A Little Robin Might Show Me

My father often said the two saddest words in the English language were, “if only.”  I grew up in a two bedroom apartment for most of my life.  It had one big window in each room and it overlooked a huge field.  We had lovely antique furniture and my mother’s beautiful mahogany baby grand piano, which fit perfectly despite how very small our place was.  Her parents bought it for her when she was ten and my mother studied classically for twenty years.  I would often come home from school to find her playing “Claire de Lune,” which to this day is my favorite piece of music for the piano.  Starting in kindergarten my mother tried to teach me to play.  I loved to sing but never enjoyed learning the piano.  As I look back I realize I just did not appreciate the riches I had in her which were literally at my fingertips.  She tried for years but I fought her tooth and nail.  I did excel in music, but vocally.  And I regret not being able to play the piano well to this day.  Right before my mother died she bought her namesake an electric piano for her third birthday; a smiling cat whose teeth formed the keys.  I know she held a quiet hope that her granddaughter might want to study and play classical piano one day.  Of her own volition, when my little one entered into kindergarten this year she asked if she could take piano.  Looking into the cost, I discussed it with her father.  He agreed and the next week she began taking lessons from a young woman who is in the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.  I have an upright piano and, as I have sat these past several months with my daughter at the bench, more than anything I wish I could apologize to my mother; if only.  Now I am the teacher and I see the unending patience she had with me.  I also see the same anger and frustration coming out in my daughter that I had as a child when I didn’t get it right.  It’s surreal actually … sitting on both sides.  Apparently she is a very good student for her teacher.  Perhaps that was part of why I didn’t value my lessons, since it was “just” my mother teaching me.  And I honestly do not know how the poor woman survived without wine; I find it fortifying before I sit down to practice with my daughter.  This picture is a still frame from a video I took yesterday at a retirement home, where our six year old played her first recital.  She was not nervous at all and sat straight and tall at the keys; her little hands positioned perfectly.  She played her entire piece without one wrong note.  Her father was grinning ear to ear and I was so proud of her.  It would have meant so much to my mother.  I have often wondered if our loved ones can ever visit us somehow.  I believe God sends us signs, if we only recognize them.  Earlier that morning as my little one played her piece before we left, a robin appeared outside our window.  While they are not uncommon, I have never seen one in our yard or pond.  Suddenly I remembered the first song my mother ever taught me to play on the piano.  It was about a little robin singing from her woodland tree.  I had not thought about it since I was in kindergarten myself.  The American novelist and poet Josiah Gilbert Holland once wrote, “God gives every bird its food, but He does not throw it into its nest.”  I do not want my daughter to look back one day and say, “if only.”  I suppose only time will tell if she has an inherent love for playing … or maybe, if I am lucky, a little robin might show me.

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The Tooth Fairy

On Thanksgiving morning our little one woke up and declared she had a lose tooth.  Asking me to check, I meticulously went through each tiny one and all seemed firmly in place.  At her insistence I checked again and, upon closer inspection, I thought that maybe one of her bottom middle teeth might be the most infinitesimal bit loose.  Squealing with glee, she skipped off to check in the mirror.  She began wiggling it and I encouraged to her to keep it up during the day.  A little after noon she came up to me and asked me to test it.  Sure enough, her tiny tooth was indeed moving back and forth!  I asked her if I could try and move it and reluctantly she said yes.  I got one good, hard yank in … pulling it down toward the ground.  “OW!” my little one screamed, but I noticed her tiny tooth was surrounded by blood.  After admonishing me not to touch it, I had to endure it protruding out like a jack-o-lantern’s the rest of the day.  Finally, after our meal, I pleaded with her to let me try and move it again.  Following the same thing I did earlier, I got in one good downward pull before I saw her looking at me with complete and utter shock; her mouth hanging open and her eyes wide.  Looking back at her, I was stunned to see the hole that was now in her still open mouth.  “DON’T SWALLOW YOUR TOOTH!” I hollered.  She recovered enough to say indignantly that she did not.  I could still remember being so proud when she got that first tiny little tooth and now I held it in the palm of my hand.  It was another one of motherhood’s bittersweet moments.  HER FIRST BABY TOOTH!  And it came out on Thanksgiving night!  I could not believe it!  Suddenly grinning, my little one shrieked with the unbridled glee and innocence of youth and ran to look in the mirror.  She came back looking somehow older, with a tissue delicately swabbing at the blood, saying, “Mama I cannot believe I lost my first ‘toof!'”  “You sure did,” I said, my heart breaking just a little.  “I have something for you,” I said, going off into another room.  A couple of weeks earlier I discovered they had “tooth fairy pillows” in our church bookstore and I just a feeling.  I knew at some point she’d need it anyway.  “For ME?!” she squealed in delight, clutching the tiny pink pillow.  “No,” I said, “that is for the Tooth Fairy!” looking very serious.  “See?  It has a felt pocket shaped like a tooth.”  “And that’s where I’ll put it for her!” she exclaimed with glittering eyes.  The hardest part was getting up in the middle of the night to gently remove the tiny tooth from her tooth fairy pillow without her waking up.  The tooth fairy paid her a dollar!  When I was a kid it was a quarter.  The next day, as a family, we all proudly went down to the Dollar store where she made her first ever Black Friday purchase.  Her Daddy kicked in the eight cents (which she did not know about) for sales tax.  The American Major League Baseball manager of the championship New York Yankees, Casey Stengel, once said, “The trick is growing up without growing old.”  Both of my folks always maintained a youthful spirit; I believe Burk and I are the same way.  He and I still need childhood magic, but we do not need any more visits from the tooth fairy!

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