28 March 2011

God bless the child

She is slender and suddenly taller, as in: you look at her and are jolted. Whoa! when did she get that tall?! By which you are secretly saying, when did she get that grown-up. For, now, the childish rounded cheeks are attractively shaping, the nonchalant dirty blonde hair is styled and distinctive, the womanly figure is pre-ripening. And her brown-eyed gaze, always sharp and aware, is gaining an amused wiseness.

Also, I write with pride, these days her words are sorting themselves into more careful statements. Lydia has ever struggled with verbal expression. Not that she was incapable, but she just seems to shape her thoughts and ideas differently. I could write a book about how she writes and speaks in her own way. You could say she marches to her own beat. That's precisely it. And her parents are responsible for keeping her in the parade, regardless of that difference.

I have been amazed by Lydia since the moment she emerged, bellowing heartily. In my arms, protesting and red-faced, she looked offended that her term safely in utero had been brought to abrupt closure by dreadful muscular contractions not of her choosing. How do you not admire a newborn with that kind of chutzpah? We ceded our household to her at that moment. Tell us what to do, Miss Lydia. Because, really, no one else in our home has that kind of willpower and spark. She did not steer us wrong, our unfailingly polite diva. At age 1, a favorite activity was to sit in her highchair after dinner, the white tray set before her grandly, wiped of its meal leavings...and she would begin to tap on the tray, or wave her hands, or pat her head, and we would all do the same thing once she set the pace: two sibs, two parents, precisely imitating her actions. She would watch us with indulged good humor, while we all laughed--because her stamina for this activity was boundless. So was ours.

Really, it's this: I trust her. For nearly a decade, we've weathered storms of academe: extra help offered at school that we deemed useful, versus overly solicitous concerns that Peter and I were not willing to share and act upon. Never easy, those school meetings, but Pete and I are united. Throughout, I have placed my trust in that steady gaze of Lydia's, that determination. I remember a night as I was tucking her in, and we discussed some reading issue she was having. First grade. I explained to her what the teacher was concerned about, and then I explained to her that I didn't think the teacher understood that Lydia was well capable of whatever activity was being discussed. I said to Lydia, passionately, "I know you can do this, honey. Show them that you can do this." The brown eyes filled with tears, and she hugged me tightly. My trust, again, not disappointed.

Second grade is when our elementary school opens the world of music to children who wish to participate in an orchestra. I never attended a school that offered music as part of its curriculum, and as each Reifsnyder child grips a violin and starts learning, I appreciate so much what that means. Well, it turned out, Lydia did not really like the violin. Instead, she confided one night, she wanted to learn to play guitar.

Play guitar!?! You can only imagine how rock 'n roll Mumma Nessa rejoiced. And so Weslea Sidon began coming to our home every Monday night, an experienced teacher, writer, artist, and fellow NYer in exile. She "got" Lydia immediately--and while Lyd was by no means a natural at the instrument, she eagerly greeted that hour of intensive learning. Two years later, when Lydia transitioned at school from violin to (finally free!) trumpet, Weslea and we realized that Lydia's enthusiasm for the horn was outstripping her efforts on the timeworn acoustic guitar. But what a foundation had been laid, both at school and at home.

Lydia is a jazz musician now. You hear me, Mom?! She loves, craves, embraces jazz. She clutches that trumpet like a boss, and she plays it with that determined look I adore. Mount Desert Elementary School loves jazz, too, and what an opportunity our children receive in the jazz band: two phenomenal teacher/directors whose expectations are high, but gently imparted. They know these children are capable of extraordinary musicianship, and they give them the environment and the early-morning, pre-class time to master challenging arrangements. Lydia rarely oversleeps the 6:30 a.m. alarm that's required of her for jazz band practice. Dresses herself, feeds herself, gets the lunch ready, out the door.

Every spring, those early mornings bear beautiful fruit. Say what you will about Maine's bad press re: education costs and struggles; this state welcomes and nurtures music from a young age through high school. (Shout-out to the Maine Music Educators Association!) In the 1940s my mother was a direct beneficiary of that; today, my children draw strength and skill from it. On Saturday, Peter and I traced the endless gray ribbon of I-95 up to Mom's hometown for the Middle School Instrumental Jazz Finals. Last year, I was not able to attend, and Mount Desert won first place. This year, I closed my shop for the day. Lydia's personal investment in this activity has become even stronger, so we made the trek gladly. Saturday morning, I walked through the portals of a building that used to host my Brownie Girl Scout troop, the year I'd lived in Millinocket: I got my wings in that school auditorium. Even more so, my mom got her wings in that small town, becoming a musician with purpose.

If you watched the video I posted, you know the outcome. Ned Ferm and Heather Graves did it again, guiding the MDES Jazz Band to another first-place year. The band's music selections fairly pulsed with emotion and nuance. I could not believe these children were middle schoolers. And there was my girl, wielding that brass horn, perfect posture, composed, playing her heart out. My sense of family in that room was overwhelming...how I wished Mom and Nana and Grampy could have seen and heard this. Well, truly, my belief system tells me that they did, but to have had them physically present would have been even better.

After the awards were given out, Peter and I made our way through the crowd to congratulate our girl. I was still wiping away tears inspired by the performance and the circumstances. Down the bleachers she scrambled, and she pulled me into a typically fervent Lydia hug. Her hugs are different these days...our heads tuck next to each other. Equal heights. It's even more comforting. As we separated, her brown eyes were large with emotion. Crying. In her own words, she told me that she just felt so...much...and so happy.

Exactly what I was going to say. Two hugs, this time.

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