simple repetition of what’s written on the bars of music. No, I’ll borrow the neighbors’ steam cleaner and wait a little longer for new throw pillows and curtains. I’ll even deal with my misbehaving phone a little longer. This piano needs to be given attention.
My fingers move freely while my thoughts leave the things of housekeeping and wander to deeper places. While my fingers cannot zip up and down the scales at the ready like they once could when I practiced every day, they are somehow fortified by something — my life’s experiences, perhaps? — to not be lacking. I wonder at how I can bring out full and rich music when I am in a stage of life when practice sessions are few and far between.
I start to consider that maybe it is a gift from on high, an unexpected blessing to be able to keep my beloved talent while giving myself over to be stretched and molded to uncover, seek and discover new talents that aid in motherhood. Kindness and charity are talents I am learning do not come standard, and I am a slow study. But much as I spent years cultivating my piano abilities, I continue to muddle through the sight-reading of motherhood.
Before I can take that thought further, my girls have lost interest in whatever was previously occupying them before — a common occurrence when I give my attention to something other than them.
My 2-year-old is crying because she can’t do something she wants to do. I remove my hands from the keys and use them to lift her to my lap where she settles comfortably.
“I’m playing a song about our Heavenly parents, Emma,” I whisper. “Do you remember Them?”
She sits still and listens to the music. When I begin my next piece, her reverence is fading and her hands are resting on the keys in the middle of the keyboard. I continue to play, my fingers now performing a dance around hers, my brain somehow knowing how to fill in the music without the keys she is hoarding to herself. How did my brain figure that out?
By the next piece, she is not content to hold still. Her fingers find and explore the keyboard. My music is punctuated with discordant notes, staccato where there should be slurs, bedlam where there should be silence.
It doesn’t take long now for her 5-year-old sister to add her own contribution. She stands at the top of the piano and slams her hands on the keyboard to her heart’s content.
I continue to attempt to play my piece, even though it’s a futile attempt. When it is necessary for me to play a key my 5-year-old has claimed for herself, I pause, lift her hand and move it out of the way.
She laughs. I laugh. A game has begun.
Now my two arms are moving over and under the four arms of my two greatest creations. It’s a bad circus show, with the melody barely recognizable. Practice time is over.
There was a time when I would have looked at this scene and assumed it meant I had lost myself, that I had sacrificed my talents for my children.
That practice session certainly didn’t last long or merit any great improvements. But within it, I knew I understood the piano just a little bit better. I felt my fingers find their place just a little bit quicker. It was as if my time spent for my children made my time spent at the piano all the more profitable.
And what greater blessing than to have a talent and be able to share its joy with those I love?
No, I’m not sacrificing my talents for my children. I’m including my children in my talents.
And while I have lost the 45 minutes of daily practice, I have gained infinitely more.