When Things Aren’t Hard Anymore

Today I want to talk about something I am going to call the “success delay.” I don’t know if that’s a real thing, since I just made it up, but is rings true for me anyway. I’m referring to the period of lag time that exists between the moment that things are no longer difficult, and the moment that this fact catches up to you. Because I can tell you right now that I am perfectly able to treat something as very hard, even when it has become much easier. Success delay.

This weekend I sang a couple of Bach cantatas with the Middlebury Bach Festival. I had a long and difficult aria prepared, as well as a page of recit. I’d put my time in learning the notes and trying to get the expression just right, and I felt pretty confident that I would get through the pieces without any major catastrophes. When I arrived for the the first rehearsal I sang through all of my stuff with the instrumentalists, and went to say “see you tomorrow” to the conductor, who laughed and said “Well, you still have the quartet!”

I laughed back and said “Ha ha! Of course! The quartet! I certainly knew about that!” and then rushed backstage to scour my music for any signs of a quartet. There was no quartet. I searched my backlog of e-mails and communications for any mention of a quartet. I had lists of tempos, rehearsal schedules with my name clearly marked next to my pieces, and many other clues that made no mention of a quartet. I read it all again. And then again. Nothing. Nowhere did I see any sign of a quartet I was supposed to be singing. Finally I found one of the other soloists and asked about it. “Yeah,” she said, “didn’t you see the sticky note?”

The other three soloists had gotten a sticky note on their score informing them that the student choir was not going to be singing half of one of the major choruses, and that we soloists would be doing it instead. I did not have any sticky note. Perhaps it had fallen off? Maybe it was stuck to the inside of the envelope the music had come to me in? Regardless, the concert was in 28 hours and I was about to sight read a Bach cantata. I had 20 minutes before we rehearsed it. I was terrified.

Here’s the thing: not to toot my own horn, but I am an excellent musician. I can sight read like a, um, well, what’s something that’s really good at sight reading? I don’t know. I guess I am something that is really good at sight reading. I pulled out my phone, opened the piano app, and started learning notes. I grabbed a video from YouTube to get a sense of tempo (way too fastissimo), and I finally grabbed the other soloists and pulled them into a practice room where we ran the number  a few times before I had to walk out on stage and sing it for the conductor. And do you know what? It wasn’t a problem.

Why do I not instinctively know what I can do? Why do I see something that would have once been nigh-impossible and fail to see that, yeah, I got that? Why is my confidence level stuck in college? Wouldn’t it be nice for me and my stress levels to walk into a situation like that and know that, yes the circumstances were less than ideal, but I would be fine and capable? Sight reading Bach in 20 minutes would have been very hard for me once, but it isn’t hard anymore. And I just can’t seem to internalize that.

Now you may think that this is a music post, but I tricked you; it’s really a parenting post. I came home from that concert, having been praised for my excellent preparation (heh), thinking about how to change my point of view when things aren’t hard anymore. And then I walked into my house and looked at my children. (editor’s note: my children were asleep when I got home, so I actually looked at them the next day) We all had had a very rough fall. Edward was on a lot of medication that caused a lot of bad behavior. Now things are easier, and yet I still find myself in my instinctive go-to position of expecting the worst. I am just waiting for something to go wrong. He can behave himself all day long, but one wrong move from him and I’m right back in “I can’t deal with this anymore” mode. I react as though he has been naughty all day long, rather than all minute long. And it’s bad for him, and it’s bad for me.

I know he can tell how upset I am. I know that the more upset I get, the worse he behaves. I know that I need to calm down and relax and acknowledge that things aren’t as bad as I think they are sometimes. But it’s hard. It’s hard to hear him say “I have a headache” without reaching for the neurologist on my speed dial. It’s hard to see him trip over something without trying to run over and roll him on his side. And it’s hard to see him whack his sister without overreacting, just because he spent so many days whacking at her for hours on his old medication. He’s not always out of control. Sometimes it’s a one-off. I was kid. I get it. Sometimes you whack your sister. But I need to be able to let him know that this was a bad choice without bracing myself for a hurricane. The storm is not coming. The storm has, for the moment, passed. Now there are just the rain clouds, which remind me of the storm.

I think the answer to my problem is to be aware. I think writing this helps me. I think thinking about it helps me. I think telling myself over and over again that things aren’t as hard as I think they are helps me. So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to write, and think, and pray, and read, and reflect, and I’m going to try and minimize the success delay. Because there have been successes, and it would be nice to start building on them sooner, rather than years later when I finally notice them.

Posted in Edward, Music, Parenting, Singing.

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