the smell of my desperation has become a stench


Leta has been taking piano lessons for, what, a month and a half? Wait, scratch that. The both of us have been taking lessons because I’m learning just as much as she is. SHHH! Don’t tell her teacher. Or the police because technically I’m stealing. Or my bishop! GAH! Then I couldn’t take the sacrament on Sunday!

I never really learned how to read music for the left hand which I now know is called bass clef. Leta has a set of flash cards that we go through every day, so now I know all sorts of things about sheet music. Including the fact that, JESUS CHRIST, there are a quadrillion things specified at the very beginning of a song: play it this loud, in this key, in this time signature, with a ham sandwich and pickles, GINA.

There is a lot to learn, is what I’m saying, and this can be frustrating for a seven-year-old who inherited a nasty little personality trait from her mother. If she can’t do something perfectly, she gets very upset. And almost every time we sit down to practice there are tears, and I have to remind her about that one time my boyfriend took me to play pool, except I DID NOT KNOW HOW TO PLAY POOL, and because I could not get that white ball to go where I wanted it to go I whacked the stick against the table and it broke in half. One of my finer moments in life.

I was so embarrassed that I didn’t know how to play pool that when my boyfriend asked what was wrong I said, “My friend’s dog died yesterday.”

He gets to tell that horror story to his buddies when they are comparing scars. You’re welcome, Ryan.

This usually breaks her concentration for a few minutes so that she can stop focusing on NOT BEING PERFECT and practice a line until it actually is. And the progress she’s making is just mind-blowing. I look at the lessons from the beginning and then at what she’s playing today and I want to ask her if her brain hurts. But then I remember that she’s only seven and the brain at that age is wired to learn like that. At thirty-six the brain is wired to look around for that beer you just had in your hand only to realize it’s in your other hand.

What’s impressing me most is one, the fact that she loves to practice and doesn’t ever complain about it (remember when she used to complain about walking? and eating? and having to blink her eyes?) and two, she’s memorizing the songs as she plays them. So already, after just a month and a half, she’s a better piano player than I am. Which is fine with me. I’m way better at driving than she is, SO WE’RE EVEN.

  • aliceh

    2011/07/26 at 2:09 pm

    thank-you for making me laugh so suddenly that I spat some of my once-lost beer and pepperoni piza on my monitor. Awesome.

  • kristanhoffman

    2011/07/26 at 2:17 pm

    LOL: “At thirty-six the brain is wired to look around for that beer you just had in your hand only to realize it’s in your other hand.”

    Great post. This makes me so happy/nostalgic that I’m seriously going to play my piano right. now. And probably sound worse than Leta, but you know, that’s what happens when you lapse for a few years…

  • anya

    2011/07/26 at 2:32 pm

    Way to go, Leta, and way to go YOU for teaching/learning with her. And I second @kristanhoffman, that line is genious: “At thirty-six the brain is wired to look around for that beer you just had in your hand only to realize it’s in your other hand.” I’m only 32 but can relate.
    If she ever agrees, would you post a video of Leta playing something for us to admire?

  • arishell

    2011/07/26 at 3:04 pm

    The 49-year-old brain searches and never remembers what it is looking for. I wish it was a beer.

    Thanks for the laugh!

  • Irina

    2011/07/26 at 3:16 pm

    I hope both of your daughters inherited your sense of humour and writing talent, too!

  • apostate

    2011/07/26 at 3:20 pm

    My son just turned seven and started piano lessons about a month ago. The ONLY thing he wanted for his birthday was a metronome. He started talking about it three weeks in advance. Metronome this, metronome that. He got violently ill the day before his birthday (we all did) and we had to cancel the party. But at least he got his metronome.
    The musical talent seems to have skipped a generation. My son is learning at a rapid speed. Seven year old apostate, not so much. I was a piano lessons dropout. My mom told me I’d regret it some day but I never did. My great great great grandfather who led the brass band as the Mormon pioneers trekked their way west and who was rumored to play every instrument known to mankind (heh heh) would be very disappointed. On so many levels. (Yay pioneers!/July 24)

  • writtendad

    2011/07/26 at 4:22 pm

    “I’m way better at driving than she is, SO WE’RE EVEN.” Damn straight!

    We’ve been thinking of putting our son in lessons but we fear the tears because he too has that wonderful trait of wanting to be perfect. It’s not really the tears, though, it’s the agony of pushing him over that first difficult hump that is holding us back.

  • TxSuzyQ

    2011/07/26 at 4:33 pm

    What, no video of our little genius playing the piano? *Sigh*

    Please correct this situation. =]

  • DC Dana

    2011/07/26 at 7:50 pm

    Aw! I took piano from age 5 to about when I started driving and dating boys…and it was great! Just wait until she has recitals – then the Perfectionist REALLY freaks out 🙂

  • Jenni

    2011/07/26 at 10:12 pm

    You need to read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I’m proud of your sense of frugality.

  • Wine Before Five

    2011/07/27 at 7:06 am

    Yes, at 36 you wonder where that beer went. By 59, it’s wine before five.

    Piano lessons are awesome… if you have a cool teacher. Mine was an old biddy. But I love music, in spite of her. So There! I mostly play right-handed, but only when alone, so I can just sing to myself. It gets that way when you’re older.

    Thanks for the smiles. What would I do without Dooce?

  • Wombat Central

    2011/07/27 at 8:02 am

    Go Leta! She must have a great teacher. One day I’mma write a book about my weird piano teachers. For now, I’ll do what you’re doing. Sign up my kids for lessons and see if I can figure out how to read sheet music again by watching them. 😉

  • JodyB

    2011/07/27 at 9:10 am

    I suffered from perfectionism too. It’s the curse of the oldest daughter, because all my oldest-daughter friends have it too. The concept that LEARNING SOMETHING NEW means a period of not doing it right and THAT IS OKAY took me approximately 40 years to understand. I think the major breakthrough was when I realized that other people like me better when I’m not trying to be perfect.

    However, it took me another 15 years before I could allow people to come into my home when it wasn’t spotless . . .

  • Jayceekay

    2011/07/27 at 9:50 am

    Oh that is such a great story, Heather. Every time she accomplishes something I feel so stupidly proud, like she’s my own. Because I DO remember the days of worrying soooo much about little Leta when she wouldn’t put her feet down or walk, when she refused to eat or poop…oy the stuff that kid put us through!!

    I hope someday she’ll appreciate that there is a weird world of internet out there who feel like they know her…and love her to bits.

  • LisaAR

    2011/07/27 at 10:13 am

    I am walking a very similar walk with my 8yo son. He, too, gets frustrated when “perfection” is harder than it typically is for him. Our teacher’s mantra is “practice makes progress” because perfection is not as possible as we like to think it is. I’ve adopted that mantra for myself, too!

  • LuckIsMyMiddleName

    2011/07/27 at 10:25 am

    Once, in a moment of extreme frustration with my lack of tiny soccer skills, I threw a foosball at a boyfriend’s head. Hard.

    And then I married him, which means I have to listen to that story for the rest of my life.

  • doobrah

    2011/07/27 at 10:39 am

    If she has the knack for music, let her fly at top speed. The pieces only get harder and more intricate (heh, heh) and more satisfying when mastered. But she will also learn a little Italian, and she’ll have a head start if/when she picks up other instruments. But best of all, she’ll amaze her friends when she knows all the questions in the “Classical Music” category on Jeopardy!… when Alex Trebek Jr. is host.

  • Scrapping in Ontario

    2011/07/27 at 10:56 am

    Way to go Leta and Mom! As a piano teacher I would love it if more parents took the interest you are in your child’s lessons. Way to go!!

  • jenwilson

    2011/07/27 at 11:03 am

    Woo Leta! Thanks for the morning laugh, Heather. I’m a perfectionist too and will also not do things I cannot do well. Makes sense to me! Can’t wait for my kid to start lessons.

  • OhLiv

    2011/07/27 at 12:40 pm

    Dude – I want to hear her play.

    Post a video!

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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