There is no better feeling as a parent than when your child surprises you by doing something wonderful or doing something more and better than you’d ever realized they could. This spring I’ve had a couple of moments like this with both Polly and Pip. These are simple, powerful moments, ones when I notice them growing, expanding, becoming more capable of things than ever before. It seems like these moments would come with a bittersweet flavor, a wistful nostalgia for parts of their lives that have now passed. But, it doesn’t seem to work that way. As they do these new things, as they show off their new capacities, I never find myself thinking, “When did you get so old?” Instead, I feel like a child with a new toy. Suddenly a whole new world of possibilities emerges and I can't wait to see how they come to work themselves out.
In the spirit of that I want to list a few of the things they’ve done recently. There isn’t really a theme to this list beyond capturing these moments before they get buried by the others that will ultimately come. As such this is mostly a list for me to brag and for me to hold on to, a way to draw lines on the back side of the closet door to mark their heights as they grow.
- Earlier this year, I wrote about preparing Pip for the final ‘general intelligence’ test that would determine who gets invited to his school’s accelerated program and who does not. Well, it turns out Pip did quite well on the test. We got the results back a month ago, and he scored in the 99th percentile. This was something of a relief, though it also left plenty of questions unanswered. How many others scored just as well? Did the school district have a test number that wasn’t shared with us that would determine the final rankings? Were there other evaluative mechanisms at work that we didn’t know about? Well, we never got any answers to those questions, but Pip did receive an invitation to join the program this week. He was pleased, if not too worked up about it one way or the other. He would have been fine with things either way. In retrospect, I would have been too. We had done what we could. The rest of the process was outside our control. (Now, I have to start getting Polly ready)
- For the spring show at Pip and Polly’s elementary school, Polly tried out for and made it into the dance number for the kindergartners and first graders. This try-out took place a month or so ago, and she has been practicing with her cohort a couple of times a week ever since. In contrast to the way she approached the dance number for the winter show, Polly has been relatively guarded about what they are actually doing this time around. She has said that the music for it is Elton John’s Crocodile Rock and that she will be wearing a tutu. But she hasn’t shown us any of the dance itself.
However, this past week after a rain-shortened soccer practice left her with energy to spare she broke out her own impromptu dance performance – a one-to-two minute composition of improvised moves complete with pointed toes, elegant hands, and a nice array of leaps and flourishes. There was no music, just the pats and squeaks of her bare feet on the floor and the determined puffs of her breath. And it was not playful. Her moves were deliberate and balanced. Her focus was tight. She carried herself like a gymnast doing a floor routine. She spun and glided and lunged and twirled, holding Ava and I in place through it all.
The whole production caught me by surprise as minutes before she had been running in and out of our back mudroom making animal noises and chanting “Jinx, Jinx, Jinx, Jinx” with her brother.
- Speaking of soccer practice, Pip and Polly have both had their moments on the field this spring. For Pip, it’s been mostly the development of his goalkeeping prowess. At the start of the season he had said he was not interested in playing goalie, but after the first weekend of games he started fiddling around with one of his friends and decided to give it a try. After a couple weeks of practice and five more games, he now looks very comfortable back there. He’s alert. He’s aggressive. He moves well. And he has developed a very effective method redistributing the ball once he makes a stop.
Most of the goalies in our league try to punt the ball down the field. The strong kids send it flying like a cannonball. The weak ones often only knock it ten yards or so. In both cases, there’s no real control over where the ball actually lands between the sidelines nor any good way to advance it when it does. What Pip and his friend have learned from one of our coaches is to use a catapult motion to throw the ball down the field. The upshot of this method is that they can get the ball out to their own players in positions that allow them to effectively move the ball up the field. Pip has gotten particularly good at this. This past weekend he was able to regularly fling the ball up to half field and land it right in front of one of his forwards. And he looks comfortable doing it. There is nothing awkward or uncertain about his throws. They come out in a smooth, fluid motion that shows he knows what he’s doing. The catapult throw has become a real tool.
Polly is also feeling more and more comfortable on the soccer field. After spending much of the first couple of games hanging to the side and watching the action go past she is now standing firm in her position – often as the last line of defense before the goalie – and taking on dribblers coming into her space. Even though she can’t boot the ball very far, she is willing to stand in, stop the ball, and dribble it out away from the goal. This is great because it means I can trust her to be where she needs to be in the defensive scheme and to make an effort when the ball comes her way. This is not something I can do with everyone.
She is also taking on a more assertive role on the field. This past weekend she was playing midfield when it was time for our team to kick off. The referee called for one of our players to come up to the ball and get things going. When the others around her hesitated for a moment, she seized the opportunity and made a good pass to one of the wings. It was so good, in fact, that the next time we had a kick-off, I had her do it again. This turned out to be the highlight of her day and a moment I’ll remember for quite a while longer.
- Lastly, Pip had his school piano recital last week. He and about ten other kids take short piano lessons once a week with a school music teacher, and this was their end of the year performance. The lessons are simple and basic, requiring little more than five to ten minutes a day of practice to master. Thus in a year he’s only progressed from rhythmic doodling to playing quarter notes up and down the five keys on either side of middle C. But he’s reading music now, has developed the dexterity to jump between ring finger and thumb without hesitation, and has a good enough sense of what it means to play the piano should he want to pursue it more intensely at a later time. We have even gotten the chance to play some short duets together which has been very fun for me.
For his recital, Pip played a piece called ‘I Love Parades.’ At school, his lessons take place on an electronic keyboard which has a range of instrument sounds and background rhythms to add in as you play. He and his teacher decided he should play the piece using the trumpet sound and on the second time through add in a marching rhythm to give the piece some extra pizzazz. He was very excited about this and spent the two weeks leading up to the recital running the music over and over until he could play it smoothly from start to finish. This involved a great deal of groaning and starting over whenever he missed a note, but he was determined to do it right. For once I stayed out of this and let him follow his own inclinations.
On the day of the recital Pip was the fifth or sixth kid to play a piece. The ones who came before him were all second graders like him. Their pieces were short – probably no more than thirty seconds long – and when they played they tended to push down the keys only far enough to make a sound. This gave everything a very tentative quality. Also, none of them used a background rhythm. So, when Pip dove into his piece, it sounded different from everything that had come before. As he worked through the first measures, he struck the keys with confidence, pushing them down to their stops just as he would on the piano at home. He probably went a touch fast but the notes were clean and on rhythm. Then he fired up the march accompaniment. This caught everyone’s attention and I think Pip could sense the extra energy in the room as he headed for his second round. The rhythm of the accompaniment was a touch slower than the tempo he had just played, so Pip had an extra microsecond to make sure each note was in place. With this realization, I could see his confidence bloom. By the end of the piece, he was bopping his head to the beat and completely focused on the sheet of music in front of him. He was playing music, not just the notes, and trusting his fingers to go to the correct places. He was into it. As he played the last chords, he looked up from his stand and smiled. It wasn’t a smile of surprise or relief. It was a smile of confidence and joy. He’d played well, and it had been fun. I couldn’t have wanted anything more for him.