the smell of my desperation has become a stench


A couple of weeks ago we finally got off our butts and enrolled Leta into piano lessons. We’ve been pretty hands off in terms of forcing Leta into activities, mainly because she would so rather be reading a book than kicking that stupid ball around the field, MOM. Well then, Leta, let me introduce you to a little motivation: DAVID BECKHAM.

The face that launched a thousand balls!

However, since Jon plays classical piano and for several years played keyboard in two separate bands MAKE THAT AT LEAST A DOZEN BANDS (Jon just texted me from bed where he is still recovering from gallbladder surgery to correct my mistake. NOTED.), and since I took lessons as a kid and continued to play and write songs by ear for years afterward, this is something we want her to experience. Our plan is to encourage her through a year of lessons, and then we’ll see if she wants to continue. If she decides not to, PSYCHE! SHE DOESN’T HAVE A CHOICE!

And then Jon and I high five each other, bump fists and wiggle our fingers with a PSSST! because we’re so lame.

So far she loves it, at least she grew to love it after those first few scary minutes of staring at that giant, harrowing row of keys. Her teacher is lovely yet firm, and the rules for having her as a teacher are fairly strict. Meaning the whole family has to dedicate at least an hour EVERY DAY to practice. That includes weekends. Usually, if I dedicate an hour to anything it’s trying to figure out what to do with all this belly button lint.

I mean, the possibilities, right? A scarf, maybe? A sculpture of cotton candy? Something I can sell on Etsy. If you have any extra lying around you can put it in a ziploc bag and send it to me. We can split profits.

Who wants to design a logo?

And wow, pretty soon, no, VERY soon, the lessons are going to be beyond my own abilities. And she’s going to whine IT’S SO HARD, I DON’T KNOW HOW TO PLAY THAT PART, STOP POKING ME IN THE NECK WITH THAT KNIFE like she has every single time we sit down to practice. And I’m going to be like, DON’T LOOK AT ME. You’re the one who taught herself how to read when she was four years old. I’ll be over here sewing my lint scarf while you use your menacing laser brain.

Today she taught herself how to play “Deck the Halls” all by herself. So, progress! Even though it’s not really seasonal. If I were That Other Kind of Mother I might point that out and deny her food for two days. I mean, THE GALL.

Instead I clapped and had to take a few deep breaths. Because this is the beginning of something really beautiful.

  • NicoleC

    2011/06/06 at 1:39 pm

    I, still to this day, I’m proud that I can sit at a piano and bust out a mean “The Entertainer”…for anyone around me..well, probably not so “entertaining”. Piano is the gateway drug….so to speak…to all other instruments. I can’t wait to force my kids to take lessons.

  • Lauren3

    2011/06/06 at 1:41 pm

    Awesome-o. One of the only absolute “I KNOW I did this right”‘s in my life is the fact that I stuck with the piano lessons for about 10 years.

    Now the piano is there whenever I need a quick therapy session… AND sometimes when I’m toasted at a bar that has a piano, I’ll bang out a couple tunes, and make a couple bucks! Jebus bless the old drunk dudes who don’t know when someone messes up Chopin.

    Or maybe they do, and don’t care cause my boobies bounce nicely during fast parts.

    So glad my parents made me stick with it when I would bitch about the lessons every so often.

  • jon

    2011/06/06 at 1:43 pm

    Yeah. Two bands? COME ON.

    More like a dozen. At least. You’ve been so good to me through this gallbladder thing, but TWO bands?

    Taking another set of Lortab now.

  • tokenblogger

    2011/06/06 at 1:50 pm

    An hour a day in the second grade? Wow.

    Do you know how long an hour is for a kid that age? It’s more like four hours.

    We started our son at everything practiced 5 times and never mentioned “time” at all.

    I begged for piano lessons when I was a kid. My pholks said no. They always said no.

  • Diary of Secrets

    2011/06/06 at 1:56 pm

    That’s awesome. I could picture her as a Pianist.

    I think Marlo on the other hand will be a bass player in an alternative indie band with my little Tyrant E.

  • Amy J.

    2011/06/06 at 2:05 pm

    Our oldest has taken for three years and we’re about to start our youngest. My husband plays and took lessons for years. I never did. We don’t push practicing however because, well…you’d have to meet our children. So far, the hands off approach has really worked and we have one child who can read music at least and play easily. I’m hoping my youngest develops her grandmother’s playing by ear along with reading music since playing comes so naturally to her with that ability. Don’t feel odd or bad Heather about pushing the girls into things other than this…we haven’t and don’t (though there was that semester of dance classes I’d rather not relive). Love of music is a lifelong gift and it’s not like you expect them to become performers at Carnegie Hall one day. I think this talent/gift is one they will always enjoy and carry throughout life, unlike knowing how to leap across a stage pretending to be a swan ; ).

  • The Dalai Mama

    2011/06/06 at 2:15 pm

    My 5-year-old just finished up his first 4 months of piano and he too loves it. He won’t start back again until school starts but it has been great for him–he only has to practice 20 minutes a day 4 times a week. I can’t even imagine an hour every day.

    On the belly button lint note–my husband has a jar. I know it’s a bit insane and has been collecting it for years. I can’t believe I just shared that–but it seems as though I have enough for a small start-up 🙂

  • anneschuessler

    2011/06/06 at 2:21 pm

    I really love this. I had ten years of piano lessons starting around when I was nine I think. At times it was hard to keep it up, but I did and I probably enjoy it now more than ever. So, yay for you and Jon and Leta for doing that.

  • WideAwakeWife

    2011/06/06 at 2:27 pm

    My daughter has been fortunate enough to receive piano lessons at school. I was in band in school and always wanted to play the piano, but never took lessons. My husband did take a few lessons as youngster, but didn’t continue. When my MIL offered us her piano I jumped on it! It warms my heart to hear my girls sit down and play, even if it is Jingle Bells in July 🙂

  • The Bold Soul

    2011/06/06 at 2:46 pm

    I took lessons as a kid (back in the dark ages… 1969) and also had to practice an hour a day — by MYSELF. I hated my first piano teacher but loved the second one, and kept it up for a few years until my parents divorce left my mom without much spare cash (dead-beat dad not paying his alimony and child support, pfft!) so she had to sell the piano. At the time, I was happy to give it up and get that hour back to read or play. However, a few years later I was in high school and wanted to get into the school band, so I dug out my old piano books and re-taught myself to play well enough to play in the school jazz band! I could only practice at school since we still had no piano. I didn’t have a piano at all until 2001 when I bought myself a Yamaha keyboard and started taking classical piano lessons again, at age 40!

    My husband’s 9-year old started lessons this year. My husband is totally self-taught, but all 3 of his kids have taken lessons. His daughter? Not into it at all. But his older son (age 22) is VERY talented and we think little brother is following in his… uh… fingertips (instead of footsteps). After just one year he has started to play little things by ear, imitating his dad or big brother, and he got promoted into a group of 3rd-year students starting in the fall, so he’s good enough to skip a whole group. The teaching method here in France is different (they call the notes Do, Re, Mi instead of C, D, E etc) and he has no set amount of time he is supposed to practice. He’s so good already, he can wing it for about 10 minutes a day, a few times a week, and show up for the lessons and dazzle the teacher! (Gee, imagine if he REALLY applied himself?!) And he’s had two piano recitals where he did quite well and wasn’t phased at all to perform in front of a crowd. Very cool.

    I love that the men in my life love music as much as I do. I don’t play much anymore, but every so often I will… and it’s nice to know that I CAN, even if I’m not great at it.

    Good for Leta!

  • Debra

    2011/06/06 at 2:53 pm

    It is all about the piano teacher. Find a good match and it all will fall into place. My son, who completed 2nd grade last week, has also just begun piano lessons. He had demonstrated interest in creating his own music and hopefully will follow in his big sister’s footsteps. She has studied almost 6 years and her performance at spring recital last month brought tears to my eyes. Enjoy!

  • juliejackson

    2011/06/06 at 2:55 pm

    Quick! Make her watch “The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T”
    over and over and over again, a la Clockwork Orange!

  • apostate

    2011/06/06 at 3:24 pm

    I’ve been looking for somebody in the SLC valley who can teach lessons to a 7 year old with high functioning autism. Poor hand strength / motor skills, but loves to teach himself songs to play. I would like to listen to something other than the Pink Panther theme song as it is getting old. 😉

  • leafgirl

    2011/06/06 at 3:39 pm

    I was watching the show Oddities on Discovery Channel last week and they had a lady come in that made a little bear out of belly button lint. It looked like a little felted animal with random hairs in it. They decided it was odd enough to sell in their store. Just wanted to make sure you know you have competition!

  • Laura Mauk

    2011/06/06 at 4:01 pm

    My nephew is exactly the same. He’s melodic without any effort. A baby genius. My little one (Sabine), on the other hand? She’s more of a shave-her-own-head and hit the drum kit/bang the electric guitar in a punk band type. Currently, she’s sick, got me sick…just ate a quarter and gnawed open my UTI medication. I’m in hell.

    Enjoy your little Leta 🙂

  • TriptikGirl

    2011/06/06 at 4:17 pm

    Way to go Leta!

    I took piano lessons as a kid and didn’t have the strict practice routine, so I never learned to read music properly and eventually gave up.

    I really wish I would have tried harder and stuck with it; I’m considering starting again…

  • gretchie

    2011/06/06 at 4:29 pm

    Yayyyy!!! We enrolled V (6 y.o., Kindergarten) in piano two months ago and she had her first recital this weekend! She did great, and I can’t wait for you to see Leta at her first recital, it’s really fun to see them play. How awesome. She has a certain… piano-player thing about her, it just seems natural for her to be in piano. And, yes, of course you’ll force her to continue. MUA HA HA HA HA…..

    Her teacher tasks her with written work (she teaches music as much as piano) and five days of practice/ week, in 20 minute jags. I have to bribe the girl to practice with lunch money (to experience the cafeteria), but whatever. 🙂

  • jenwilson

    2011/06/06 at 4:39 pm

    Oh yay!! She seems like the kind of kid (from what you’ve written about her) who will excel in piano. Looking forward to hearing how she does and whether she enjoys it or not. My kid has been begging me to let her play piano … I should really get on that.

  • agirlandaboy

    2011/06/06 at 5:33 pm

    My parents made me taken piano from ages 7 to 12 and then? I could pick another instrument if I wanted. I tried playing the flute for about a week and then the guitar for a couple of months and then back to the piano it was. And I’m still playing. (That said, I made my teachers cry when they got in my face about practicing–“I have a LIFE, you know!”)

  • dinah

    2011/06/06 at 5:55 pm

    Please post a photo of Leta playing “Deck the Halls” and maybe the dogs joining in as choir dogs!

  • Steve O

    2011/06/06 at 6:11 pm

    Yeah! Music is your friend! Got to love it!

  • Midnight

    2011/06/06 at 6:16 pm

    I took piano lessons for about 8 years as a kid, plus class piano in college (I was a music major, but my primary instrument is the flute), and piano really is invaluable. if nothing else, learning to read music will give Leta a leg up if she decides to play another instrument when she gets older.

    I think it is interesting that your whole family is involved in her practicing, but an hour is a lot to ask of a 7 year old who is just beginning. My 7 year old is in her third year of piano lessons (I swear I’m not insane – she transitioned with the same teacher from Kindermusik to piano and she was the one who wanted to do it) and she is supposed to practice about 20 minutes or as long as it takes her to play everything 3 times. She definitely gets more out of her practicing if she has a parent in attendance, which happens about half the time (if we’re lucky).

    I’m glad Leta’s enjoying piano and hope she continues to do so.

  • Balkan Girl Down Under

    2011/06/06 at 7:27 pm

    I, too, think she’ll excel at the piano. Yay for playing!

    I’ve always been musical…have sung since I was a kid, played clarinet, classical guitar, and now I’m a soprano soloist in a Serbian Orthodox church chorale (headed by a professional conductor) and have been for the past five years.

    The way my voice has strengthened and improved since joining the choir is incredible, but not surprising, I guess.

    P.S. Post a video of Deck the Halls, por favor!

  • lindzerlou14

    2011/06/06 at 10:38 pm

    I am so excited for you, Jon, and Leta. What a wonderful beginning of something great. My experiences with the piano are some of the dearest.

  • Nutmeg

    2011/06/06 at 10:43 pm

    Awesome! So glad she is starting with music. When I was a kid I was forced to take my saxophone across the country for our month long camping vacation up and down the west coast, the one we did every summer to visit our grandparents. Nothing like practicing your instrument every day on vacation… outside… in the woods.

  • Lillabilly

    2011/06/07 at 12:28 am

    Ah, nice! My Miss Six is just about to start… and the very first song she’s requesting to learn? Away in a Manger.

  • Ambrewskins

    2011/06/07 at 6:29 am

    My grandmother has her phd in keyboard instruments, so piano lessons was a given. Even though I wasn’t her wished for prodigy, I am grateful for the 10+ years of lessons. If anything it was worth it because now I could play this Lady Gaga Fugue for grins if I really wanted to:

    And now Leta can too!

  • themommytherapy

    2011/06/07 at 8:44 am

    I played piano for five years and the pinnacle was being able to play Chicken in the Straw with my best friend in the fifth grade talent show. So…basically practicing and taking all the lessons has HUGE payoff in the end.

    Good luck to Leta!

  • allyallyoxen

    2011/06/07 at 11:24 am

    That’s great, but I really do hope you’ll consider allowing her to quit taking lessons if she wants to in the future.

    I had piano lessons as a child and I’m glad I know how to play…but after the first few years I LOATHED being restricted to play what the teacher assigned and hated being forced to continue an activity I had literally no interest in. It took a good 5,6 years of daily begging my parents to let me quit before they finally relented. I kind of resent that now, because I sure could have used those years to explore some other activities I actually *wanted* to participate in. I think a lot of parents get fixated on the idea of having a serious, piano-virtuoso kid to the point they forget childhood is supposed to be about trying out different things and ultimately finding your passion. There’s plenty of time in adulthood for honing the skill(s) you’ve found you really love and want to be good at.

    I still can’t even look at the piano in my parents’ house; it’s too tied up in childhood frustration and misery.

  • dooce

    2011/06/07 at 11:42 am

    @ allyallyoxen if Leta really wants to stop lessons after a year, we are not going to force her to continue. What I want her to get out of this is the value of practicing and dedicating time to something. Also, that’s quality time I’m spending with her every day. So we’ll see after a year.

  • HungryGrad

    2011/06/07 at 12:59 pm

    1. Felt the bellybutton lint into beads to wear on a necklace with Chuck and Coco’s hair. Perhaps collect Jon’s beard trimmings to make a Family Hair Bead Necklace.

    Then and only then could you sell it on Etsy, at which point Urban Outfitters would rip you off.

    2. My bro and I were both brass players (I played trumpet, he played trombone), and lessons were contingent on practice. I didn’t start private lessons until high school, though… but I loved practicing. I started playing in 4th or 5th grade. Even if she decides not to play piano and picks up something else later, from personal experience, the difference between those who had a musical background and those who didn’t was absolutely minimal in the long term. (And we both did All-County, etc.)

  • apostate

    2011/06/07 at 1:54 pm

    I begged my mom for years to let me quite the piano and she finally gave in. Everybody told me that I’d regret quitting. I never did. In fact, to this day I still cringe when I think about how bad I hated practicing. All my brothers seemed to inherit my dad’s musical talent and it just came naturally to them, but the piano never really clicked with me. I did regret quitting dance lessons though. I’m pretty sure that somebody told me once that it was more important to take piano than dance because you couldn’t dance for people in church. (Well, at least not in Mormon church. Unitarians, maybe.) I think that’s why so many Mormons make their kids take piano lessons.

  • kitten143

    2011/06/08 at 3:54 am

    Read ‘The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother’ re: piano lessons. You won’t regret it!

  • jmckee

    2011/06/08 at 8:16 am

    You are doing a great thing. You are swimming against the tide in a nation that no longer values the ability to play a musical instrument. And you are giving Leta something that she will cherish in ways you cannot even anticipate.

    My mom died suddenly in 1986, nine months after my wife Vickie and I were married. Vickie was — is — an evening shift nurse. Without the piano to keep me sane, I can’t even think about how I would have coped. I’d sit down at the piano after making and eating dinner, and sometimes I’d still be there after 11 at night…..

  • M J

    2011/06/08 at 9:33 am

    I started playing the piano the summer before my Kindergarten year…and I STILL had to practice for an hour every day. Add to that my teacher at lessons would “lightly” tap my hands if I was not holding them in the proper position LOL Needless to say by the 5th Grade I was a pretty damn awesome piano player!
    There were times I wanted to quit (like when I couldn’t go play with a friend b/c I had lessons) and my Mom always gave me the option but said I had to think about it for two weeks…at the end of the two weeks I always decided not to quit because in the end I loved it and was talented at it. Good luck with it 🙂 It is a lot of hard work but worth it IMO!

  • Albright

    2011/06/10 at 9:02 am

    I hope Leta finds this to be something she really enjoys and if not, I hope she finds that creative outlet that works for her.

    As a kid, I wanted piano lessons really, really bad and after I taught myself everything out of our piano books we had, I convinced my parents to let me take them though I had to earn them ($14 a week is NOT TO BE WASTED) and I had to commit to practicing at least an hour a day. Somehow, after beginning, it got upped to two hours a day and while everyone was shocked at how quickly I was progressing, it wasn’t talent, it was totally the practice. Once my parents got divorced, piano gave me an outlet to throw myself into that I found incredibly fulfilling and I have to say it probably kept me from more destructive behaviors like cutting. Sure, I went through a year or so of asking only for sad, slow songs and I did struggle with an eating disorder, but piano gave me such a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment as I could channel the angst and anger into music (while, I might add, getting praised for accomplishments–WIN for the overachiever).

    All that to say even if it is put aside, piano can serve an amazing purpose in her development into a wonderful lady human.

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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