For the last few months, I’ve been teaching piano lessons at the church on Saturday afternoons. I hate, absolutely hate, hate, hate doing it, but am loath to back out for a number of complicated reasons, most of them involving guilt. (I am Mormon, after all. Guilt comes with the baptism.)
It’s easy to see why I hate it. I teach four boys between the ages of 7 and 10, and, when lessons begin, they all climb on the piano seat together and start banging, all at once. When I choose one to start and ask the others to leave, they sit there and stare at me in shock and incomprehension, like I suddenly started speaking Xhosa, not Indonesian. When I finally persuade the others to go away, they go about four feet away and either make ridiculous amounts of noise or stare at me with big, soulful eyes, as if hurt that I would separate them. What’s more, it’s been four months since I started teaching and they still can’t really read music; the most talented can pick his way slowly through a simple song, and the least talented still just randomly guesses, looking at my face for positive or negative reactions. Their parents, though, expect miracles, and constantly ask me when their sons will be able to play the hymns in sacrament meeting. I’ve told them over and over again that it took me years of piano lessons to play the hymns, but nobody listens to me. Maybe they would if I started speaking Xhosa.
Plus, I’m totally unqualified. I admit this freely: just because I can play the piano doesn’t mean I can teach others to play it. So I’ve been set an impossible task, and, moreover, one that I couldn’t accomplish even if it were possible, and I’m responsible to intense parents for its completion. That’s just not a happy situation.
Hanging out with these little boys, though, is a happy situation, the one bright spot in a dark Saturday evening. After the real lessons are over, but before the lesson time is up, meaning whenever they get tired of pretending to try and I get tired of pretending to have control, we play, and I don’t mean the piano. Last week we wandered out of the church building and looked for smashed frogs on the street, poking them with sticks when we found them. The week before we had wheelbarrow races across the chapel. The week before that we ran around trying to stomp on each other’s feet, a game that continued during the weekly Thursday night adult dance activity, and which got me in big trouble with the other adults, since we may have, um, crashed into a few couples trying to dance. These kids now think I’m the coolest thing ever, that rare adult who never tries to make them sit still and be quiet, but who, on the contrary, has fun ideas for new mischief, and I think they’re the coolest things ever, mostly because they give me an excuse to poke smashed frogs with a stick.
I think the moral of the story is clear: I should bring forth men children only--but someone else should teach them piano lessons.