A Piano Dumpster Fire

What had I just agreed to???

I looked down at myself. I had on my robe for gosh sake’s. I couldn’t even find the motivation to put on real clothes. My throat was sore, my nose was stuffy and I had sweated through a fever all night.

I was standing in front of my kids’ piano teacher’s house and Josh just ran past me to get in the car. We do lessons before school and Thursday was his day.

The Russian was standing in the doorway. She had on her mask and I had on mine. But this time I stood about 10 feet back. Through the surgical mask I yelled as best I could, “Hey! Tatiana! I have Covid so I’ll stand back here and yell at you!”

She pulled down her mask and smiled wryly in understanding.

We skipped talking about Josh since his comments usually range from “here’s how he can take things from ‘better’ to ‘perfect’,” and we cut straight to Sammy scheduled for the next morning.

I croaked, “Yeah, Sam has it too, so I think we’ll skip this week.”

She yelled back, “Do you want to do a Skype lesson?”

*record scratch*

“WHAAAAAT???? You mean a Facetime call or a Zoom meeting??’

“No, no,” she said emphatically in her thick accent. “A Skype call. Is better that way.”

Although not certain, I’m sure what she was trying to say was, “I’m familiar with Skype so let’s do that and please don’t make a big deal out of my techno-fear.”

So I let it go.

“OK, I’ll download the app and we’ll do it that way.”

Please understand that alarm bells known as “mom’s intuition” were going off so loud they were drowning out my own audible voice. But I thought, “Hey, maybe we should try it and just see what happens.” Which I’m pretty sure is exactly how Johnny Knoxville convinces himself to do every blessed stunt in the Jackass movies.

“OK,” she said. “Let’s try for tomorrow around 10:45.”

“OK!” I said with a wave, and jumped in the car with the rest of the kids to dump Josh off at school. Josh had already had the plague and so he was bound for the promised land.

We got home and Sam was surprisingly cooperative with most of the school work. Sam isn’t usually know for being cooperative with anything, really, so I relaxed and let my guard down a bit. Never a good idea when your primary job title is “M-O-M.”

10:45 came around and I set up my computer near the piano and angled it. It took quite the back-and-forth to be able to connect with the teacher. My suspicions were confirmed. She and technology weren’t friends and so I did everything I knew how to make it happen. Soon we were up and running and I sat Sammy in front of the piano and computer.

If I’ve learned anything from my middle son, it’s best to just let him do his thing with the teacher. Otherwise, he’ll get agitated when I try and but in. So I did my best to just try and keep the other two entertained and let he and the teacher do their thing. I listened in with one ear while I played legos with another.

I heard Sam laughing downstairs and thought pretty smugly, “This is going great. I’m so glad I didn’t listen to that smug intuition. What does she know anyway? I should have way more confidence in Sam that I give him.”

A few minute went by and I heard him starting to get agitated. I looked over the upstairs balcony and could see him crossing his arms and pouting. AT THE COMPUTER SCREEN.

I could hear Tatiana get louder on the speaker, trying to get Sam’s attention and make him do what he needed to do. But alas. I had been there a million times before. He was turning into a statue before our very eyes. A very hot statue made of plastic explosives and the tears of dictators who had gone before him.

She started yelling.

“Sah-da!!! Sahhh-da!!!!”

So I ran downstairs, only realizing too late that I wasn’t wearing pants.

I crept in front of the computer screen, feeling very much like a bad dream I had shown up to my own piano lessons during college late and without pants.

But I was standing before a very real Russian who was about to lower the boom on my son.

“Sah-da… Sam is not cooperating. I need you to sit in on the lesson and help us out.”

In my head I though, “I give this 5 minutes, lady, before Sam absolutely degenerates into a brainless amoeba and blind range turns his brain into a can of applesauce.”

I looked down at my lower half. I had no pants on. My nose was dripping. I felt terrible.

“Tatiana, let me put the other two in front of the tv and I need to wipe my nose and find pants!!!!” I ran out of the room, leaving a seething Sammy behind me.

I plopped the other two in front of TV and desperately looked for pants or shorts or something. I must have been panicked because I couldn’t find anything.

I ran back down the stairs.

Screw it. Tatiana could look at my blindingly white thighs and T-shirt that says, “I really really miss Hawaii.” I missed more than Hawaii. I missed my sanity something fierce.

So I sat down on the bench and helped Sam plow on in my usual fashion, trying to not to let any emotion get into it and largely ignoring the ridiculous tantrums that tended to come in waves. But I was right. We were about five minute in and his attitude was steaming hotter and stinkier than the La Brea tar pits.

So I stopped and got right up next to the computer screen and stared at it with huge eyes. A scared Bambi would have applauded my efforts, her hooves clapping quietly so as to not further anger the bottle rocket of a 6-year-old.

I sat very close to Sam and whispered into his ear, “You are done here, go up to your room now, close the door quietly and stay there indefinitely.”

When he was gone, I turned back to the screen and looked at Tatiana. We were both silent for a few second and then we both sighed.

I love this woman. She’s tougher than nails but also manages to treat kids as they are kids. And he was clearly a kid having trouble controlling his emotions. She didn’t shame him or was overbearing… and she didn’t shame me. Although truth be told, the monster of shame was about three feet behind me and was nipping at my heels.

“Sah-da, you did good. You didn’t let him get away with nonsense. But you probably should have stopped pushing about 3 minutes back.”

I smiled. “Yeah… I just don’t want to waste your time, you know?”

“He has a cutoff and it’s all about taking him up to that cutoff and not going past it, because when we’re past it, there really is a point of no return.”

“I know,” I said. “I live this all day every day. Thanks for sticking with him and sticking with us.”

I realized at that moment that most of our communication had been through masks. She has to be extra careful with the viral situation, seeing so many households that come in and out of her house.

Neither of us had masks on. I could read her facial expressions and we had a good, long conversation about Sam and trying different strategies to help him take his practicing in stages.

She is exactly the kind of teacher my kids need. Absolutely no bull**** and tough as nails, but gracious enough to be aware that Rome was not built in a day. And she is not there to just teach them piano, but to help shape their character as well. Beyond grateful to have her in our village.

Generally, after these rage-fests, I let things simmer (for both of us) and I won’t even talk about it for hours after… maybe we won’t even talk about it at all. Because truly, he feels powerless to stop it and doesn’t understand why he does it.

I do.

Because I can see the intense pride and need for control… and that’s not easy for adults to control, much less a six-year-old boy. Obvious things like ‘disrespectful talk’ can be addressed later and reparations will be required. And usually, Sam has no trouble apologizing… a heartfelt apology. But in the moment or shortly after… no hope this side of heaven for any logic crossing that brain.

As I shut the computer and came down from that emotionally-charged high (only one of many that generally occur with my precious middle boy throughout each day), I sat on the couch with my shoulders slumped. I felt defeated and started going through everything in my head that I could have done different and/or better. I felt like I was failing that boy because I was not who he needed me to be… to help him with his issues.

I heard the door open upstairs and Sam silently padded downstairs. I was still staring at the wall when he sided up next to me and just wrapped his arms around me. I hugged him back and neither of us spoke.

I looked at him and managed a half-smile.

“Are you hungry, son?”

“A bagel, please, mom.”

As I fixed him his bagel with an obscene slathering of butter (per his request), I knew we were working through it, he and I.

And we just might have to “work through it” our entire lives.

But I would fight every second of every day to remain in relationship with each child. Experiencing the good/bad/ugly of life together. Apologizing when necessary, pushing them when necessary, hugging it out when no words will suffice.

Some days they will hate me. Some days they will adore me. And all the things in between. But one thing they will say: Mom never left us alone…even when we were jerks.

Because God will come running when we are *least* lovable to pick us up and hug us even when we’re pounding our little fists against His mighty hands.

But I’m pretty sure he’ll show up wearing pants. Because He doesn’t forget the basics.

As for me, I’ll just be hanging out here in my robe until I can find the motivation to put on real clothes.

My white thighs haven’t seen the sun or self-tanner in a few months and don’t even hold your breath.

One day my publicist is going to want me to start live speaking engagements and will suggest I start looking in a mirror more often.

My response will be this:

Tell them I’ll meet them on Skype.

I’ll be wearing my robe.


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