This was William’s response when I asked what he sees when thinking about his upcoming 4th grade band concert. Our family had been talking over homemade pepperoni pizza acquired under exceptional circumstances. The evening prior, William won two giant pepperoni sticks at a meat raffle. His sister also cashed in with a baking starter kit complete with a colander, which she reminded me is for cooking, not baking. Adeline and I prepared the chocolate chip cookies before dinner to make sure the oven was functioning properly. Meredith, who renounced pepperoni last year, had put about 10% of the winnings into action. She kept one unadulterated slice for herself and loaded up the rest of the pie.
While we were enjoying our victory pizza, it was clear William’s mind was troubled. He finally copped to his concern about the critical suspended cymbal role he is to play this Wednesday evening. He told us how he always screws it up in practice, how he gets lost in the count and doesn’t know when to play. The part is really important, he insisted, and it would be obvious to everyone that he screwed it up. He was already experiencing the embarrassment of messing up in front of the audience. He also explained that the only reason he’s playing this part is because he was the last to join the band and there was nowhere else to put him. Which probably isn’t the case.
So we decided to practice together. I was a percussionist in middle school. At least I could help him keep count and clear up any confusion. William didn’t want to at first. Or after 10 minutes. It wasn’t until the very end that his mood changed. During the practice we corrected several issues, all relating to counting beats and rests. He was getting confused about how long certain rests were. Make that mistake once and you’re off for the rest of the piece. He was also getting upset every time he made a mistake. This threw him off and made him lose his place in the music. Not helpful when you’re trying to keep pace with an entire band.
Here are some conversations William and I had as we worked through the music:
Sometimes you’re going to make mistakes. Keep moving. You can’t stop every time you miss. The beat goes on. It’s often more important to move forward.
Getting upset doesn’t erase the mistake. It compounds its effect. Don’t make it harder than it already is.
Unhealthy thoughts covet our attention, regularly. They want to be the center of the show. We need to see through them. We need to see good things happening to us.
Practice builds confidence. If you don’t feel prepared for something, you probably need more practice.
I’m uncertain how this all registers in the mind of a 10-year-old boy. I reassured him that his value to me has nothing to do with his suspended cymbal performance. Or any act or omission whatsoever. Not even winning all the pepperoni sticks in Lockport. I love him simply because he is mine and I am his. This cannot be reversed. It’s a permanent condition, unalterable no matter how badly he and I screw up.
I don’t know if he needed to hear that. I do know how often I forget and need to be reminded.
Mistakes are going to happen. No matter how much I care.
Getting upset is a self-imposed punishment that sets me back.
Not every thought I have is a good one. I can choose to reject the ones that aren’t in my corner.
Preparation is a vaccination against doubt. I must inject practice, daily.
I am loved because I am and that can be enough.
Whether I accept these truths, or any others, is entirely up to me.