Little Superheroes

September 27, 2007, 10:59 PM · The freckle-faced, seven-year-old boy walks to the piano in measured steps. He turns around, looks seriously at his audience and announces his piece.

"My name is Brian Niles, and I will now play 'Dance of the Gnomes.'" He bows, then takes his seat at the piano. When he finishes the piece, he rests his hands at his sides. He stands up, turns around and bows. He smiles at the applause.

The applause comes from his mother alone, because we're not at a recital; we're just at home in the living room. For every single song, for about a week straight, I've been required to introduce the young performer, who then introduces himself, and takes to the piano bench with a flourish. I'm smiling, though the recital charade feels almost as old as that ham in the fridge that expired two weeks ago but still hasn't found its way to the garbage can. He shows no signs of wanting to change the routine – at least it's helping us build more stickers on the practice chart. I sigh and get up off the couch.

"Thank you Brian, for that excellent performance," I say. "And now, because we liked 'Dance of the Gnomes' so much, Brian will play it again, making it sound even creepier with that slow-down at the end. Give it up for Brian Niles!"

Beaming, he gets up off the couch to repeat the scenario.

Doesn't it sound adorable? Indeed. And yet, mothers get tired. Soccer practice. Trying to figure out which permission slip needs to be turned in tomorrow. Helping with math. Cutting fingernails, cleaning rooms. When do I get to practice? Sometimes mothers want to holler, "JUST PLAY IT ALREADY!"

He's ready for applause again. "Yay!" I say, clapping. "And now, after all that spooooky Halloween music, Brian will cheer us up with 'Allegro.'"

He takes his place.

Tonight I seem to have the patience. I just give in to the fact that it's going to take a really long time to play through three songs. Maybe I'm just too tired to try to hurry things up.

Or, maybe I'm coming to realize how incredibly brief childhood is, and I'm trying to hold onto something that I know must slip away. A few nights ago, a small superhero helped me take the trash out. I thought he was Superman, then he corrected me, pointing to the large helicopter on his pajamas. "I'm Helicopter Man," he said earnestly. He insisted on dragging the black plastic can, which is nearly as tall as he is, to the dumpster. Then he zoomed back to our garage, zig-zagging all over the long driveway at our condo, cape flying behind him. How long will I get to take out the garbage with a superhero?

He's played "Allegro" again, and he's playing through "Musette." He plays it like a very young superhero would: fast, loud, zig-zaggy. Time again to applaud.

"Now Brian will play 'Musette' again," I say, "and he'll play it really slowly, and peacefully, and quietly, because his mommy is so tired and that will sound soooo pretty to her."

He decides to indulge me this time, and he slows it down. It's a rare treat, when an active superhero lends his full concentration to the endeavor. Apparently he's been listening: he straightens out the rocky rhythm and plays it evenly. He plays all the right notes, and in a few places he plays softly, musically. He slows down at the end, just exactly the right amount to let it hang in the air. And in that moment I see it, a tiny glimpse of the future: he's going to be just fine when he grows out of that cape and into his own big self.

He spins around, hops off the bench and bows.

"And now," he smiles, raising an index finger as he straightens himself up tall, "Brian will give himself a sticker!"


September 28, 2007 at 07:03 AM · Brian is absolutely adorable. He responds to all your suggestions well. You're right to slow down and thoroughly enjoy every day of his growing up.

September 28, 2007 at 11:28 AM · sweet; sweeter if brian gets to read it:)

September 28, 2007 at 12:09 PM · Laurie,

I think Brian is blessed to have you for his mother. To take the time and listen and your support will make all the difference. He will remember this when he gets older.

With that said.. I must get my children off to school.

September 28, 2007 at 12:19 PM · Cute! Unfortunately I was never quite as good-natured about practicing when I was a little kid--my mom and I had some pretty epic battles. I definitely remember various costumed alter egos, though. :)

September 28, 2007 at 12:34 PM · Straight from a mother's heart. Cherish those Kodak moments-burn an image in your mind's eye. I loved it!

September 28, 2007 at 12:51 PM · I used to do something like this, when my daughters were that age. "And now an octopus will perform an entire string quartet!...Sorry, ladies and gentlemen, but the octopus is tied up in a four-way conference call, so instead... Alice will perform Humoresque!"

She would appear from behind the door and perform her piece very seriously. I miss those days. Sometimes the girls remind me, "Remember when you used to announce our pieces to the empty living room?

September 28, 2007 at 02:21 PM · I love it, Karen, I'm going to steal the octopus idea!

Don't get the idea that this is the way it always goes...I just had to preserve a very good one! We have had our difficult moments.

He's doing better, I think, because we've been making the big effort again to get to get on the bandwagon and get to 21 days. We've faltered along the way, but we probably have about 14 straight days, and several months of a serious effort to practice every day.

September 28, 2007 at 05:37 PM · Nice piece, Laurie. As usual. Reminds me of my youngest (now 10) and her first recitals, years ago now. Not only did I have to announce her -- in just the same way the music director would -- I would also have to have ready re-recorded applause to blast from her electronic keyboard as soon she finished at the acoustic piano.

Mothers do get tired. Fathers do as well...from time to time.

September 29, 2007 at 01:12 AM · Canned applause, Sean! Brilliant. Now that is something I never thought of.

Laurie, you blew my cover!

I really miss those days. Now that mine are teenagers I find myself feeling jealous of people with young kids!

September 29, 2007 at 04:47 AM · Laurie, please consider keeping your blog and the comments for Brian's scrap book.

October 1, 2007 at 08:30 PM · Aww that's so cute! I love the way you wrote it. :)

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