One evening, Zeca played guitar in the living room and I sat and listened while I read a book. I recognized the song as an original composition she has been working on for weeks but wasn't paying close attention. Several minutes passed and she began talking, explaining parts that she had added and asking what I thought. I looked up from my book and told her I liked it and that I could tell she was making progress.
"Keep practicing," I said as I returned to my book and she said, "The thing is...it's a duet and I need to practice the solo." I looked up again and she asked hesitantly, "Can I teach you the chords so you can play that part and I can practice the solo?" It had been a busy day and I was tired and just wanted to read my book, so, I told her "no" and gave her those excuses. She was disappointed but tried not to show it and I said in a more upbeat tone, "But I love listening to you play. Will you keep playing?" She nodded and played for a bit longer before going to her room.
The next day, I kept thinking about her simple request. Yes, I had been tired. Yes, I have a right to take time for myself. But it wouldn't have required much of me, really.
When she got home from school, I went over our plans for the evening and told her that if we got everything done that we needed to, maybe we could sit down together with our guitars and she could teach me the chords to her song. She looked at me wide-eyed, "Really?" "Yes, really." She threw her arms around me and said, "You're the best!" It was a powerful reminder that pure joy can come from the simplest things.
Later that evening after everything was done, we sat in the living room and tuned our guitars and as we did, Miguel asked Zeca, "Who's better at guitar - you or mama?" She shrugged and said, "I don't know," just as I turned to him and said, "Zeca." Zeca seemed surprised, "You think so?" she asked tentatively and I fell in love with her again - this girl who loves music, who composes, who plays guitar and drums and baritone, who can coax something beautiful from a piano though she's never had a lesson. She knows so much more about music than I did at her age and more than I do now. I put all my love into a smile and said, "Honey, you've been better than me for awhile."
And in that moment, I realized that part of the reason I hadn't wanted to play with her the night before was that I was afraid that I couldn't learn the part she wanted me to play. I no longer play regularly and my faith in myself is shaky at best. I thought back to Zeca's first lessons and the times we played together and her reluctance born of frustration because she couldn't play as well as I did. I now understood her because we have traded places.
With our guitars tuned, we began. She showed me the chords again and again. I struggled to get them in the right order and again with the rhythm. But she was patient and encouraged me and after 20 minutes or so, I was finally able to play her song the way she wrote it and once I was up to speed (literally), she played the solo part, her hand stretching and fingers reaching to find the notes she'd plucked from her own mind. We repeated the song until my fingers ached and when she was finished practicing, she looked at me, smiled and said, "You did it." I did. We did.
This is the hardest but most beautiful song of parenting. Sometimes we play rhythm just so they can learn to play a solo. We lead and we follow, our hearts and minds struggling to hit the right notes but when we do, there is no sweeter sound.