My mother was lucky, because I had a temperament adapted to the role she had entrusted to me. My sons are not so. They’re exuberant and restless, not wired for long sessions of stillness and thinking well about me.
Or maybe for them it’s not an inability but a choice. My eldest son, Solly, sniffs my need and pushes back hard. Usually soft and polite, on Mondays it becomes surly and tight, pushing old buttons. He responds to Jaren’s perky questions with short monosyllables. “The only music I like is meme music or video game music,” he announces, both sulky and joyful at the mortification he’s unleashed in my soul.
Jaren does his best. It’s cheerful and attentive, balancing French minuets and Swedish fugues with songs from Imagine Dragons and the theme music from Super Mario Bros. But even piano taught with joy is hard work. And even harder than mastering the piano is staying focused while your emotionally bristled mother announces her troubles from the next room.
The practice is atrocious. Jaren gave Solly the task of singing and performing “Home on the Range” for three consecutive weeks. Solly has quite a bit of musical talent, and he should be able to pull it off easily. But it became a battle of wills.
Oh, give me a home, where the bison roam, he sings resentfully. He hits a wrong note on residence.
“Uh, I think that might be an E?” I bleat, in my falsely casual voice, casual with a hint of desperation. Solly senses the age-old demands embedded in the words.
He lets out an “URRGH” and turns back to the keys.
Where one rarely hears, a discouraging word
He looks pointedly in my direction.
People say being a parent is like having your heart wander outside your body. But it can also be like having your reputation, your basic self-image, plagued as well. Our children are our tiny deranged ambassadors, with no prospect of diplomatic immunity.