The Secret Life of Children

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Piano Lessons

Okay, so maybe I didn't always know every little thing about my kids. But apart from the occasional bald-faced lie or act of public graffiti, I kept thinking I surely knew them in every substantive way, if only because my kids are talkers, not brooders, willing to open their hearts and tell me what's happening in there. "I'm sick of you telling me what to do all the time!" Sam often shouts, stomping into his room. "I'm afraid of my closet at night," Henry has admitted matter-of-factly, shutting the door on his chamber of nightmares.

But sometimes, I'm learning, they don't tell me everything. Sometimes I flat-out miss the quiet convictions, the budding passions. Joe, for example, is a natural athlete who climbed out of his crib at 6 months and learned to walk earlier than either of his brothers learned to crawl. Joe loves anything that involves running fast and jumping high. One night recently I found him crying himself to sleep, literally sobbing, because he had just learned that athletic seasons overlap, that in high school he would be forced to choose between football and cross country, basketball and wrestling, baseball and track, soccer and lacrosse. "I love them all so much," he wailed. "How will I ever be able to pick?"

So when this child starting saying in kindergarten that he wanted to take piano lessons, I pooh-poohed the idea. We didn't own a piano, for one thing. But the main reason I didn't take the request seriously is that Joe is a child who had shown no real musical interest. And I knew how to recognize a zeal for music, I thought, because Henry feels about music the way Joe feels about sports: Henry's been making up songs since preschool. (We do live in Nashville, after all.) Buy a piano for Joe? It didn't make sense. Joe was our athlete.

But he persisted. Henry would get out his guitar, and Joe would say wistfully, "I wish we had a piano like Grandmother's." After school Sam would blast into the house, dropping his saxophone case to the floor with a thunk, and Joe would say, "When I'm a little bit older, then can I take piano lessons?" I knew exactly what was going on. As the youngest in the family, Joe always wants to do what his brothers are doing, but in a way that's slightly different from theirs. When Henry wanted to be a red Power Ranger for Halloween, Joe had to be a Power Ranger, too, but he chose blue. This whole "please can I take piano lessons" thing wasn't about a desire to master the piano. It was about a desire not to feel left out.

Continued on page 3:  Joe's Secret Life


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