classical music

One Way To Love A Teenage Son

by Becky on October 29, 2012 · 3 comments

in Books, Music, Parenting


My son’s a surfer. He pops up on a wave and you know it’s him, his elegant cutbacks reminding you of cursive.

My son’s mother is not a surfer. Never will be.

But just because sports isn’t necessarily my thing; just because I wasn’t the mom out in the front yard kicking a soccer ball around, just because we didn’t have matching dirt bikes (or surfboards), that doesn’t mean our interests never intersected.

Witness: books, and music. There it is. Because books and music–not always in that order–are hugely important to me, I wanted to pass along my enthusiasm. And it wasn’t hard. It’s never hard to create interest in the things that get your own heart racing.  I still remember him turning a backwards somersault on the bed as we neared the end of the first Harry Potter book.  I read it to him when he was eight.  Seems like it was last night.

So how did Harry Potter and Singin’ in the Bathtub (John Lithgow’s genius take on old standards for kids), for example, translate to the teen years? Well, I’ll try to make the story short. First of all: came a time when I really needed to draw on the many hours I had put in reading and singing aloud to my son. What I invested back in the day left me with a balance when he was older–a balance I needed to draw on. Money in the bank, so to speak, and it came in mighty handy. Second, our shared love of books and music helped me keep our connection alive when it mattered most. We segued from Rowling to Shakespeare, from clever children’s songs to Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky, and Beethoven (just for starters) because these things had become a currency we both traded in. Indeed, in recent years, we spent countless hours, especially late at night, listening to music together and talking about the relative merits of one recording versus another, or the stylistic hallmarks of a particular musician, or just the music itself.

Just before he embarked on a two-year service effort that will separate us until he gets back, the two of us drove in to the Hollywood Bowl one night to watch Dudamel conduct the L.A. Phil performing Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto, with the stunning Yuja Wang on the piano. There we were, my son and I, side by side on one of those immortal (read “stiff”) wooden benches, my son leaning forward, his elbows resting on his knees while he listened so attentively he seemed momentarily frozen. I kept the ticket stub, and I actually pull it out every once in a while so I can take myself back to that classic outdoor evening and the young man who shared it with me.

Whatever your gifts, invite your son to practice them alongside you, in whatever way he’ll agree to.  If you make things grow, have him help you plant a fruit tree.  If you throw pots, have him sit and get his hands wet and messy as he styles his own.  If you’re the world’s gutsiest woman base jumper, ask him to film you leaping from whichever building happens to be the world’s tallest at the moment.  Even if he’s afraid of heights, he can stay below and zoom in as you’re rocketing toward the ground.

Sometimes I wish I could visit my younger self and tell her this: keep talking books, keep reading them aloud, and keep that music going, all kinds of it, until the house and everyone in it fairly vibrates with wonder. “Do that,” I’d instruct the younger me, “and you’ll keep your son close, no matter how the teen years buffet you.”

There are many ways to love a teenage son.  I know this one.  And I have total faith that when we create intersections, our sons will step into them again and again because we’ve shown them where to come.

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I love what I call  ‘meta’ moments.  Last Friday night was one.  The kids and I attended a performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, the thunderous Ode to Joy, an experience that was likewise so joyful it demanded to be recorded.  Here, then, is my ode to the Ode, in five movements.

I.  Allegro.  My four kids pile into the car with me, and we head to Orange Country’s Segerstrom Center for the Arts, where the Pacific Symphony and Chorale will perform Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125.  Sorry, Justin Bieber:  hard to believe, I know, but my kids prefer the musical stylings of the dead guy. 

II.  Molto vivace.  My boys are sitting three rows up, right in the center.  I wonder how the younger one will fare.   

I keep staring over at the older one, who is rapt, as absorbed as anyone in the hall.  He has been salivating for weeks in anticipation of this. 

III.  Adagio molto e cantabile.  My younger son, nowhere to be seen, has no doubt fallen asleep in his brother’s lap.  No matter.  This movement works just as well in a dream.  My younger daughter, in a musically induced trance, stares straight ahead.  For the last forty-five minutes, she has scarcely moved.


My older daughter has laid her head on my shoulder and closed her eyes.  Up since 5 am, she has been trying to stay awake, too.  She must have entered her brother’s dream, where the music holds sway.  

IV.  Presto, allegro assai.  Here it comes.  I absorb.  And marvel.  And keep thinking, How cool, that from Beethoven’s mind to ours, the connection still holds.  From one mind . . . to many, the music seeks a new home.  And then, the explosive final measures, and everyone’s on their feet, for a full ten minutes, at least, while the cheers echo through the hall.

V.  Presto–recitativo.  Afterward, my kids pose for pictures, though the youngest, still more than half asleep, has trouble finding his smile. 


Date night with the fam.  Not a bad gig.

According to my kids’ voice teacher, the definitive recording of the 9th Symphony is the one with George Szell conducting the Cleveland Orchestra.  Go to Spotify to hear it!

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