Sorry it took so long to post this. Do you know what happened? I might have actually time traveled. And here is the really crazy part: I think you were there with me. WARNING: SKIP TO THE NEXT PARAGRAPH IF YOU AREN’T INTERESTED IN TIME TRAVEL OR YOU REALLY WANT TO GET TO THE VALENTINE GIVING PART! (Otherwise you might get really frustrated and never come back here.)
[SKIPPERS: Not this paragraph. I meant the one after this.] It turns out there is this weird time warp thing in the blogosphere. The stuff that happened on Sunday (Valentine making Debacle) didn’t get posted until Tuesday, which was the day of the guitar lesson (i.e. presentation of awkward Valentine). So when you were reading the post about “I’m totally not giving this Valentine because it’s way too dorky blah blah blah” which was Wednesday (because I doubt you just happened to stumble across it before I emailed the link to you), I had in fact already given the Valentine to the guitar teacher. Isn’t that mind bending? I wasn’t trying to be tricky or anything. Everything was still happening in real time on Thursday, which was Valentine’s Day, when I said I would tell you the whole story “tomorrow,” meaning Friday, which would now be yesterday, because it’s Saturday and I’m still typing this sentence. I think what also happened, which may be more relevant than the time travel part, is that I put so much pressure on myself to write a good post because I had all these comments saying “I’m totally coming back tomorrow so it had better be there, and it had better be good.” Well, one comment that sort of sounded like that. So I didn’t want it to be just a summary, and I fell down this huge rabbit hole of writing it like a scene in a movie with a lot of dialogue. Are you still with me? Wow, I’m impressed because this paragraph is an absolute mess. (Just imagine what it’s like being in my head all the time!) I decided to scrap that dialogue part, but I didn’t want to just delete it entirely after I worked on it for so long (if you sense a theme here, you would be correct), so I put it way over here on a page far, far away so you won’t get distracted and maybe I can use it in another story sometime. You will only go read it if you are a serious glutton for punishment.
Welcome back to the real story! Now let’s try to stay on topic.
I can’t remember who first wondered aloud whether the 3D Valentine display might be a bit “over the top,” but ever since then, the plan has been to scrap the stand and stool and foot stool, and just give the Pipe cleaner Guy part of the Valentine. We decided the “set” part of it (which was, unfortunately, the most time-consuming part) has turned the Valentine from a simple nice gesture into sort of an awkward Oh, wow this is really elaborate and involved, and were you thinking I was actually going to play with this? kind of gesture.
Tuesday morning arrives. The day of the Suzuki guitar lesson. I ask the kindergartener if he wants to give the guitar teacher just the little Pipe cleaner Valentine Guy and guitar, or did he want to decorate the stand and maybe write Happy Valentine’s Day on it and then give him the whole thing? (I know I just said we had already decided on the plan, so why am I all of a sudden asking the kindergartener and reopening this can of worms? Who the hell knows.)
“Give the whole thing,” he decides, then tells me he is going to decorate “the stage.” (Why didn’t I think to call it that? Brilliant.) Here is how it turned out. Sorry for the anti-climactic- ness of it since you already had the sneak preview:
Onto the Presenting of the Awkwardness. (Yay! We’re finally getting somewhere!) Let me tell you how these guitar lesson evenings generally go, before I get to the specifics of Tuesday. The lessons are in a garden level church basement in Bloomington. We arrive around 5:20 pm for his 5:30 pm lesson. The kindergartener will bolt out of the car, run up to the large garden level windows to peek into the room, where the Suzuki instructor is working with the 5pm student. Sometimes the kindergartener will just stand there and watch, which is still a huge distraction, because these are large windows, but usually he’ll also start dancing a crazy dance and knocking and waving, even though he knows better, until we yell at him to stop. If the second grader is along, she will stay on the sidewalk and walk in like a regular person with impulse control.
When we get inside, we set all of our stuff down in the hallway just outside the door to the lesson room and go down the hall and around the corner to use the bathroom. (You need to try to pee before every lesson. It’s the rule. I know you just went at home. But you still need to try. Because lots of kids don’t know they have to pee until they are required to sit still for 60 seconds. There is something in their brain wiring that unlocks the “I have to pee” circuit when movement stops. Hence the Potty Dance—the youngsters’ misguided attempts to reverse the circuitry and hold the pee because they don’t know how science works and aren’t aware that brain signals only travel one way. I’m pretty sure.) Hopefully this convince-the-kindergartener-to-try-to-pee ritual takes until 5:30, otherwise the dancing and waving and knocking shenanigans will resume down the hall at the door to the lesson room while we wait our turn.
We are fairly new to this Suzuki Method guitar thing. And many lessons, perhaps even most, have generally not gone well. Or at least they have not gone the way I imagined they would, where the child calmly sits in the chair and follows instructions because he love love l-o-v-e-s the guitar, and doesn’t that mean he would naturally just want to sit still and pay attention in order to learn how to play? Apparently not.
The Suzuki Method instructor is an amazing man, though. He does this for a living, and he actually seems to enjoy it a great deal, so the lessons involve lots of silly fun, like throwing humongous dice, running around the room gathering colorful cards printed with the letters of the musical alphabet, then lining them up in order on the floor to make a giant “snake” or “train.” There are plenty of on-task opportunities to move your 5-year-old body and some squirreliness is expected. Some. However, our particular kindergartener will often employ other diversionary tactics throughout the lesson, which include many things that are not called for.
[You can also skip this paragraph if you don’t need specific examples of Not Called For and/or don’t like the movie Elf.] Such as pretending to fall backwards off his chair in a weak attempt at physical comedy (especially not acceptable while holding a valuable instrument), “accidentally on purpose” kicking over his foot stool when asked to “step on the gas” (Suzuki Method’s fun way of saying ‘put your foot on the stool’), blurting out inappropriate comments about body parts, and peppering the lesson with an annoying sprinkle of Can we be done now? . . . I’m done. . . Is this the last one? . . . Are we done yet? And when the kindergartener just can’t take it anymore, getting up to run around in circles really fast and shouting “AAAAHHHHH, I just threw up in the garbage can!!!” (Because we have watched Elf one time too many in this household and Will Farrell is our hero.) But I’m pretty sure pretending to be Buddy the elf is not playing a useful role in his musical education and is “out of bounds.” (Even if it is a little funny.)
So all of this nonsense ensues, while the incredibly gifted and upbeat and energetic Suzuki instructor patiently tries to distract him from his pain. And it is painful, learning to play an instrument, because well, you don’t really know how to play yet, and it doesn’t sound good, and it’s frustrating. But the instructor is undaunted. He genuinely cares, and so he does back flips and cartwheels and other amazing feats to try to make practice fun. And productive. So that the kindergartener might grow to have a love of music so deep that it will sometimes even feel like a truer language for him than the one with words. And if you have done any Suzuki Method practice, you know that it is really a giant metaphor for Parenting. At times thankless, and frustrating beyond belief. With the occasional glimpse of crack-your-heart-open joy and proudness, and feelings of oh this is so worth it.
So, back to this particular Tuesday. And the Presenting of the Awkwardness. (We’re finally here. I promise.) This week the second grader and dad are at home (still working on her Valentines, of course!) so it’s just the mom and the kindergartener. Today there is no bolting out of the car, no running up to the garden level windows to peek. The kindergartener is, amazingly, staying on the sidewalk and walking in like a regular person, because he is so very carefully carrying his Suzuki Method Shrine/Valentine. We have lightly glued the Pipe cleaner guy’s feet to the “stage” but he’s still a little tippy.
Tonight when we enter the church, like always, we set all of our stuff down in the hallway just outside the door to the lesson room, and go down the hall and around the corner to use the bathroom.
The kindergartener takes care of business, then bolts out of the bathroom ahead of me, and is already around the corner and down the hall before I’m even done washing my hands, so I miss the actual presentation of the Shrine. Probably no accident.
Now, this part is kind of hard to explain, because (a) you kind of had to be there (and even I wasn’t technically “there” because I was still down the hall around the corner) and (b) it’s really, really hard to write about the sound of laughter. How can you describe it with mere words? Here was my first attempt:
. . .all I hear is a sound that is inarticulate, delightful giddiness and amusement . . . the feeling you have when you want to laugh uncontrollably, but something keeps you teetering on the edge of a full-on roar, but the roar is there in your heart . . .
And after I write those words I see that it’s no wonder it’s so hard to capture laughter, because it is so much more of a feeling than a sound. It’s like music that way. It doesn’t really translate. It is its own language.
* * *
So when I round the corner I see the two of them there, outside the lesson room, and the instructor is holding the little shrine and he is laughing. There is just this beautiful jumble of words and incoherent sounds and deep joy.
. . . this is awesome! . . .hahaha! . . . did you make this for me?. . . look at this, heee heee . . . your foot is on the gas . . . you’re sitting so tall. .. oh, and look at that! . . . hahaha!. . .the expression on your face! . . . is this your school picture? . . . this is just great . . .
You already know I was clearly amused as I was making the valentine, but I’m fairly certain I never laughed out loud. For sure nothing more than a little chuckle. And now it was like the semi-hysterical giggles, the small whoops of amusement and the sheer joy I felt in my throat and my chest when I was making the gift were at last released and given voice when it was received.
We went into the lesson room, and the instructor asked the kindergartener if he could put the Valentine up there on the window ledge, so he could see it during practice. (He’s a wise man, though, so he put it on the ledge behind the kindergartener, so as not to distract him.) And the instructor did look up at it periodically and had this great I want to laugh out loud look on his face each time. He even referred to it a couple of times. “Just like the Valentine guy, now. . . forward in your seat . . . Sit tall… Ready position. . .”
I know the little pipe cleaner valentine guy can’t take all the credit for this, but the lesson went really, really well. The kindergartener stayed in his seat. He played the whole song of Twinkle, Twinkle all the way through, for the very first time. He seemed proud of himself, and the instructor even taught the kindergartener a few notes to a Beatles song (totally not part of the Suzuki Method) to congratulate him for working so hard.
I felt entirely redeemed for spending most of an entire day making a valentine for someone I barely know. Not to mention the better part of an entire week pondering the whole experience, writing and wondering about it. It wasn’t frivolous, and it could never be “too much.” Because the person who received it is teaching the kindergartener to love music, and is sharing with him the gift of a language that transcends words. It’s so worth it.