Tender Caution by Annita Woz

  Her long pointed fingers, they look so much like her father’s, fiddle their way inside the hem of her new sweater and then reverse themselves, an effort to smooth the knit and project the quiet confidence that young performers are told to display before sharing their gifts.

It is recital day for our ten year old. Her song is Rodgers & Hammerstein’s, “In My Own Little Corner” 

“I’m as mild and meek as a mouse, when I hear a command, I obey,

And I know of a spot in my house,  where no one can stand in my way…

In my own little corner,  In my own little chair,  I can be whatever I want to be,

On the wing of my fancy I can fly anywhere,

and the world will open its arms to me…”

The simplicity in her voice, the tender caution that we hear as she sings the first line catches us off guard.  In a way, she makes the words come out painfully,  convincing us of the need to hold our own breath, as though to save the air in the room for her throat alone.  We believe the song was created just for her, maybe the words stolen from her own head just a moment before, as she sings, “I’m as mild and meek as a mouse,” in a way that tells us she is not just singing a line, she is living this story right now in front of us. 

In unspoken harmony, we give her strength to do what she has come here to do. We push back all the memories we have of our own fears of performing for others, as though somehow our self-doubts might grow arms and stretch out of this audience, snake toward her, and steal her moment.  We put on our most encouraging grins, lean our shoulders forward just enough to show her that we are with her. And she sings.

On the way to the recital, gentle warnings were given to her siblings. The reminders to not sing out during the performance, to let one girl shine this time, are confusing to the siblings who have joined hands with her many times to sing the song as she practices for the home audience of two little black dogs sitting in front of the fireplace hearth stage.  For one last time, we practice as a group, in the car on the way over, all together. 

Singing this way brings back vivid memories of long car rides made short by singing in the family station wagon when I was a girl.  Our family sang on long and short trips, our six young voices and that of my mom’s are led down the highway by my father’s.  We sang the same round of songs for most of the trip,  but Dad always added a few new ones from his ever growing song list in his head.  He seemed to never forget the words, somehow staying on the right road and staying on the right verse despite the many contributors going off pitch.  If we distracted him enough he would just take what he came to call a long cut- just so we could enjoy the scenery, he said-  and we would head back in the right direction.  These detours only served to give us more time to sing together so no one minded the extra miles. 

We made it home safely through snowstorms, from long trips through the country from Grandmas house, the trip faster for having the familiar songs with us the entire way. A wave of disappointment to pull into our own yard, signaling that we were done singing with mom and dad would quickly vanish as our dog would run to greet us. Then, without regret, we’d trounce into the house, with sleepy heads full of the last lines of the song that took us into our driveway. Surely this was the best way to travel, the best way to sing. Together.

The tiniest girl performs first. She is deemed the bravest for going first and gets a box for her feet,  to keep them from dangling off the piano bench while she plays her first piano solo. Her plaid red dress and tiny black buckle shoes are captured by mom who does not see the real girl, but instead the girl that is circled by dashed lines on the screen of the family video camera.

A dad and his teenage daughter sit elbow to elbow to play some holiday music for us. They have been practicing together since the the days of summer when they had to forgo trips to the beach or shorten phone calls to giggling girl friends. He has cut short business meetings to make the regularly scheduled practice with his soon to be all grown up daughter.  The hours laughing and studying and playing together on the black bench are over with this performance but not wasted.

Mothers sink visibly into their chairs as daughters take final bows. Grandparents nod silently at the marvels of their families, knowing that this generation has not missed out on the simplicity of music.

One father holds a sleeping little boy on his lap. He has been lulled by the performances of other father’s little boys.

There is only one girl singing now. Her back-up singers from the car ride to town are silent.  The entertainer up front emerges.  She holds her arms out wide when singing the line about “no one standing in her way.”  We believe her, accept her honesty when she says, she can be whomever she wants to be. For a moment, we are her, we are singing in front of a room and then in an instant we are snapped back, grateful that she has found her path and is doing what she came here to do, grateful that it is not us who has to convince this room.

Tears roll down the checks of her mom, a mom who always gets sentimental at moments like this. She can’t prevent it,  despite trying to distract herself from the beauty of her girl’s performance with thoughts of  orange extension cords, snow mobiles driving outside the studio, a random curry recipe. She is unable to stop the flood that wets her face, that slides to the the edge of her jaw line. The mom rain silently sneaks its way through her failed motions to wipe them away. 

The daughter sees those tears and it convinces her that she is doing well, because she knows mom cries at all tender things.  She knows she is not just singing the song, she is telling the story of the song.  And it is being heard.

A. Woz


2 Responses

  1. Beautiful entry. Not only do you write well, but this entry will be a keepsake for your daughter knowing how much support and love her family gives her. Nice to see a family who takes parenting seriously.

    If you are interested, I write a lot about parenting in relationship with music lessons. Here’s my site: sfrack.wordpress.com

    Enjoy your family!

    • Thank you for your kind words. It seems that the music of the season is reaching out to me…my latest post is about the tradition of singing christmas carols…enjoy if you have a moment…subscribe if you wish…it is called Singing Scenery.
      Merry New Year
      A. Woz

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