Bravo, Maman

Today my mother turns fifty-six. I know she would not mind my revealing this to the online world; it’s no exaggeration to say that she is asked to prove her legal age at drinking establishments about as often as I am. My friends describe her as “cute,” and some of them call her “Mom” without even thinking about it. Because if you are over there and happen to mention you have a headache, she will offer you ibuprofen, herbal tea, or a couch to lie down on – without smothering. Just being – a great mom.

Besides a great mom, however, she is a great teacher. It’s a family joke that I once, in a bout of 16-year-old angst, told her that as a piano teacher, she didn’t have a “real” job: “Your only job is that little kids come over and play with you.” I meant it to be an insult. Years later, the joke’s on me; I have the same job. And it’s wonderful.

Everyone should have a mentor – someone who’s been in their career longer than they have and has the war wounds and jokes to prove it. I’m lucky enough to have my mother as mine. When a difficult situation with a student presents itself (as it did this week) I can call her to ask for advice; what I get is the comfort of a truly sympathetic ear, one who has been there before, and the strength to stick up for my convictions. She’s taught me plenty of tricks of the trade. Wiggly small ones? Hold their hands and look into their eyes as you speak to them calmly, reassuring them that they are the center of your world at that moment and they don’t have to act up to get attention. Disillusioned middle-schoolers? Find a piece they can get excited about, jazz or romantic or contemporary, and let them chip away at it while you continue to reinforce their repertoire.

The older I get, the more I recognize that I have very few (if any) actual gifts. Most of what I can do well is some combination of practiced imitation and miracle. Teaching is certainly both of those. When I’m at the end of my rope, I close my eyes – and I see my mother, smiling, patient, with the heart of a servant. I pray I can be half the teacher she has taught me to be.