This morning my two year old son said, “More kisses. More cuddles,” and as I bent down to him, he gave me a hug around my neck. I put my nose in his soft straight hair and breathed in. He turned on his bare heel and danced off to the playroom to line up his cars and trucks. My daughter was drawing with her babysitter at her little playtable. She looked up and sang, “Bye, Mama!” and flashed me the ASL hand sign for “I love you.” I returned the signal, stood up and carried my mug upstairs to my office, feeling all was right with the world.
And yet, half an hour earlier, if you’d stopped by, you would have seen a dramatically different scene. I’d made the mistake of setting up a slideshow for them on my computer, the kind where the last twelve months of images scans by with a soundtrack in the background. In an attempt to infuse their screentime with some edification, I’d chosen as the background music Lila’s Suzuki Book One playlist, which pleased her to no end. I’d sat with the two of them on my lap for a good ten minutes; then I went upstairs to get dressed while my husband supervised. In some part of my brain, I’d registered him saying, “Lila–you need to eat your breakfast. Johnny–time to get dressed.” Five minutes later there was an explosion from the kitchen. I ran down to find all three of them screaming at each other, with Lila in a corner, red faced, crying, “Go away! Go away!” Tom, in an attempt to move things along, had unforgivably shut my lap top, ending the slideshow, and was dealing with the unfortunate repercussions. Lila ran up in her room, slamming the door while I wrangled a tantrumming Johnny out of his wet diaper and eventually–after lots of creative mom-cajoles (“Ooo, this pair of underpants has Elmo with a soccer ball! This one has trains! You choose!”)–into some clothing. When I checked in on Lila, she was happily ensconced in a project involving her collection of sea shells from last summer’s trip to the beach in Gloucester.
I share all this information about my family to be clear with you, as we commence to write about our music-infused family life, that the goal of growing a musical family is not about living a conflict-free existence. Sometimes when I read about other families on the blogosphere, I can get the impression that all these other families are doing something magical that I am incapable of–or just too dumb to figure out. If only we crafted together, my daughter would never be bored and my house would never be messy. Nonsense. If we crafted together, the house would be even more cluttered with bits of paper and smudges of glue than it already is. And we would get into conflicts about crafting, just as Lila and I get into conflicts about her Suzuki violin practice, or how Johnny will sometimes pitch a fit in the middle of HooteNanny. Music is the battleground at times, because for our family, it is the ground of our being. And when we play together, we can find harmony or dissonance depending on the day. Of course we aim for harmony. But looking back on my own life, those memories of dissonance can be the ones that inform my outlook today in ways that strengthen and enlighten me. Or at least remind me of why I as a parent have made certain choices.
What making music with my family has taught me in the past almost 44 years, is that for the music to continue, we need to reconcile our differences, or the collaboration ends. Bands break up if we get too stuck in our own ideas of how things should go. The best music is made in concert–with others. And so when I found my daughter in her room playing with the shells, I bent down and said, “Are you still angry?” She shook her head and climbed into my lap. I sat and stroked her hair for a few minutes, and we talked about why everyone had gotten so mad. The song was over, and we were putting the disc back into its case, finding its spot on the shelf. We were on to a different song.