Thursday, January 20, 2011

Ever Heard of The Kids? They Rule.

I find that there are certain times during which I feel the most affected by my students. Usually these are times when I'm crabby or tired or losing all faith in humanity or something along those lines. I can always take something from those times: be grateful for what you get to do, be grateful for kids who don't know any better than to be fantastic and awesome all the time, don't sweat the stupid crap that gets you down, there are bigger and better things than crabbiness, etc. It seems like there are certain days when I really need those kids to remind me of these things. The coincidence is very much appreciated at those times.

Then there's a day like today. Everything is fine. Life is nice. Things are great, in fact. I don't really need a reminder of awesomeness. But here they come! These kids, they still affect me so hard. And today, it's not because I need their awesomeness to remind me of all the things listed above. Today is a day where I can just enjoy the hell out of the kids and my job and nothing more, nothing less. Just appreciate.

J, 7 years old, is a newer student. He's extremely serious and genuine and sincere. I'd been playing the song "Dynamite" with the student before him, and asked J if he knew it. He said he didn't but that there was another song he knew. "It's called 'The Snowman' and it's from me and my Dad's favorite movie," he tells me. I know The Snowman very well. When my sister and I were preteens/teens, we got stuck playing The Snowman theme together as a piano/violin duet. It seemed like we played it all the time; at recitals, at the holidays, maybe even in a mall once or twice...for real. It was extremely tedious and I think we both sort of hated it, and still to this day make fun of it. Here it is:

Tonight, however, when J started talking about the same song, I felt my heart melt a bit. He described how, when they begin flying in the movie, his father would pick him up and fly him around the room because his dad loves him so much and loves the song so much. We decide to take a break from the songs he'd been assigned the previous week in order to learn the song for his dad and perform it for him at the end of his lesson. Within about 5 minutes, J has the song down and we practice a duet, me playing the same piano part I once played with Sara. It was the first time I was really able to appreciate the beauty in the song, and at the same time, I got to see how much it meant to a 7 year old and his dad. When we finish playing, J runs to his dad and they embrace and kiss (do non-foreign parents and kids do that? We always did). I take a breath to begin a speech about how he learned the song so quickly despite awkward hand positions and an unexpected lining up of the two different parts and melody vs. harmony, but I hold my tongue just in time. This is probably a moment in which the dad doesn't really need to hear the details about how his son learned it; it's just more important that he played it. And loved it. They just kept hugging.

Yesterday I went to the home of one of my families. S, age 13, has been with me for about 5 years. He's never been that into piano, and has always seemed kind of lethargic. Last week, he had his tonsils and adenoid removed. This week, for the first time in those 5 years, he was smiling and alert during his lesson. His eyes were bright and awake, and he played better than I'd ever heard him play. He made the songs sound exciting, putting in dynamics and way more energy than I'd ever heard from him. At the end, I express my happiness and surprise. He says "I know! I feel so good, it's like...I feel like I'm better at everything." We go on to have a conversation during which he reveals that he's felt tired for his whole life, and for the last few days, feels like he wants to run and play outside, and even read more and sleep less. This kid had never felt wonderful a single day in his life, and all of a sudden, he does. That's magical. Plus, his younger brother offered to make me a grilled cheese sandwich while I was giving lessons! So great!

Besides the heartwarming moments, there have been a couple hilarious times this week. The famous L, age 9 (the same one who kicks her friends in the nuts and spells the F word for her dad in the lobby of the art center), has been challenging herself to give me high fives in the middle of her songs. Like, while she's playing. She makes me ("makes," yeah. Sorry, but I can't not do it) hold out one hand near the keyboard and when she gets to a certain part in the song, she gives me a high five without missing the beat. Now that's talent! Of course, the naughty L has to come out, and she ends up talking about how she wants to give her sister a high five in her face, and how she could also high five somebody's stomach with her fist. Oh man.

I started teaching this 5-year-old, A, in September. Man, he's only 5! His fingers are tiny and his attention span is tinier. Half the time, I feel like it's enough of a challenge just to keep his attention for 30 minutes, let alone teach him anything on the piano. Every week for the past 4 weeks, he comes into the studio and sees the full length mirror on the door as if he's looking at it for the first time ever. He spots his reflection and exclaims, "That guy again!" Since I have no idea whether or not he knows it's really him, I ask "What's his name?" And every week, A answers "That's vanilla!" That's his name, that guy in the mirror. Also, every week, A asks if he can 1) sit on my lap to play piano, 2) sleep under the piano for the night instead of going home, and 3) let his fingers take naps from playing because they're so tired. He also asks what my favorite color is every time he takes a sticker, then picks a sticker of that color. He's so awesome.

M, 8, will be playing "Star Wars" plus one other song at the recital in a week. When I ask him which he wants to play first, he says Star Wars, "because then people will know I'm cool." I try and say something to the extent of how people will think he's cool anyhow, both songs are cool, you can play them in any order and still be cool, blah blah blah, but he stops me to say "People pay more attention to your first song. Then they get bored. I'm sorry, but it's true." He probably has a point.

They've been so earnest and honest and real. They always are. I am feeling it. I am appreciating it. Hugely.

P.S. Recitals are 3 pm on Sunday 1/30/11 at Attic Angels Community. They'll be lovely. You'll hear two versions each of Pumpkin Boogie, Whirling Leaves, and Jazz Blast, as well as songs by Avril Lavigne, Queen, Journey, Green Day, and Beyonce. And others. Like Beethoven and stuff. And there will also be a little ditty we like to call "Banana Split." You don't want to miss this.

Friday, January 14, 2011


Tuesday night. I'm laying in my bed wide awake, still feeling the after effects of the caffeine-laced Excedrin, coffee, and soda I pumped myself full of today in an attempt to quell a migraine. By now, the pain in my head has calmed a bit, but my mind is still racing. The caffeine works pretty well, if you don't mind being all tweaky during your book-writin' meeting (sorry Jourdan) and piano lessons with children. At least I had the most insane kids today - they didn't seem to notice my darting eyes and constant fidgeting.

This evening, my father's thoughts travel aloud over the phone, brainstorming various things to look into and discussing different doctors I could see; an ENT doctor, or a sinus specialist. Maybe get a CT-scan of my head. I listen passively and in my head acknowledge that, although he makes an excellent point, I know exactly what I'd like to look into: the writing, meditation, and yoga I was practicing so regularly just a year ago. The routine of clearing my mind, relaxing and alone time, and especially silence. That was the most calm my mind has been in awhile. An anxious and obsessive mind like this one really needs regular practice most of all. Even just to go to sleep.

Although I know I should lay in bed with closed eyes and relaxed jaw and shoulders, silently chanting my sleep reminder (deep breath in - say "sleep." Deep breath out - say "sleep." It has worked every time I've wholeheartedly tried it. For real.), instead my hands absently wander behind my pillow to the headboard shelf where my phone sits. The phone with which I can look on facebook to check if Gina has had a baby yet. She was due two weeks ago and was prepared to induce today. "Just wait," a little voice says somewhere in my brain. "You can find out in the morning." About ten seconds after I heed the voice, another one sounds off, stronger and louder. "Hey! Go peek in the kitchen and see if the amaryllis has blossomed yet!" My bare feet are on the floor without hesitation and I tiptoe to my bedroom door and look around the corner. No. Not blooming yet. Same as it was 40 damn minutes ago when I checked it before I first tried to settle down for the night.

Seriously, Reem? You're peeking on a flower at 1 am? Go to sleep. Sleep now. Sleep (in) sleep (out) sleep (in) sleep (out). Breathe. Miyagi-style.

This amaryllis has been slowly growing for about 3 weeks and I've been noticing small changes in it every day. I've had nothing but patience for it for those weeks, but suddenly now that I know it could blossom any day, I'm watching it like a hawk. Obsessively. In the middle of the night when I should be trying to sleep. Watched pot, right? I remind myself to be patient, that beautiful things like babies and flowers will come around when they're meant to. And that I can just sit back and relax this mind and wait. And wait and wait.

And following that reminder of patience, just two short days later, I have a beautiful flower in my kitchen...

...and Gina and Patrick have a beautiful baby. Happy Birthday, Aidan Antonio!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Don't Forget What You Buy - It Could Result in Sandwiches

Man, sometimes I'm so foolish. Or forgetful. Or flaky. Or all of those things, as I realized I've been until tonight. You know what I forgot I owned? A sandwich toaster!!! I don't know why I remembered this tonight, but all of a sudden, the thought popped into my head that I'd bought a sandwich toaster some time in the last year. I was with my Mom at Target and it was on sale for $6. Yeah, I definitely got a deal there. Apparently I brought it back home and put it away in a cabinet and forgot all about it! How foolish. And forgetful. And flaky. Such a sad story.

But here's a happier story: in college, I had one of these sandwich toasters in my dorm room. My friend Helen and I made hundreds of toasted cheese sandwiches in that thing. We needed only three ingredients: square-shaped bread (such as Wonderbread), Velveeta cheese, and margarine. I kept them in my mini-fridge. Yuck. But really, delicious. I remember the day of Helen's senior cello recital - the day we got to play Prince covers! She came over and, in order to calm her nerves, painted her toenails while I made us toasted cheese sandwiches. Yes, with Velveeta and margarine. Look, that Velveeta just fits perfectly into the compartments. And the cheese melts so well...sigh.

So, I'm thankful that I had that memory of sandwich toasters float into my brain tonight, and just before I needed a little snack! I knew exactly where the sandwich toaster was: in the cabinet behind the hand mixer. This is embarrassing because I go in that cabinet pretty often to get either the hand mixer for baking or the Magic Bullet for making hummus and being awesome. In fact, I used the mixer earlier today to make cookies. Whoops a daisy. Anyhow, there it is! Hopefully I'll be opening that cabinet a lot more in the future to make those donuts, too.

Here's what it looks like, all clean and cute. The cord is even tied together! So new!

Here's the inside. See the sandwich half compartments? Look how organized! I obviously love it.

If you do it right, you'll end up with two (or four) perfectly toasted sandwich triangles. With a ton of melted cheese inside. Maybe Velveeta.

I learned the hard way (when I used this appliance as a teenager and again in college) that you really need to separate the ingredients as you make the sandwich. That's smoked turkey breast.

If you just sloppily lay on all the ingredients, there will be a gross burned line of meats and cheese down the middle of the sandwich because of the triangle shapes. Take the time to separate; it's worth it. That's salami, by the way.

And white american cheese, in those same lovely triangles! Apparently I was just too excited to add any vegetables. Seriously, the thought didn't even cross my mind until right this second.

After putting the sandwich in the toaster, it wouldn't close all the way, but I wasn't too worried.

Well, okay, I was a little worried. My nerves get the best of me when sandwiches are involved. I just want them to be wonderful and delicious!

The finished product! See that diagonal line? That's where you'd have burned meat and cheese if you hadn't been so organized earlier. A little goes a long way, when it comes to sandwich ingredient organizing. Please also note that extra part at the end. My bread was too hearty and not tiny and square enough like Wonderbread.

I used a knife to take it out because I'm too lazy to move two feet over to get a spatula.

Look, there's hardly any mess at all! Just two globs of cheese that I'll let harden and scrape off later. Wah wah!

Look at that beautifully toasted sandwich.

The inside - no burned mess!

And the cheese was melted just enough.

Delicious! Believe you me, I'll be making plenty more toasted sandwiches this winter. Can you imagine a peanut butter and jam in there? Or Nutella and banana? Or something involving tomato and spinach and cheeses? Maybe I'll even buy some Velveeta...

Saturday, January 1, 2011