Thursday, December 24, 2009

Constructive Criticism

No matter how constructive you try to be, criticism is hard to take. And at first, constructive criticism always seems destructive.

Bianca is my music lover. She plays beautifully on the piano. Not only is she good at playing, but she just gets it. There’s something in her brain that allows her to feel something—to create—with her music that’s just not there for everyone. I played the piano for ten years in my childhood and never once thought that I could actually “create” out of what I knew—the notes on the page that signified a key, the timing, the key signatures. All that. But instinctively, Bianca creates. She has to have her muse (some days it’s far, far away but others it’s there and she spends a morning composing a new piece). She has this little folder full of her compositions and it shows the progression of her musical understanding. Now that she’s getting better, her pieces are getting more interesting—key signature changes, more complex rhythms—and more difficult for her to play. I thought it was funny that the song she wrote (and won) in Reflections this year (called “Birds' Chorus”) she had the hardest time playing.

After Bianca had been playing piano for two years, she decided she wanted to try out the orchestra at school. She learned to play the viola in a class setting. The problem with this is that the instructor doesn’t really have the time to individually help each student. While she’s learning the notes okay, her form isn’t great. She doesn’t use a lot of her bow and many times her bow slides off to the side, which makes her play more quietly and the sound is less pure. I noticed this at the Christmas concert last week when watching her in comparison with some of the other students. But now, as I try to encourage her to “use more bow” or to “slide straight up and down,” Bianca has just had it. She told me that moms aren’t supposed to criticize but to support their children. I understand what she’s saying. I really do. But how can I sit back and watch her doing something wrong and not correct it? If I don’t, who will?

I told her about my writing group. How I turn in my work and then I go and each person “constructively” tells me what I’m doing wrong, what I need to fix, and I leave most nights a little heartbroken. Yes, I’ve even cried on my drive home a couple times. It hurts to be criticized. BUT after a day or two contemplating what I’ve been told about my story, I start working. I rewrite and fix. And always, always after I’ve spent the time with my story, it’s better. It just is. And then I know that yes, I need to be a little heartbroken to get better.

Bianca listened to my story. I don’t know how much she related to playing the viola. I’m trying to back off. I guess I just need to let her learn on her own. But I still can’t get over that she’s going to learn some bad habits on her viola that are going to take her forever to correct if we don’t fix it soon. I know I’m a controlling mom. I know I push, sometimes too hard. But I feel like Bianca has been given a gift, a musical gift that not just everyone gets. I didn’t. I want her to live up to her potential. I want to build her up, but sometimes doesn’t she have to be broken down first? What’s acceptable for a mom to do? I want her to be the best she can. Is that so wrong?

Playing viola

Friday, December 18, 2009

Family Traditions

Ever since we moved Portia out of the crib, we've had hard nights. She now had her freedom. With that freedom, I guess she felt she could get up at any hour and play. I'd been awakened many nights with Portia playing in her room with her toys. That wouldn't really bother me too much, but she can't play quietly. Portia's playing involves a lot of singing, "talking" her friends, and opening & closing doors. Wandering through the house. We've had to take her bluebird nightlight away countless times.

Yesterday morning, after Eric left around 5 in the morning to work out, I couldn't sleep. So I got out of bed and saw that Portia's door was open. I looked all over and couldn't find her. I panicked. I worried that maybe Portia had slipped outside when Eric was leaving and he hadn't seen her. I imagined her roaming the cold, dark morning with barefeet in the snow, freezing. I imagined much worse things too, but I don't want to relive those now. Finally, I went downstairs and checked every room before I opened Bianca's door. As I did, I saw Portia in Bianca's bed snuggling with her. Bianca was still asleep.

I pulled Portia up and hugged her and hugged her. Thank goodness she was okay! And in retrospect, it's really quite sweet. Portia wandered downstairs and climbed into Bianca's bed. Bianca told me later that she had been in her bed about an hour. They both fell asleep.

Yesterday, I told Bianca about how my sister and I used to sleep in the same bed on Christmas Eve. I don't remember exactly how many times this happened, but I do remember specifically the night Susannah came home from being away at college that first year and how we were so happy to see each other again that we spent that night in the same bed. Bianca thought this might be the year that she and Portia can sleep together on Christmas Eve. I guess I don't see the harm in it. I love to carry on traditions. Like eating ice cream after recitals and performances (which we did on Wednesday after Bianca's viola duet). Family traditions are important. I hope someday that my kids will carry some of those same traditions on with their own families.