The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

“Love you, Daddy.” My 12-year-old daughter, Jessie, slammed the car door and off to school she went, toting her book bag, lunchbox, and clarinet. I drove out of the school parking lot happy.

Each day, parents experience numerous joys and challenges. In my 12 years as a stay-at-home dad, I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly.

“Love you, Daddy” provides a perfect example of the good. I never get tired of hearing those words.

We experienced the bad earlier this year when Jessie had pneumonia. Any time Jessie is crying is also bad, which happened a good bit this year because my wife, Mattie, took a new job in another state and Jessie had to leave her friends.

Then there’s the ugly – Jessie learning to play the clarinet fits that bill.

Early in August, Mattie and I registered Jessie for 6th grade. The middle school receptionist handed us a course selection form and said to number the electives in order of our preference. Jessie wanted to take Drama I. Since she already excels in “daily drama,” I didn’t see the need for this course. In fact, I think she could teach it. However, Mattie and I approved Jessie selecting it number one on her list of electives.

With Jessie’s first preferred elective checked off, we went through the rest of the options. Robotics, no problem. Art, great idea. Beginning Band? Mattie wanted Jessie to learn to read music and play an instrument. Jessie had no interest in taking Beginning Band. I could have gone either way. It’s amazing how three people in the same family can think so differently.

Sadly for Jessie, she didn’t get into Drama I, her top choice. Beginning Band, however, would be her first class each day.

Little did I realize, things would only get more complicated when the band teacher invited parents to his classroom to discuss instrument options. The band director felt that Jessie’s mouth shape made the clarinet a good choice for her. That worked fine for me. I just didn’t want Jessie beating away on drums or clanging cymbals. Mattie envisioned her daughter playing the flute. Jessie didn’t care. We watched online videos of both instruments. Although the flute makes beautiful sounds in the hands of a skilled musician, videos of students making high-pitched squeals on the flute convinced us to choose the clarinet.

Next, Jessie had to learn to play it. I’ve helped Jessie with her homework throughout her school years, but never before have I had to wear earplugs. As it turns out, the clarinet can also make high-pitched squealing sounds.

We had just moved into an apartment and I didn’t want to force our neighbors, or our dog, to listen to clarinet practice. So I took Jessie, along with my earplugs, to our pickup truck to complete her band homework.

The first week, Jessie blew into the mouthpiece, attached only to the barrel (not the rest of the clarinet), for as long as she could – 5, 7, 10 seconds and more, emitting a loud unpleasant sound. I sat beside her in the truck, timing her as she repeated this exercise to improve her lung capacity and mouth position. I doubted that Jessie needed practice for her lung capacity as she can speak paragraphs without taking a breath. As Jessie practiced, I squinted my eyes, cupped my hands over my plugged ears … and thought about the advantages of Drama I.

Speed ahead to the winter concert. A proud dad, not wearing earplugs, sat in the school auditorium. The band director, with his little white baton, led the class of more than 100 students in an impressive performance. Four months earlier, most of them couldn’t even name their instruments.

This leads me to two key takeaways. First, I need to get myself one of those little white batons. They apparently convey special powers to get kids to obey instructions. Second, something might start out bad or ugly, but not stay that way. Jessie recovered from her pneumonia and loves living in her new home state. There were times I thought about hiding Jessie’s clarinet. However, just by hanging on, and sometimes inserting earplugs, the clarinet turned out to be good, too.

Until next month, remember to cherish the moments … and take out the earplugs to hear “I love you.”

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