The Secret Life of Children
Joe's Secret Life
It was my gentle mother-in-law, the saint who raised six children of her own and taught piano lessons to many hundreds more, who convinced me that underneath Joe's soccer jersey was a little boy with a musical heart. (One way she convinced me was by donating a Baldwin console to the cause.) When I saw Joe's face the day he came home from school and saw that piano -- with its gleaming wood and shining keys -- I knew my mother-in-law had been able to see something in my youngest son that I'd been missing. The look on his face that day was pure, uncomplicated joy. A joy that had nothing to do with Henry's guitar or Sam's saxophone.
Joe has been taking piano lessons for a year now. His teacher often tells me what a good student he is. He doesn't mean that Joe's a musical genius; he means that Joe's a passionate student. I never have to nag him to practice. He plays outside till dark, but the second he comes in, all muddy from a neighborhood kickball game, he sits down on the piano bench, pushes back the cover and begins to play the theme from Star Wars. I sit down, too, and watch as my grubby little athlete is transformed into a child I never would have known if his grandmother hadn't introduced him to me.
I felt in my own body the thrill of my children's earliest minnow motions, and I still believe I know them as well as it is humanly possible to know another soul. But Joe's piano reminds me every day that my children also have a secret life all their own, an innate refusal to stick to any script I might unconsciously write for them. A day will come when the secrets they divulge aren't nearly so sweet as a love for music, nor as relatively innocent as coloring on a wooden fence, and I don't know how I'll feel when it does. All I know is that, for now, I welcome the hidden passions. I'm always hoping for another hushed glimpse into their hearts.
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal , May 2007.