Baseball and the Basement Band

My six year old is a busy guy. After a quick homework drawing to represent, “we are painting 2 red birds”, he convinced me to pitch baseballs to him, so he can practice hitting before his kindergarten team starts practice in a few weeks.

Still in February, our three innings were played in freezing temperatures, me the only one wearing a jacket. So we came inside to warm up.

The discordant sounds of his brothers practicing their instruments drifted up the basement stairs, and he took off, shouting over his shoulder, “I gotta go to band practice!”

Seconds later, his bleating vuvuzela drowned out Piano Man by our eleven year old pianist and Seven Nation Army simultaneously picked by our ten year old on his electric guitar.

I was later informed that they are working together on a fusion of pop, hip-hop and rock n’ roll.

But he really wants to play drums.

Music Appreciation 101

Every week for half an hour I sit in the lobby of the little Calliope Music Studios, where my nine year old takes guitar lessons. This week, a young girl battles with Carol of the Bells on the piano while her visiting grandmother sits in. Down the hall, one of the instructors is practicing her piano, the notes flying so rapidly that I am forced to imagine her fingers. Across from her studio, the low voice of the guitar teacher and my son’s rendition of movie themes: Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, James Bond.

In the cacophony, there is a sense of peace, and appreciation for the focus of each student, and understanding of how far they will have to go before their fingers fly seemingly without effort across their chosen instrument.

My son makes his teacher laugh. He begs for a piece of gum, given to those who practice well, and probably those who do not. With his free hand, I know from watching him practice, he brushes his too-long bangs to the side between musical phrases.

I wonder if a child decides to be inspired, or if one is simply lucky to be moved by some inexplicable connection with a song, a teacher. Do they realize a sense of peace in the middle of their lesson, or the mingling of unassociated piano, guitar, saxophone down at the far end of the hall? Is there satisfaction felt just in the act of successfully connecting the notes?

There is too much noise in our house to listen to music. I rarely turn it on. So every week for half an hour, I sit in the lobby of a little music school listening to notes that do not go together, to children still stumbling over the hard parts, to clumsy scales, to Carol of the Bells before it is ready for recital, and it is in those moments that I appreciate music.

An Unusual First Play on Electric Guitar

My nine year old has been taking guitar lessons, but he had never played an electric guitar before yesterday.

Picture it. A nine year old in khakis, pale yellow tie and blue blazer. School gym. Grandparents’ Day.

The music teacher hands him an electric guitar at morning rehearsal so he won’t be drowned out on his classical. In his debut performance, he rocks out before an audience with an average age of seventy-five.

The concert is followed by, “I need an electric guitar.”

Another Blog About Girls from a Mom of Boys

On Sunday, my fourth grade son had a playdate during which he planned to play Halo IV and toss a football around. The boys were all playing happily down in the basement while I cleaned up the kitchen.

Then suddenly, a Christmas tune traveled up the stairs. His friend was playing our piano. He has been taking lessons longer than my boys and enjoys practicing. And it shows. He was impressive.

I yelled downstairs that I thought he was amazing.

Then I heard my son say, “You are really good. The girls are going to love you!”

…And that is how you learn what your husband is telling them to get them to practice.

My First Visit to New Orleans

New Orleans has a mythic, magical reputation that mixes a rich, yet sordid, history with a vibrant culture. It evokes the image of Stanley Kowalski passionately, desperately calling for his wife Stella when she locks him out. And spooky, mausoleum-filled graveyards. And scantily-clad women tossing beads from iron balconies on Bourbon Street where revelers in masks play below. And streetcars. And gray Spanish moss haunting the trees.

Today, New Orleans still echoes of the devastating force of Nature, the Ninth Ward, and images of people young and old climbing out of the second story windows of their flooded homes.

Until last week, I had never been there. It was not, in my mind, a place to bring children. Our boys were not with us.

During the first night, as we walked down Bourbon Street, I was disappointed. I had romanticized the French Quarter, but it was trashy. Neon. A shabby street with a chip on its shoulder. People you typically see only at amusement parks happy at night to walk the streets drinking a flat Big Ass Beer through a straw.

It wasn’t until morning that I began to love the city. With the sun shining, the French Quarter came to life. Wonderful antique boutiques and hat shops. Restaurants with beautiful garden patios. Talented musicians playing their trumpets, trombones, drums and guitars in the street to crowds that included children and old men.

I ate shrimp at every meal. I drank good wine. I soaked up the sunshine.

The second night in the city, we discovered the small, crowded music venues on Frenchman’s Street: Snug Harbor, the Spotted Cat. As one band packed up instruments and divided their tips, we moved to the next bar where a second or third band was just beginning to play.

We took a private driving tour of the city and learned about its many neighborhoods and stories buried in the cemetery mausoleums. There was the second wife shunned by society whose towering burial monument says “I am here. We learned facts that those in the car had never heard before. Facts we Googled afterward to make sure were true. Facts that we thought might be fiction about free Negroes with slave quarters, some who owned more than 100 slaves themselves.

New Orleans does have its secrets and sad stories.

But I thought, as we investigated little pieces of history, that my boys would enjoy this learning adventure.

We went on swamp tour that was tremendously fun. The boys would have loved speeding along the top of the water, watching raccoons and six-foot alligators alike munch on marshmallows, spotting turtles sunning themselves on logs.

We went to the World War II Museum, which plans to triple in size in the next few years with the addition of an aircraft wing. It is a gorgeous museum, and the many two-minute oral histories throughout give it an emotional power that gives you a better understanding of what life was like for soldiers, women, and African-Americans before the war started… then during and after. It gives you a greater appreciation of Franklin Roosevelt and his ability to build a military that was only 18th in the world at the start of the world. I didn’t know that. The immense strength of people who came together with a single goal to win, to defend what they had even though it was not much coming out of the Great Depression.

Had my children come on the trip, I could imagine my ten year old listening to the oral histories and asking questions over the next few weeks. He also would have loved the antique weaponry and coin shop in the French Quarter with its many rifles, swords and centuries-old coins. He would have devoured the beignets at Café du Monde… as we did before wandering through the French Market and past the cathedral and Jackson Square.

The Roosevelt Hotel where we stayed had a rooftop pool with a bar. I longed to lounge the day away with a good book soaking in the sun before returning home where the boys’ homework piled up and it was threatening snow before Halloween. But New Orleans would not release me. Too much to do. Too much to see and learn under the living oaks that have witnessed much. Too much shrimp to eat and wine to drink and music.

The Madonna Concert: A Letter to the Rockstar from a Mom

Dear Madonna,

I am not a concert-goer. It is too loud, and crowds make me tense. Apparently, I have major sensory issues that no one ever told me about. I only learned about them when my son had the same.

But I REALLY wanted to go to your concert. You just performed in Denver, and the tickets were outrageously expensive. As a result, I may be the only woman between 40-50 in the city who was not there.

I was envious. I admit it. I have always wanted to see you perform. You are a master.

So when every mom at preschool drop-off, and my son’s teacher, and my friends all complained today that you did not come on stage until 10:45 p.m., I did a little mean happy dance.

I am so sorry!

And when they said that some of your new songs were really dark — even offensively violent — I practically twirled. I am not nice. Apparently, if I am not having fun, I want my friends to suffer.

Yet it made me sad. You are a tremendously talented woman with kids who apparently has no idea how the average mom lives. You are a mom. But you are not one of us. And we would welcome you with open arms. Maybe that is why your music is lost. Why you sing songs about killing all your boyfriends and have blood splattering across the big screen on stage. Really?

Madonna, honey, first of all, we don’t stay up past 10 o’clock for anything! These girls were tired when you showed up! The only chance you had was to play all of your old songs that we loved and danced to, those songs that we listened to when we were the 20-something chick we miss desperately in our current state of 40s motherhood. Don’t you have anyone telling you what it is like to be your fan? Who we are? What we need from you on the one night in 365 that we get out — and everyone I know did that for you!

Madonna, come back to Denver and do a concert for motherhood. Come on stage at 8:00. That gives us a chance to have our two glasses of wine before you come on, but we won’t be too tired to stand up stand for you, to dance, to cheer, to scream your name. We will go crazy for you at 8:00. Then sing your old songs, even if you think they are not as musically impressive as your new ones. We have babysitters, or have bribed our husbands into giving us a night on the town, so that we can feel young again, free again, wild again, sexy again. That is your gift if you choose to give it.

Your fans are moms. They are 40-something. You inspire them when you recognize that they are the ones filling the seats. Come back to Denver and do it again… for us this time.

Much admiration,

Jennswondering

The Glass Office

At my last full-time job, our company moved its headquarters from an old building to a brand new one built specifically for us. I returned to work from maternity leave the day we moved in, carrying a heavy electric breast pump and an even heavier heart. I missed my baby.

The fun of moving helped. Everyone loved the new building, especially those of us who got the gigantic offices with windows that looked out onto the Charles River. But after a few hours, I had a change of heart. The walls of my office were made of glass to let the natural light into the hallway filled with cubicles. I was not going to be able to pump in privacy.

I lugged it into the bathroom, but there were no plugs in the stalls. I wandered the halls looking for a room where I could not be seen. Nothing. I wanted to run back to my office and cry, but again, the glass. No tears allowed.

I was reminded of that glass office and my desire for real walls when a friend texted me that her recent return to work was really hard. Lots to get used to. Lots to juggle. No time to breathe. Lots of changes at home as a result.

To cheer her up, I texted her back to close her office door, download “Things Can Only Get Better” by 80s icon Howard Jones, and pretend she was dancing in the living room of the house where I grew up. We spent many afternoons together doing just that.

Turns out she couldn’t.

Her office is all glass.