It is evening at our house. Two out of three kids are sleeping, maybe not for very long in the case of the 7-month-old, but still, this is one of those peaceful moments in an otherwise relatively chaotic phase of our family’s evolution. Mr 14 tells us the piano piece he has been teaching himself over the past 6 or 8 weeks is ready to be played to us, in full.
Sounds like no big deal. Thing is, he’s never played the piano before. Never even had a lesson.
Some weeks ago, we stopped letting him be on his smartphone past 7pm, so through a confluence of factors – having an electric piano in the house, having learnt a basic tune at school in music class and enjoying it, and his newfound night-time boredom – he decided to teach himself my favourite piece of piano music from YouTube.
Big Rich and I descend to our basement where Mr 14 has set himself up by the old desktop computer, the keyboard resting over two storage tubs. We live in Bath, England. It is a place that is about two hours from the nearest decent beach, but has somehow become overrun with seagulls. So all we can hear is seagulls squawking and cawing outside. It is slightly damp down there in the underground dungeon of our four-storey Georgian, stone house. A jasmine tendril has crept in tentatively through the open window over the summer. He begins to play.
It is honestly astounding to me how he has learned an over 5-minute composition by heart. He plays without the music, without the video. He just plays. It isn’t perfect yet, but he plays it with feeling and he has pretty much nailed it. I felt tears forming in my eyes: partly because I’m really tired and slightly hormonal from breastfeeding, but mostly because I’m so damned proud of this boy. And he has no idea how amazing it is that he’s just gone and done this. Like so many teens before and surely after him, he’s that strange mix of bravado and arrogance and timid uncertainty as to his own strengths and remarkable, one-of-a-kind, specialness.
I feel proud, hearty, and touched all at the same time. That he chose to learn my favourite piece of music. No biggie, just going to go downstairs every night for a couple of months and learn that piano song you always like. How divine. When in your life does that happen? This might be the only time someone ever does something like that for me, like some kind of quiet tribute.
He’s not had a traditional upbringing. His Dad and I despite all the love in the world couldn’t make it work past his third month of life. It was a mix of heartbreak, desperation and acrimonious interchange. We somehow got it together enough that over the years we have co-parented with relatively few dramas. He’s moved on, I’ve moved on. Mr 14 now has four half siblings – two from Dad and two from me. Big Rich has now been his step-dad for half his life. He has benefited from two vastly different styles of families but is loved from many directions. Despite all the halves, he seems surprisingly whole.
So I sat there, looking at this kid becoming a man, now only 2cms off being as tall as me. All the cliches are true – I can’t believe he is this young man before me, yet also I have felt the years pass just as they have in real time, slowly and day by day, triumph following challenge, all in equal measures.
I feel immense gratitude. This is surely one of those parent-pay-off moments. As they grow, my three children, I am incredibly enriched and grow with them. My character must expand to meet their needs. My metal must be tested and discarded to be replaced with grace, love and acceptance at each and every tiny transformation they experience. I must let go of them more and more as they constantly move upwards and outwards.
This is motherhood, so many mixed emotions, so deeply felt. And this moment is one of the soulful ones. I’m completely humbled by this young man before me. I wonder, how did he get here? Is he the same boy, once a tiny baby, in my arms, so wide-eyed and wondrous? And what happens next?
Ask me tomorrow when I’m pleading with him for the fourth time to clean up his room and help me around the house, I’m sure you’ll get a different answer to today. For now, though, I’m going to relish this special moment, the jasmine tendril, the musical notes, the great talent being played out right here in our very own basement. This is one of those moments I might remember in 30 years.
This… is a kind of real love, I think to myself. And then, I think, don’t tell him that, he would be so embarrassed.
Amanda Tipton via Flickr Creative Commons / FLIC.KR/P/C8FYHA