Taking Notes From My Son

There’s a piece of music my son and I created five years ago that depicts our relationship.

On a chaotic day–I’d been working on a novel for a few years, simultaneously pitching journalism ideas to editors, when I received yet another rejection. I felt sorry for myself. Why am I in this business? When will life get easier? I’m just a housewife after all. Down the self-pity, anger well I fell.

After guiding three children through homework, I finished the dishes and needed a release.

I sat at our second-hand piano we had named Audrey because a year before I’d had one of those foggy-headed, deep dreams where I’d given birth to a fourth child, Audrey. Three hours later, our slender-legged upright piano was delivered.

I told Audrey all my problems, venting twisted fits of stress and frustration in a round of chords. When am I going to be the true artistic writer I dream of? I’m fooling myself. When am I going to shuck these chains of woman’s drudgery and get somewhere? I’m an impostor; a poser. I’m wasting time and am too old to ever get anywhere real. I’m nobody from nobody and will never get a break…bang, bang bang. Anger streamed.

Robert buzzed around like a curious bee, the energy in the room too much to ignore.  Not afraid of unscripted music, he grabbed his red Fender electric guitar and jumped into my energy.

In perfect timing, without stopping to ask questions or seek direction, he isolated base notes within the chords and got comfortable in a repetitious trill: one, two, three, one, two, three—two slow and one fast. As the music progressed he risked skipping a beat, trusting I’d still be there within the parameters of the same chord to stay in the rhythm. I could sense something as our combined energy shifted and I tried to hold on.

“Keep going,” I thought, “he needs me to keep going ’cause he’s looking for something.” I couldn’t keep the pace and stopped. He coaxed me back again, counting off and on we went. His timing was impeccable. Sometimes he’d deaden the note or bend others, playfully seeking that next note. Once he found it, he took off.


The music erased time. We were ageless that evening. I was no longer the authority figure as we silently followed each other to some distant point on the horizon.

Go, kid, go! Run, run, I said, I can’t do it anymore, I’m older, but you are young and are finding your legs and when you do run, kid, run. Run and don’t ever look back. Don’t worry about tripping. Don’t worry about being wrong, I’m here to catch you. Just keep going. The music built: dum, dum, dum. Audrey resonated as his electric guitar drilled la, la, la trills over and over. His wings unfurled.

Mom, stop, stopping. Let go like a child, don’t judge yourself—be free. 

The anger turned to pure joy—from a no, grew yes.

I had all I could do as a mother to keep this basic rhythm going. Leaving myself behind to get out of my own self-pity, something else took shape–hope. I felt like the first time he let go of my hand and toddled alone across the living room carpet. He was on his way.

My child taught me that day to get out of wallowing in what they say, and reminded me to stay pure in art and just do it. When I crawl into the dark hole sometimes, I click on the 1 minute and 48 seconds of  “flight” and hear pure joy in creating art. It melts those critics away.

I hear the layers of our relationship in ribbons of individual freedom stitched in family ties. Mostly, I hear that he won’t let me get away with self-pity, nor will I.


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