Monday, February 27, 2012

The seven circles of hell, or, why you should never, ever say "Bring it on!"

Let's recap.

Ian had croup.

Then I got mastitis.

Then Ian and Max got RSV.

Then I got a UTI, which required an incredibly humiliating visit to the ob/gyn with all four of my children on Valentine's Day. (There will be a post coming about this visit later. Wait for it. It will be good.)

Monday and Tuesday of last week, Ian got the stomach flu. We narrowly escaped a visit to the ER for rehydration, but I did not escape being barfed on over and over again. Neither did our poor bedsheets. Monday afternoon, I bummed some Zofran off a friend for my poor sick baby and burst into tears when she brought it over.

"Thank you," I cried, "I can't handle another doctor visit this week, I just can't."

Enter Thursday morning. I had just gotten Max dressed and walked into my room when I heard an ominous crash followed by a scream. Both my boys have an unfortuate penchant towards climbing. Well, it's not the climbing that's unfortunate. It's the falling.

There was much blood, and many tears, and a definite realization that stitches were needed. Awesome.

Luckily, my pediatrician can do stitches in office, so I met Tom at the office, where we experienced Max's continued fear of all things medical, and learned that it would take four full grown adults to hold him down so he could get three stitches in his forehead. It was truly miserable for all involved. Luckily, a quick stop for ice cream managed to win his affection back, and by the time we got home, he was acting as if nothing had ever happened.

I congratulated myself. On Monday, I didn't think I was going to be able to cope with another doctor visit, and on Thursday morning we survived stitches. I was pretty proud of myself. "Bring it on, Universe," I jokingly bragged to a friend, "What else do you have? I can take it!"

Yup, I was feeling pretty smug. That was until midway through my first violin lesson of the afternoon, when my girls thundered down the stairs to announce that Max had thrown up everywhere. They weren't exaggerating. To spare you the grossness, let's just say that by the time I was done teaching, the carpets on two floors needed to be cleaned, seven towels, one blanket and three outfits of Max's needed to be washed, and two older siblings were incredibly grossed out.

The best part was when the pediatrician's office called to check on us, and upon hearing that he was throwing up, directed us to go directly to Primary Children's for a CT. You see, protocol for vomiting following a head injury is immediate examination at the ER. It took a while for me to convince them that yes, I was certain he just had the stomach flu, and no he wasn't slurring his words or falling down for no reason, and no, I didn't need to drive to Salt Lake, spend hours in the ER and thousands of dollars to be told he had the stomach flu.

So I begged my husband to bring home a carpet cleaner, we got some pizza and donuts and went to work. Two hours later, the carpets were clean, Max was asleep, and Abby was barfing.

Ian, however, was wide awake and thrilled to be able to participate in the carpet cleaning.

I went to sleep with my stomach turning, willing myself not to be sick until Friday night, after my students' masterclass. It didn't work. 3am found me in the shower, and my dear sweet husband scrubbing the floor, cleaning up after me. At 7 am, it was his turn. We spent the next few hours laying in bed, sipping Sprite, moaning, cancelling my masterclass, and begging the girls to fetch this or that. The kids spent the whole day watching cartoons, a wonderful dear neighbor brought us soup for dinner, and we spent Saturday digging ourselves out from under approximately 67 loads of laundry and the wreckage that inevitably results from leaving four kids to fend for themselves all day.

So what have we learned from this whole experience? It will be a long time before we order pizza again, it's wonderful when your kids are old enough to understand the concept of a barf bucket, and that I should never, ever challenge the universe to bring it on.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

February Funk

It happens every year.

I should just count on it.

Even though we've had much less snow that usual this year, it still feels like it's been a long, long winter. I'm tired of the wet and the cold, sick to death of boots, coats and mittens, and at the end of my rope with illnesses of every variety.

The baby caught a brutal stomach bug two days ago, and I've been barfed on more times in the past 48 hours than I would care to count. I am slowly digging myself out of the mountain of laundry that the stomach flu inevitably produces, and crossing my fingers and hoping against hope that this isn't one of those contagious stomach bugs that will spread through every member of the family. (Yeah, right!)

I'm ready for spring. I'm ready for walks outside, afternoons at the park basking in the sun while my kids run wild. My poor little boys are so incredibly sick of being trapped inside, and I'm not sure how much more of Max jumping off the couch while yelling "To Infinity and Beyond!" I can handle.

So here's to tulips, seventy degrees, and sunshine. And to chocolate, caffeine, clean sheets, episodes of "Sesame Street" in the afternoon, and only one week left in February.

Friday, February 10, 2012

It's like we've won the lottery


Breathing treatments.

The pediatrician predicted Ian would fever for 2 more days, cough his face off for 4-5 days, and continue to hack away like a smoker for 2-3 weeks after that.

Yee haw.

I should have gone to med school.
Max was thrilled to make another doctor visit this week.
And obviously, he was just as thrilled about the unavoidable trip to the music store this afternoon. (Did I mention that he's had a fever for two days straight too, and it seems to have caught up with him this ? It did, however, make it oh so much easier to audition violins!)
And this is some random coworker of Tom's who gets to be included on my blog because this picture of him falling asleep at work showed up in my photo stream. The end.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A week of firsts

We've had our share of stupid medical issues. Some trivial, some not so trivial, and everything in between.
But when my baby started barking like a seal on Sunday night, I knew we were in for something different. Monday morning at the doctor brought a diagnosis of croup and a dose of steroids for Ian. Before Ian came along, we had never really done respiratory illnesses. So I figured one case of croup after 10 1/2 years of parenting wasn't too bad.

Then Tuesday night hit. Tom had taken the girls to a 6:00 basketball game. By 6:15, I realized I wasn't feeling very good. By 6:45, I was under a layer of blankets with my teeth chattering. By 7:10, when my husband came home, I was shaking and bawling, begging him to bring me more blankets. I laid there under four huge blankets and a heating pad, still freezing, thinking for sure that it was a vicious flu bug.

Turns out mastitis can mimic the flu quite well. And after 6 1/2 cumulative years of breastfeeding, it's another first I could do without. I haven't been this sick in a long time, and it's extra sucky to have the sick baby wanting to nurse from a breast that's hard as a rock and fiery red.

As for Ian, he's been running a fever constantly since Monday, cranky as can be, and was coughing so hard last night that we took turns puking. I was kind enough not to puke on him, he did not extend me the same courtesy. And just because Max is feeling left out, he's barking like a dog tonight too. I expect all three of us will be seeing our good friends the pediatricians tomorrow morning.

You know it's an extra special week when your budget for copays is larger than your budget for groceries.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

An open letter to my teenage Suzuki Violin students

"Talent is no accident of birth. In today’s society a good many people seem to have the idea that if one is born without talent, there is nothing he can do about it; they simply resign themselves to what they consider to be their fate.”
Shinichi Suzuki

Dear Students:

Did you know I love my job? I feel so fortunate to be able to interact with each of you every week and to be a part of your lives. It's so gratifying to watch you grow and develop, not just musically, but personally as well. One of my favorite parts about my job is to getting to know the personalities of each of my students, and I feel it is a gift each time a student shares a piece of who they are with me.

As a group, you are amazing. You run cross country, travel with the soccer team, star in plays, sing, dance, play basketball, teach piano lessons, take multiple AP classes, play football and take trips with the debate squad. You work so hard at so many things.

And the violin? It's hard too. So hard. I know you might see me as just another adult who bugs you about something you should be doing, but I promise you, I've shed my share of tears over my stupid violin.  Here's the thing: I didn't start playing violin until I was twelve. My parents got me violin lessons from the closest teacher they could find, who charged a whopping $32 a month, and told me that if I practiced all summer I'd be good enough to start in the advanced orchestra in seventh grade. My parents frequently made me practice outside on the patio so they didn't have to hear me, (true story!) and my violin teacher gave me more of an education in female anatomy and reproductive problems than she did on the violin. (At one point, she was telling my 12 year old self various horror stories from the gynecologist, and warned me, "You'll remember me when you are sitting in the stirrups for your first pap smear." Unfortunately, she was right.) I still chuckle remembering my first lesson in vibrato from her: "Just put your finger on the string and wiggle it back and forth. That's all there is to it." You, as my students, should all get a good laugh out of that.

I was never a Suzuki whiz-kid. I spent my high school and college years comparing myself to those that started violin much, much younger than I did, and wishing that I would have had the opportunities that they did. Instead of playing Mozart Concertos at the age of 12, I was learning my open string notes, making the neighbors' dogs howl in the process. 

I want you to know that the violin didn't come easy for me. Every time I started a new orchestra, whether in junior high, high school or even college, I shed more than a few tears because I didn't feel good enough. After my first orchestra rehearsal in college, I went back to my dorm overwhelmed and cried for a good long time, because I was sure that I picked the wrong major and I'd never make it as a violinist. One year in college I had a particularly difficult teacher, and I routinely set aside time to sit in my car after violin lessons and sob for a while before I drove home. 

This instrument we play is hard. There's no doubt about it. I'm sure you've all had times where you've wanted to smash your violin against the wall in frustration; trust me, I have too. But, you should all be proud of the progress you've made. By the time you get through Book 4, you've mastered some of the hardest things the violin can dish out. You've been able to play in recitals, in church, and probably have gotten a lot of recognition for your playing.  But one thing I can't emphasize to you enough as a teacher is that there's life after Suzuki Book 4!

As you get further along in your violin studies, things are only going to get harder. But here's the thing: they also get better. More exciting, more beautiful. Your abilities will increase and you'll enjoy playing more. The problem is, the work you'll have to put in will have to increase if you want to get there.  We're in the business of training muscles, and while our brains might be smart, our muscles are dumb. It takes many, many, many repetitions for our muscles to get the message on how to play a passage exactly the way we want them to. 

Unfortunately, playing the violin isn't like cramming for a math test. you can't practice 90 minutes the day of a lesson or the night before the recital and expect to have great results. The best results come from consistent, diligent practice. The famous violinist Jascha Heifetz is quoted as saying "If I don't practice one day, I know it; two days, the critics know it; three days, the public knows it." I've found that to be true in so many ways. I can practice fabulously and make great progress one day, but if I wait three more days before practicing again, not only is all the progress I made three days before lost, but I'm worse off than when I started.  The detail work takes time, lots of it. Focused, consistent time.

I want you to be successful, and I recognize that successful means different things to different people. I don't expect everyone to be a concert violinist. If your goal is to be able to play in church and have people enjoy your performance, I'll help you with that. If you want to be able to play in a community orchestra and maybe teach someday, I'll help you with that. If your goal is get a college scholarship someday, then that's what we'll work towards. The only thing that I ask is that you're continually working to achieve your goals, whatever they are, and putting in the time necessary to help you along that path. I know you're busy, trust me. But if soccer, basketball, drama and everything else always takes priority over your violin, then your progress will be very slow. There's no way around that.

 I would do you a great disservice if I wasn't honest with you in lessons. If we're still putting notes and bowings together six weeks before a major recital and we've been working on this same piece for six months, I'm going to tell you that you're not practicing enough. I'm going to respect you enough to encourage you to step up your practicing and be more diligent about preparing. I'm going to do everything I can to motivate you, but once you reach teenager-hood, you're the only one who can decide when, how much, and how well you're going to practice. What I want you to remember is this: just because I tell you the way it is, and maybe telling you that you're not practicing enough, it doesn't mean that I love you any less. On the contrary, I'm pushing you because I know you can do better, and I want you to succeed.

Trust me, I know it's easy to look at those kids who look like they're barely old enough to be potty trained that are playing pieces you can only dream about, and decide that they're just naturally talented and that you'll never get there. But here's the thing I've learned after years of practicing, performing and teaching: talent matters very little. There are a ton of naturally talented violinists out there that never made it anywhere because they depended on their talent to carry them. There's no shortcut on the violin unfortunately. Hard work is where it's at. Everyone has to work at the violin, no matter how "naturally talented" they may be. The very first course Suzuki Teachers take, before any instrument specific training is called "Every Child Can," a course that drills into our heads over and over that talent isn't inborn, talent is developed through discipline, hard work, and a nurturing environment. Don't discount the value of consistent, focused practicing. Just like being good on the soccer field requires more than showing up for games, playing well in a recital is going to require hour, days, weeks months, and years of preparation that no one sees. Repetition, scales and drills aren't nearly as glamorous as standing on the stage performing, but you won't get there if you're not willing to put in the effort, the time, the sweat, and yes, the tears.

I'm so glad we're in this together. There is nothing more satisfying as a teacher than to see a student's progress and watch them succeed. I'm going to do everything in my power to help you in your journey.The only thing that I ask is that you're willing to put in the work to get yourself there. It'll be worth it, I promise.

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