sticky valves


The words, I don’t care resonated in the air between my son and I.  He glared.  I decided I would exit the room and I smirked once I left the area.  I remember being just like this son.

Because I know he cares.  Being a parent of a teenager has me sifting through memories; sometimes unbidden.   My parents never really understood me and most days, I’d remain in my room listening to music.  This son placed his headphones upon his head but I noted that he was on a website tutorial about fixing trumpet valve keys.

His trumpet audition is this Friday.  He has known there were issues with his trumpet and, three weeks ago, when I offered to take it in to get fixed; he balked.  It was mentioned this past weekend and the hubs, finally tired of hearing about it, went with this son to the music store.  His trumpet needs to be fixed and would be finished by this Thursday.  That is four days of practice this son would lose before his try-out.  And so, the boy chose to not fix his instrument; auditioning with it the way it is.  But he was angry.  Naturally, it is Mom’s fault.    He had told me about this a month ago.

And so, calmly, I explained why I would NOT jump through hoops and walk through fire over this in five days.  I am practicing authoritative parenting.

A permissive parent would let this son rule the roost.  If the son said jump this parent would say how high?   I would find myself driving throughout neighboring cities searching for the trumpet repair place that would fix this valve ASAP; whatever the cost.  I would look for a loaner trumpet for this son for an optimal try-out.  And I would’ve had this son in private lessons to ensure his success.

Trust me.  ALL these thoughts ran through my mind.

The authoritarian parent would’ve berated the son for not doing it sooner.  I would’ve taken this trumpet, from his hands, and driven it directly to a repair place three weeks ago; against his will.  I’d verbally remind him it was my way or the highway; nevermind that this is something he’s supposed to do because I want him to do it.  He’d already have had his trumpet, in-hand, and the drill sergeant in me would’ve sat at the piano bench, with him, doing arpeggios and scales every single day.

Remembering my upbringing helps me understand where my kid is coming from.  I am not supposed to be his best friend.  I don’t ingratiate myself with his friends and attempt to talk his lingo (not that I understand any of it anyway).  I try not to dress hoochie-like to be the MILF.  I am a teenager no longer.  He is the child; I am the parent.  I tell all this to our beloved canine; petting his fur.


As a teenager I recalled my parents forcing me to continue with classical piano lessons; something I had done since aged five.  I preferred the rhythms of jazz; my saxophone my instrument of choice.  But I had no choice in the matter and despised the recitals.  I had just shared with a fellow parent, at school, that every single recital I always had to restart my first piece.  I was always nervous and anxious performing solo in front of others; to this very day.  I do not touch the ivories often because of this experience.   But I’ll willingly pick up my other son’s alto sax; just for fun.  It was this instrument that I continued to play throughout my four years of college.

As I stood in the music store, with this same son, to purchase a recommended mouthpiece; I overheard a parent at the counter.  Her eight year old daughter wanted to take piano lessons and this parent continued to ask the salesperson if her daughter would receive a certificate.

After much miscommunication I stepped in.  The daughter was extremely uncomfortable.  When asked by the music instructor if she wanted to play the piano; she stood mute.  The mother coveted a certificate; something music lessons do not provide.  Various parents came and went; dropping off children for lessons.  During a quiet moment I turned to the owner and sales clerk and asked them what instruments they played and if they had ever taken private lessons.  And when?

And the years of competitive swim swam before me.  I thought of the private lessons by the coveted coach, the commitment.  My sons can swim but they don’t love it.  What began as a quest to have my children be strong swimmers ended up with my aspirations for the next Michael Phelps.

My sons will only swim for recreation.  One saved his dad’s life and is a strong backstroker.  The other has a beautiful butterfly stroke.  They learned lifesaving techniques in a local junior lifeguard program.  But like my own piano issues; these sons will never choose this sport other than for fun.  This lesson I learned the hard way.  I now tread carefully.

So this son has a trumpet with a faulty, sticky valve as he auditions for a highly competitive school band program in two days.  As a teen I NEVER had to try-out for a seat in any band or orchestra.  The endless parent meetings encourage parents to ask their incoming freshman to consider other instruments; for this son, possibly the euphonium.     But the trumpet is his first love and so I must let this son try.  To keep it fun.  And, thankfully, in this case…this is something he truly wants.

I consider how to encourage but prepare this son for possible failure.

I calmly talked to my son hours later when he apologized for his outburst.  I do not wish to hinder him on his try-out but he also needed to understand the repercussions of his decisions.  With much gnashing of teething and biting my tongue; I told him to try his best.  To practice hard.  And to explain to the band director, during his five minute audition, that his sticky valve will be fixed.

The music instructors stumbled and bumbled.  Both began taking lessons in high school; though they encourage kids to take lessons beginning in fifth grade.  I, also, only took saxophone lessons in my junior and senior years in high school; because I wanted to.  I was allowed to quit piano after I rebelled.  My high school band director allowed me to march half-time in my songleading uniform; or play the bass in the stands.  My best years in college were when I traveled with our marching band; attending all Pac-10 (then) games for four consecutive years.  It was a blast!

The mom of the eight year old, begrudgingly, allowed her daughter to take lessons after the music clerk made sure the kid wanted it.  First, the girl needs to know how to play an instrument.  She still wants a certificate and I advised her of various music programs that will give her what she wants; only if her daughter has the aptitude and wants it.


You can only grow when you do something that you want to do.  It is the balance I seek in parenting my boys; to find things they want to do and to gently push, when they get stuck, in getting there.

It’s harder to make the tough choice; to parent knowing you possibly put your child at a disadvantage.  To practice tough love.   But there is always a master plan, possibly another year.  The chimes outdoors sound like music to my ears.  This son will remember this; to own his actions.  To be responsible.







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