I’ve failed as a mother.
In many ways, but in this particular instance I’m talking about how I never forced any of my children to take music lessons.
Maybe part of my musical slackery was due to my own childhood experience. I suffered through eight years of piano (and begged to quit for seven and a half of them) with little to show for it. I was awful at keeping time (the metronome was my mortal enemy), I hated to practice, the tunes were booooring. Probably my happiest memory was one spring recital at my teacher’s house when we got to play with her bunny and it bit me.
In high school, I desperately wanted to play guitar because my plan was to learn and then join the church choir and the cutest guy, who also happened to play guitar (what a coincidence!), would fall madly in love with me. That was the dream. The reality: I struggled in my first-period guitar class and while everyone else was playing “Stairway to Heaven” and other iconic tunes, I was plinking out “Tom Dooley.”
Part of the negligence was because the kids were more into sports. I didn’t think I could handle sports practice and music lessons for three kids.
I blame most of my nonchalance, though, on the local school district’s fine arts program. At first, it was great. First-grade opera was hilarious. Second grade’s special event couldn’t have been that offensive since I remember nothing of it for any of them. Third grade, though … Shudder. Third grade was RECORDERS. I am pretty sure they use recorders at Gitmo. Imagine that — times three. I couldn’t bear it. It’s why we moved the third kid to private school.
So even though researchers say playing an instrument can help young ‘uns with verbal memory, spatial reasoning, literacy skills and to use both sides of the brain, blah, blah, blah, I decided to leave my kids to make themselves better at all that on their own with no musical enhancement.
Many years later, that’s happening.
Our oldest child has sort of been adopted by her college roommate/bestie’s family. She’s been quarantining with them in California since school ended, and honestly, they’re better than we are. They live in San Diego (major bonus points), they take their kids beach camping (ew, but while I’m not personally interested I do think it’s cool for other people) and … they play instruments! They’ll go camping, build a fire*, pull out ukuleles and have sing-a-longs.
So No. 1 can now pluck tunes from Liz Phair and Vampire Weekend**, and it’s cool. So cool, in fact, that I started thinking maybe I should learn. After all, a four-stringed instrument seems doable, even for me. And then I found out there is such a thing as a banjolele, an unholy union between a ukulele and a banjo*** and became obsessed.
Ta da — this is Ruby. It’s pretty early on in our relationship, but I’m fairly sure she’s going to be responsible for the breakup of my marriage.
It only arrived this weekend, but I’ve been practicing hard, more than I ever did for piano. I’m watching YouTube and scratching out “I’ll Fly Away,” chosen because it has only three chords and as many verses. I was so proud of myself for figuring out a little riff that my personal YouTube teacher put in. I plucked through the song, gave Ruby a final strum and looked up at my husband who was watching me.
“What do you think?” I asked excitedly.
“Well,” he said, “I liked the end.”
He told me I was out of tune. Apparently had been the whole time.
So now that I have a tuning app, I might be ready to move on to a new song. I just discovered the chords for Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.” Let me just say that if social gatherings ever become possible again, between my husband’s new cocktail-making skills and my banjolele prowess we will be very in demand.
I’m still pretty slow and all the fingertips on my left hand throb, but I do think my memory’s sharpening. Just this morning it only took mere minutes instead of hours for me to remember what it was I wanted to Google so thanks for that, Ruby.
*No. 1 is campfire-building certified, thanks to her second family. We failed to teach her that skill, too.
**I must remember to ask if she learned “Tom Dooley” yet.
***Judging from my family’s response, it should be called a bastardlele.