Stretching


Last Spring I made up my mind to take a chance on trumpet performance, a neglected part of my past.  I began practicing in earnest, not just when I had something to perform for.  I searched out opportunities, made connections, and started to play much more.  Today, I have rehearsals four times a week and teach lessons on two nights.  I had the opportunity to play with three big bands over the summer, and now concert season is beginning again.  On paper that all looks like plenty, but there was another aspect of my musical past that I was ignoring: conducting.

As a school band director, I conducted daily and almost unconsciously, like breathing.  What I conducted was paced more by the limitations of my community band or school group than my conducting skills.  Yet when an email fell into my inbox inviting me to guest conduct a piece in the next University Alumni Concert Band concert, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to put myself out there, in front of a group again.  After all, I was a member of the group in order to play more, right?  Not to conduct.  It would just be an added distraction, and it had been years and years since I last held a baton in my hand.

It would have been easy and quick to decline and let them move on to the next person on their list.  I have plenty to do, between my playing and my family and my other commitments, and this would just be one thing more to take my time.  I haven’t conducted in a long time, I’d rather keep focusing on my playing, I’m just too busy.  Then, I started to suspect that there was a deeper reason I was leaning away from the invitation: I wasn’t sure I could do it anymore.

With that realization I reached my tipping point.  Last week I stepped onto the podium for the first time in almost fourteen years, rediscovering that wall of sound to mold, my other “instrument” that I had given up on ever “playing” again.  My baton shook a little as I made my first prep beat, but I regained confidence as the music blossomed.  I found myself making mental notes on what to rehearse next week, what to try, what to change, what to bring out.  I forgot my nerves, and let myself submerge in the music, doing what I used to do so fluently.

In seven weeks I’ll be standing on a podium in a major university auditorium, guest conducting the piece we have perfected.  Then the only question will be: how do I get more baton time?

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Who Knew?


Last night I earned a few more “Mom Points”.  Did I bandage a skinned knee? Find a lost homework assignment? Help with an award-winning diorama?  No, I have done all of those things in the past, but I’m talking about one step further: I found a rendition of the Doctor Who theme for tuba.

Admittedly, I was looking online for something else at the time.  My youngest plays tuba and is always looking for “cool” stuff to play on an instrument many feel is uncool.  When I saw the site with all the TV and movie themes on it, all for tuba, I knew I had hit a goldmine, and when I discovered that it included Doctor Who I took a mental bow and pushed “print”.

Lately our home has become very “Whovian”.  Any Saturday night will find my second and third daughters parked in front of BBC America, being wowed by a man in a bow tie and fez who travels through space and time in a bright blue police call box that is much bigger inside than it looks.  It’s a wildly creative series, with a history of good writers and surprising twists and turns, and makes for some lively and intelligent discussions on the relative merit of plot direction, plausibility, and possible outcomes.  I’m not quite up on all the lingo, so they find that they have to educate me.

“Daaaah-lik, Mom.  Not Day-lik! And no, that one’s not a Companion.”

I nod and try to soak it in, if only to seem a little less un-hip to my kids. I am sympathetic to their attachment to it and we have driven in record time from my mother-in-law’s house three counties away in order to catch the mid-season finale, planned a birthday party for a Friday instead of a Saturday to avoid conflicts, and the plan for Halloween this year seems to include some sort of Weeping Angel costume for the both of them.  It was a toss-up between that and having to build a plywood dalek they could somehow push around the neighborhood, so I may have dodged the bullet there.

Soon we will be going thrift store shopping for clothes we can paint gray and contemplating the best ways to make skin and hair look like granite or marble.  A chance for more “Mom Points”, perhaps?

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Back… And Forth


Well, this is awkward.

“What happened to your blog?”
“Why don’t you post anymore?”
“What’s wrong?”

I must admit that when I first created “One Bird At A Time” and made the decision to post every day I worried about running out of material to write about. Luckily, things just kept happening and I found plenty I wanted to turn over in my mind, making sense of as I filled the page.  Things are still happening, perhaps even more than before, but the effort of examination may have become too much.  Meeting my daily goal became a little obsessive, and I pre-planned posts for days I knew I’d be busy.  Sometimes I wrote when I needed to be doing other things.

I also found that writing so publicly is a balancing act. I chose to write about things as they affected me, yet I tried to avoid bruising others. Walking on familial eggshells put a bit of a damper on some of the things I could write comfortably about. The kicker about trying to be so diplomatic was that the entries that helped me most were the ones that were somewhat controversial. It’s hard to both please yourself and not embarrass those around you when you enter the blogging world.

I liked seeing my thoughts blossom and finding out what life meant to me. I appreciated friends commenting and sharing insights, whether it was a hearty “Yes! That’s how I feel too!” or pointing out another side to my story. Re-reading old posts reinforced lessons learned so I wouldn’t repeat mistakes and let me look back and see exactly when I turned a particular corner.

When I broke my daily streak at the same time that my life got busier with end of school year activities and plans, I did what was easiest. I quit writing. No one to worry or offend or embarrass, and writing takes time that I couldn’t find, at least the way I do it. I like to let it stew on the page for a while, eventually stirring the the ideas I start with into just the right dish with just the right flavor.

Will I get back to regularly posting? I hope so, with a little more kindness and understanding toward myself.  It’s less effort to let life flow past, largely untasted, unexamined.  After all, that’s what I seem to have been doing most of my adult life.  Lately, however, I find phrases and ideas popping into my head as I try to fall asleep; posts writing themselves in my subconscious.  I miss writing.

I took the path of least resistance, and that has made all the difference.

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Alpha and Omega


This is it. My eldest daughter’s last day of public school.  How could that be? I remember so well her first day of kindergarten, and if I was organized enough I would be able to find one of the many pictures I took that morning.

I couldn’t understand the mothers who went to Tea and Tissues with the principal after teary goodbyes, reluctantly allowing their children to finally enter the classroom, some of the kids crying too.  This was a milestone!  School was what we had been preparing for and working toward for the past five years, ever since the little bundle met us.  She attended preschool for a couple of years, to gradually get her ready.  We happily helped her learn her letters and colors, so she wouldn’t go in at a disadvantage.  She was a social child, so no worries there.  The day arrived and she went to her new classroom with curiosity and a smile and I pushed her sister’s stroller home, a bounce in my step.

There have been a few rough patches between that day and this.  I have been disappointed in grades at times, but never in my child.  Teachers have been great and not so great.  Friendships have come and gone, hearts have been hurt, more lessons have been learned than were in the school curriculum.  Triumphs and tragedies; all were so important in the moment and forgotten in the blur now.

Today was a little different in tone than that day so long ago.  Instead of picking out her outfit and helping her dress, brushing her hair and assisting her as she loaded her new backpack, I stood in a quiet kitchen making the last school lunch that I ever would for her.  She breezed down the stairs and packed it up and was out the door and driving away before I could snap one picture.

Maybe my Tea and Tissues day was just delayed thirteen years.

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Mea Culpa


Today would have been my mother’s ninety-first birthday.  You would think I would be reminiscing about old times, remembering how well she took care of me whenever I was sick, calling the doctor for a house call and hovering over his shoulder in my fevered memory.  The food she spent all day making for us, or how she was a do-er; how she could get “drunk” and giddy on just a Coca-Cola, or how she lost her first husband at the very end of World War II yet was strong enough to build a different life with my father and us.

Instead, I am spending the day wishing I could apologize.  As my daughter approaches her last day of high school this week, I find myself understanding more and more about my relationship with my mom during our contentious years, discovering what she was trying to do.  Time and experience wipe the bull-headedness of youth out of the picture, and I can see her more clearly.

I used to get so frustrated, so irritated that last year before I went away to college.  She seemed to be holding even tighter to me, and I only wanted to take flight.  As my girl does the same thing, I struggle to not want to hold her to my chest for as long as I possibly can.  My mother would tell me things I already knew, give me advice I thought I didn’t need, and treat me like a child.  I fought like a toddler wanting to be put down, trying to get away, only looking forward.

Mama, I understand.  And thank you.

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What’s In A Name?


Four days should be long enough to name a little kitten, shouldn’t it?   After waiting patiently for the girls to shift toward a decision, I set an arbitrary deadline of nine o’clock last night, just to try to move the process along.  The time limit came and went, through heated discussions, hurt feelings, and a few shortlisted white-bread names that nobody was really ecstatic about. Even threatening to name him “Spitvalve” if they couldn’t settle on anything before then didn’t seem to light a fire under anybody.

I don’t know why, but it seems that it’s important to pick the right name for the little ball of fluff.  Something that shows some creativity, some character, something the kitten can grow into a cat with and still be dignified.  My daughters spent a little while discussing how a name is something that molds the animal.  If it’s a good name, it will be a good pet.  Personally, I think the name ends up fitting as they get older not because they grow into it or live up to it, but rather because we spend all this time picking something that will fit the personality or looks that we can perceive already.  The name doesn’t make the cat: the cat makes the name.   This pet belongs to them, though, not me.  Therefore it is their job to successfully name it, by whatever means necessary.

Everyone submitted some names for the list, then we all got to initial three of them.  Any names without initials beside got tossed on the first round.  On the second round, we only got two votes.  On the third, we each got one. Of course, by this time only the ordinary names had survived.  Anything with any character or personality had been vetoed by one or the other of them.  Compromise only gets so far before it becomes either defeat or victory for someone.  As long as only two of the three girls agree on any given name, there are winners and losers.

After waiting all evening for the white smoke to come up the Vatican chimney, I conceded defeat and sent the youngest to bed without a clear consensus.  We may have to start with fresh suggestions and see where we are tonight after another day of wrangling.

I’m getting tired of referring to him as “kitty” – Spitvalve is starting to sound quite good.

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The Art Of Compromise


They had installed the litter of kittens in a large ferret cage, with shelves and ramps and hammocks swung between.  When the lady swung her garage door open, my daughters cautiously approached the shoulder tall crate and peered quietly in.  Apparently it was nap time at Feline Preschool.

“Here, they’re tired.  Let me stir them up a little,” she said, brushing past my girls and clanging the gate open.  A little head peered out of the upside down cardboard box on the bottom and just as quickly pulled back in.  With the cage open, we could see a couple of furry bodies nestled together in one of the slings, and a cocky kitty came sauntering out of the back corner to see what all the fuss was about.

Our hostess scooped kittens up and distributed them out, smooching each one loudly as she did, and soon my girls stood holding wriggling balls of fur, looking a little shell-shocked.  The kittens just wanted to find a warm place to snuggle and scrabbled up on shoulders as we tried to look at them, so they peered at each other’s kittens and tried to be judicious in their praise.  Eventually my youngest gravitated to the spotted little runt of the litter, the one who had swaggered out earlier.  My middle daughter decided she liked the one with the dramatic markings and unusual look, and my oldest was in love with the sweet, fluffy black one.  This was going to be their kitten, if we adopted one, so I hung back and tried to stay out of the way, assisting where I could, untangling tiny claws from shirts and making mild suggestions about what to look for and how to choose.  Each began to try to sway the others to her choice, because they all knew that they would be very lucky kids to leave there with even one of the kittens and asking for two was asking too much.  As the argument went on and became a little more heated, each compromised a little by saying “Well, if we can’t get mine, then I like this one…”, but they couldn’t agree on a compromise that worked for all of them.  It seemed as though each kitty was beginning to be thought of as so-and-so’s kitty, and if they chose that one, that person would have an advantage.  After the poor owners of the house had been kept on hold from their yard work for about half an hour, I urged the girls to either choose a kitten or go home and think about it, returning the next day.

At this point one of them noticed a sleepy little kitten who had climbed to the top shelf and was trying valiantly to sit upright and not let its eyes close, but kept nodding off. This was the fourth and last kit, not chosen as a favorite by any of the girls, and I listened quietly as, one by one, they decided that it would do very well, thank you.  It was hard to leave their favorites, but as we walked to the car with their choice held reverently, all eyes were on the new member of the family.

When we got home and got it settled, we found that it was sweet and curious, frenetic and sleepy, playful and cuddly – the best of all its brothers and sisters combined.  It turns out that the one that was no one’s favorite was the best choice of all.

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