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The Halfway House

Tonight Bryce had another music lesson. I think the teacher may possibly have her expectations set too high for five and six year olds, no matter how smart they may be. "She seems wound pretty tight," one of the parents said to me as we walked out, having been - what? shamed? reprimanded? scolded? I can't be sure - for not practicing enough with the children; the teacher didn't know if they'd be able to keep up and stay on track with the lessons and their intended trajectory. Just shy of an actual "tssk, tssk," she warned us wide-eyed that next week, the children were supposedto move on to the song called "Mouse, Mousie," but we'll just have to see how they master "Listen To Bells" because at this point, the kids are nowhere near being ready. Why, their fingers, some of whose can barely reach full size piano keys comfortably in the D Major position, have not yet mastered the coordination and control needed to play a song they were first exposed to two weeks ago. This is unacceptable, apparently. Wide-eyed unacceptable.

It's not just that this level of work was unexpected. That has caused disappointment and a little throwback-to-childhood fear of public reprimand, but I can deal with that. What's most disturbing here is that I recognize some capability in some parallel universe that we might have actually to meether unrealistic expectations, if only. If only John and I could run this place a little bit more efficiently. If only we could find a groove that seems to meet everyone's damned needs, the three-year-old who needs to run off energy and be intently focused upon, the five-year-old who needs down time and a different style of focus after what I consider to be an already challenging and highly structured school day, the seventeen-year-old who needs god knows what type of attention, the adults who want to return phone calls and order holiday cards and have decent family photos taken and schedule business meetings and be attentive, involved siblings and offspring to their fellow adult family members and unpack completely and go to bed early and clip their fingernails and invite friends over for dinner once a month. If only! If only we weren't spending all this time feeling like all we do most days is scrape by, at most half-successfully. Bryce's reading sheet didn't get signed again; we forgot to send the recipe for the class cookbook; no one picked up the fundraising order from the lobby; we never sent my brother's birthday card and now it's six weeks late; we never helped Bryce practice his piano lesson; the bills are piling up again despite our "renewed" focus on organization - yeah right! We take the first steps, but not the subsequent ones. It's not one step forward, two steps back; it's just one step forward, run into a wall, smack foreheads, loathe selves.

During Bryce's music lesson, I have an hour to kill and have spent the past few weeks drinking coffee concoctions at a close coffee shop with three or four moms of the other piano students. One particularly cheerful working mom always has her older daughter with her and chirps away about how busy their Tuesday evenings are - she leaves work early to pick them up from school, goes to saxophone practice, then gymnastics, then to piano, it's so crazy haha!! As she's talking about it, it's all I can do not to run from the table shrieking, leaving frothy, steamy cinnamon streaks from my sacrificed latte in sticky, frantic smears behind me. Is that fun? Are we supposed to think this is fun some day? Because I don't. I am rushing home from work trying to be cheerful and thinking of things I'll talk to Bryce about in the car, we'll use that time so wisely, combining bonding time and travel time, perfect!, but by the time I'm home to get him, my head hurts from the traffic and the demands of my work day and apprehension about how wild things will be when I walk in the door, and my attempts at a cheerful outlook (already a stretch for me and my apparently naturally bitchy personality) are completely snuffed out when I see John's tired, haggard look (a look that's natural for me, but not for him - if HE, formerly perpetually happy guy, can't smile, then how can I?) and I ask him what's wrong and he tells me things have been uncontrollable for the past hour, which means the kids have worn him down with their gleeful screaming and dinosaur roaring and door slamming, fun times.

Then, once I have Bryce in the car, it's back to fighting traffic, only this time I'm fighting traffic while answering a lot of repeated or related questions: Do you know the way to piano lessons? Did you forget the way? Are you going to remember in the dark? Do you have directions? Hey, how do you spell directions? And after seven or eight responses I lose interest in the conversation and am forced to focus on all the brake lights in front of me anyway, and so then it becomes, I SAID HOW DO YOU SPELL DIRECTIONS, DIDN'T YOU HEAR ME? HOW DO YOU SPELL DIRECTIONS? HOW? HOW? MOM! MMMOOOMMMMM!! The yelling reminds me that the piano teacher has made multiple comments about the energy level of the kids, usually with flourishing motions, both hands at eye level, spasming in quick, undulating waves, "things have been, kind of like this with the children" she'll say, shake shake shake. And so in the car, after I spell the word or re-explain why scientists don't think Pluto is a planet anymore, I segue into behavior expectations during piano class: no wrestling, no yelling, no running, no laughing, no undulating hand movements by your eyeballs (just in case the teacher is being literal). It's at this point, the lecture point, that I start to think that this whole thing is a mistake. He's five, after all. The idea behind the piano lessons was that he'd be introduced to the fun of music, not that he would have more assignments, more rules, more demands placed on him, more opportunities for his mom to lecture him, to use bonding-traveling time as scolding and finger-wagging time.

And when the chipper working mom jokes about how crazy busy all of it is, I don't pick up this same sense of regret, worry, resentment, or even fatigue. She is my parallel universe. She's got things running smoothly, if a little "busy." Her older daughter is doing her homework and drinking hot chocolate and occasionally cracking jokes with her mom, who simultaneously talks to all of us and seems amazingly to be muting how content she is, not forcing it. I don't get it. I mean, sure, I know about Zen, I know my stress levels are a state of mind and technically "my choice." But everything feels jumbled, rushed, mistaken. I get home and Quinn calls to me from the top of the stairs, "Mom! I cried. I didn't get a hug and kiss before you left." It feels like a knife through my heart - such a simple request, one I should have anticipated and given without being asked and I can't even manage that - you hear that, piano teacher? Things are, kind of, like THIS, with the children, shake shake shake. Wide-eyed unacceptable.

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