My piano was given a fatal diagnosis this morning when the tuner confirmed fixing it was hopeless.
I tried to hold my back my tears as he explained that in the 1950s, when my piano was made, the oil-based plastic parts they used instead of wood joints were actually considered space-age and thought to last a lifetime. Unfortunately, we now know they actually don’t last a lifetime. And my piano is proof.
After the tuner left, my heart broke and I mourned my piano as it still sat in pieces in my office.
Then I wrote a letter to the family members who so thoughtfully arranged the tuning as a birthday present for a milestone. I turned 40 about a month ago.
Forty has always been a milestone year for me, not because of the number, but rather for what it represents in my life. For 20 years now, I’ve been a mother first. And in a matter of months, my youngest will begin driving signaling the end of a my taxi-service phase. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but the time I will regain, the freedom this milestone grants, marks the beginning of a phase in life in which I am something else first.
Of course I’ll still be a mother, but the days of scheduling my life around that priority have already begun to slip by. I already can join friends for happy hour after work without having to bring a child along or worry about daycare pick up times. I can hang out with adults instead of children, eat meals that don’t consist of ranch dip and fried foods, and talk about things that adults talk about. I’ve decided to get serious about dating. And last month I spent almost the entire month traveling…partly for pleasure and partly for work.
It was during this month of travel that I actually found myself. It sounds so cliche, I know. I hadn’t thought I was lost. But with such a long stretch of non-parental duty, I discovered that I’m not at all who I thought I was. And maybe who I’ll be next won’t be such a terrifying transition.
Gentle Penguin, I have to tell you that I discovered I’m actually quite a bad-ass. Not bad, nor an ass, but bad-ass. I was fearless in hiking mountains and scaling rocks and exploring secluded wildernesses on my own—and was able to do so safely and agilely. I was firm but respectful in standing up for myself and others when confronted with rudeness and injustice—and people found it charming. I was daring, dancing in the spotlight with a stranger at a community party in a remote village where I was a guest—and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
I discovered that people relied on and highly valued my insight, my observations, and even my intuition. That I have an outstanding sense of direction, and it isn’t a fluke that every time I go somewhere new, people ask me for directions—not because of my sense of direction, but because I smile at people and make eye contact.
I sometimes spoke up to four foreign languages in a day—not well, but appreciated and exciting all the same for me and the people with whom we were trying to understand. In addition, I deactivated my Facebook in mid-September (and haven’t missed it yet); spent an entire evening learning the constellations using only the night sky and a planisphere; flirted with foreign men; was taught to forage by a 92-year-old woman; and lived the way the healthiest people on the planet live with the healthiest people on the planet instead of just reading about it.
The best part is that upon returning home to parent duty, my bad-assness has only grown, much to my daughters’ delight, and my own. No longer apologetic or fearful, I’m embracing the milestone and the transition.
Which brings me back to my Philadelphia & Lester mahogany spinet piano and the appreciation letter to my thoughtful and generous relatives. You see, the tuner was also bad-ass—not bad, nor an ass. And I wanted my family to know.
Actually, the tuner described himself as “a rich man” because he has been able to spend his entire life working in music. He says that building a lifestyle around his love of music has kept other expensive things from distracting him, so he doesn’t have to work for money, but rather for the love of the piano and pianists, which–in turn–gives him freedom to make choices that enrich his life more than money ever could.
What would enrich my life more than money? A new piano. So with my tears dried and two of my family members along for the adventure, I headed to the used piano section of our local piano shop.
I must have played two dozen different pianos. Spinets, uprights, consoles in pine, oak, and mahogany. Some sounded bright. Some were tinny. Some sounded sad. My fingers and ears told me which ones were right for me, and which ones weren’t. And in the end, I fell in love with another mahogany piano.
It’ll be delivered on Tuesday, and my Lester will be hauled away to the dump. Another transition. And one that I can’t help equating to the toughest transition I’ve ever made—my divorce. My Lester was the first thing I bought with my first bonus check the year I graduated from college. It was the first and only thing that has really ever been mine. And when I got divorced, I gave up sleeping and eating to just play.
With a new piano, no sticking keys, no out-of-tune melodies and free time on my hands (literally), I imagine this will be a similar experience in which I return to a joy I’ve known since early childhood. You see, I’ve been playing piano longer than I’ve done pretty much anything else in my life, even longer than being a mother.
The nice thing about that is it means–in this transition or any other–I’m still me too.