My oldest is taking piano lessons. I sit on the teacher’s couch, petting her small dog Charlie, watching my 7-year-old pick up new concepts like a little vacuum cleaner. She’s too small to reach the pedals. Her feet rest on a blue bathroom stool; she sits on a Peanuts pillow. She forgets which hand is her left and which her right, laughs at herself, tries again. She calls half-notes “the ones with the holes in them,” and her teacher beams with delight.
I try to notice and remember new rules and instructions, the better to supervise her daily 15-minute practice sessions at home. Don’t let your count speed up, let quarter notes be quarter notes, say the numbers as you play. The stem goes on the left, the note at the top, for left-hand descending notes; on the right with the note at the bottom, for right-hand ascending notes– or is it the other way around?
She is far from playing songs, and I wait for her to become bored, or frustrated, but she doesn’t. Each day she makes the most minute progress, each week adding just enough new material to challenge without overwhelm. It is slow-going, and yet I marvel at the speed with which she learns and assimilates new information. I marvel at her teacher, who has taught piano lessons in her home for decades. The patience it takes, the confidence that with diligence and repetition, these small steps will add up to something bigger– the freedom to pick up a piece of music and play it.
The piano teacher is also a mother of grown children, all homeschooled. As my daughter and I embark on our first “real” homeschool year (pandemic at-home kindergarten notwithstanding), I seek out her perspective.
Was it worth it? Was it hard? Can I do it?
Homeschool, for us, is proceeding much like piano. Short, daily lessons. Trying to plan the weeks so they build on each other. Having patience and confidence that these small, nearly invisible steps will add up to progress. Setting simple goals and objectives for the year. A paragraph of neatly-printed text without letter reversals. An ability and desire to pick up a chapter book and read it straight through, independently. Being captivated by a particular moment or era in history, and immersing herself in it.
Some days I have an ambitious lesson plan and we accomplish most of it. Other days, I pencil in the bare minimum and we struggle to meet it, waylaid by a wailing, overtired toddler who refuses to be put down, or a brother who dumps all the kinetic sand on the floor and refuses to pick it up. I worry I’m not doing enough for her. I doubt my abilities. I add left-handed notebooks to my Amazon cart. I go to the Zoom meetings our charter school holds for learning coaches, and I see the huge gap between where I am now, and where I’d like to be as her teacher. I make another lesson plan for the new week to come.
Meanwhile, at 21 months, Iris reminds me that human minds are made for this. She chirps out new words every day without any formal teaching effort on my part– and in fact, as the youngest of three, with woefully fewer enrichment activities than either of her siblings had. There are no library storytimes or music classes, but we have a DVD of Baby Signing Time, and she now sings the theme song, and peppers our days with vocabulary. She plays independently in the sandbox and garden more than the older two ever did, because she kind of has to, and she ends each day covered in dirt and very happy. Dirty! she says, wiggling her fingers under her chin. All clean! she says when we plunge her chubby hands into the sink.
Somehow there is enough time. Somehow there is enough energy and enthusiasm on all of our parts. Somehow we are making it through the days. With my son in half-day preschool three days a week, and a babysitter who helps me twice a week for four hours, it’s becoming possible to both lead my daughter through her second grade year, and get myself through my last year of acupuncture school. In some ways, watching her learn is helping me learn. Having confidence in her is forcing me to have confidence in myself, as both a teacher and a learner.
Sometimes that confidence is simply acting as if, and trusting God to make it real. Act as if I have plenty of time. Act as if I believe I can homeschool my child, and get through school, and pass the boards, and the many other objectives that feel daunting when I face them as mountains I must climb all at once, rather than through tiny steps and repetition.
God is making a way for us, using our tiny steps and repetition. As much as I can, I get up half an hour earlier than the kids to sit in the pretty floral armchair in my office, with a blanket and a candle and my Bible. I act as if I want to, on days when I really don’t. I act as if I know how to pray, when every day I am humbled by my wandering mind and sleepy thoughts. I act as if I believe God loves me as much as I believe He loves, is in fact crazy about, everyone else. And God is so generous in response to my meager offerings. Each day I feel my desire to know and to love and to serve God increase just a little bit more.
I think about God as a patient piano teacher, helping us through our scales and laughing with us when we forget which hand is our left and which is our right. The gap can be painful– where we are vs where we want to be; what we mean to offer God and how very little we are able to give– and yet isn’t it also something to marvel at? We have a God who comes close to us, a Creator as near to us as a teacher sitting on the bench beside us. A wider Love and Mercy than we will ever be able to imagine.