O

n his fourth and final time through one of his songs, Roy hollered at me from the piano.

“Okay, Mom, now I’m going to play it the way I think it should go!”

Out of sight, I shook my head in tight semi-circles, indulging myself with a half-second look heavenward for help. These are not those kind of lessons, I thought reflexively; Roy’s teacher would neither solicit—much less suffer through—my 10-year-old’s attempt at reworking a song out of his lesson book.

What I said was, “Alright, let’s hear it.”

Roy played the song one more time through with more pedal, extending the song’s sole dramatic run up the keys with his own ambitious but, ultimately, unsustainable addition. As I listened to him play, though, I could hear something else trying to be heard behind the music. Neither melody nor harmony, it was the buzzing of an irritating question that has begun to warble dissonantly against any number of things I might be expected to be listening to these days. It goes a little something like this:

Why can’t he do it the way he wants to do it?

As a committed square (I just finished reading this book and couldn’t stop myself from using the word), I have almost always followed the rules. In exchange for a lifetime spent in relative docility, I expect friends and strangers alike will hold me in higher regard—well, until recently, that is, when I’ve begun to wonder if any of this standard-bearing stuff does any substantive good for anything other than my own perception of myself.


I wonder if this isn’t my midlife crisis, rising up from the piano bench (and that seat in the classroom) to greet me. I find myself thinking weird, subversive things like, ‘Why shouldn’t he play it the way he thinks it should go? Maybe not all of the time but some of the time, couldn’t his experimentation, his improvisation count as its own kind of work? Where would that sort of unpracticed take him over time?’

Roy is already asking these questions in his own way, the ones I didn’t get around to until I was raising my own children. He pushes against convention to see where it might give and he asks why because he genuinely doesn’t know what the point is to certain practices. I am not sure how I came to be the mother of someone so contrary, so questioning, so accidentally brave. At nearly half-past 40 o’clock by my own watch, I can tell you that it is my favorite miracle these days.