I love both of my sons, and I’m extremely proud of each, but tonight I had a “moment” with my younger son. “Moments” are few and far between now that he is a teenager.
My son Michael is a very quirky child. For the first years of his life, he was MINE. His father was always busy doing church things or football things, not bad things, good things, but things. And Michael and I spent a lot of time together.
I won’t call him a Mama’s boy. I will confess he was a Pa’s boy because when I couldn’t be with him, he spent days at my parents’ house while I was teaching. My father was retired then. He was still working when Josh was a pre-schooler. Josh was Granny’s boy.
He and Pa worked in the shop out back where my dad turned up the radio and stored all the baseball and basketball equipment. Michael drew signs and posted them. He’d work for a dollar, the sign read. I don’t know what he thought he’d make in the shop, but it was his shop and Pa’s. It took me a long, long time to go in that shop after I lost my father. It’s very, very special.
Michael never was an easy child. He was never a bad child, but he was a busy child. No, I never had him tested for a label, but he was always moving. Before he was born, he moved. After he was born, he wouldn’t sleep. I finally had to let him sleep with me just so I could get some sleep.
But even then, he was always moving. I slept in a big bed, and though I placed pillows as a barrier, Michael, as a tiny baby, rolled out of bed almost every night. I was alarmed the first dozen times, and finally I just threw him back in and caught what few winks I could get.
When I took him to have his picture made at Walmart, I made Josh come along too. Brothers, you know. The lady photographer gave Michael, who was about two at the time, a ball to hold. As soon as she prepared to snap the shot, Michael threw the ball at her. It was funny at first. Not so much the next 15 times. Josh cried. I almost cried. I think the lady photographer cried. Not Michael. He was grinning with a gleam in his eye.
Michael also took to throwing his pacifier. His prime target? My father as he slept on the couch. Michael would stand in his playpen and aim for my dad and catch him—boom, between the eyes every time.
To my dad, Michael was his playmate. My dad bought him a Looney Tunes toy guitar, and he videotaped Michael singing nonsensical lyrics and dancing a jig while strumming the guitar. The video is still around somewhere. He bought Michael a toy microphone that amplified his voice. He played the French harp, and Michael danced and sang.
And boy did he dance—on the baseball field, on the soccer field, on the football field, on the basketball court. He had rhythm and knew how to use it. There is a rhythm to sports, you know. And because Michael was for years in the 1 percentile of his age group in terms of height and weight, he had to work extra hard to compete with his peers.
When he was four, he was so tiny that the monster players on the rec league basketball team were in shock when Michael sneaked under their noses and stole their ball. He hung on to it too like a Chihuahua verses a pitbull vying for a rawhide bone. And on the baseball field at the short stop position, Michael danced to a beat no one else could hear. He didn’t realize it himself, but my dad and I sat in the bleachers and laughed. Those were special times, watching Michael be Michael.
And Michael had this extremely odd fascination with numbers when he was a baby. He was very, very slow to talk and didn’t until he was well past two. I worried that he had a hearing problem, and one of his doctors suggested he might because his ear drum wasn’t vibrating as it should.
His first word was ball, but his first verbal game was Show Me the Number. Before he could talk he knew his numbers, so when we were out and about I kept him busy by asking him to find a certain number on the sales sign on clothing racks. Later, I made up simple algebraic equations for him to solve. He begged me over and over and over for another one. I thought it was a good sign, his interest in math. But, not so much now. Math became difficult for him. I always thought good math students were inclined to be the best musicians. I hoped he would love math. Not so much.
And I hoped the Bell—Hanson music gene had been passed down to him.
Although the Bell cousins don’t get together as often as we used to as children, we ALL have this music gene. All of us. I think we all have guitars. Some of us have pianos. And we write. And we draw and paint. That’s who we are. All of us. I used to think I had “the gift.” Now I realize I am not unique. We all have “the gift,” and others in my family are much better than I.
Josh and I took piano together when he was in elementary school, and later on he played trumpet in the junior high band. While in high school, he picked up the guitar and could play some decent chords. He makes films now. He’s still an artist and works with music and musicians. He has the music in him too.
Michael, however, has his own rhythm. I can feel it.
One day it hit me that he needed to at least TRY playing drums, so off to find a teacher we went. Not surprisingly, he is decent teen drummer today. He is not the best. He is not the worst. He does not practice as he should.
But tonight Michael and I had “a moment.” After his regular drum lessons, Michael saw a keyboard, and being the monkey that he is, he had to touch it. Then he had to make noises on it. LOUD NOISES. And he had to make fun of some of the songs programmed on it. He laughed at the music, but I saw the look on his face. I understood it because I had that look once. He couldn’t NOT touch the keyboard.
Most people wouldn’t catch that look, but I saw the light bulb go off in his head. The connection had been made. The keyboard intrigued him, and it was déjà vu all over again, just like the times when he could be couldn’t stand still while playing short stop. He had to dance, this time in his mind, and his thoughts whirled with the possibilities of what a keyboard player could do in a band.
And although he is a conundrum, loving attention and hiding from it at the same time, the keyboard held a magnetic attraction for him.
And as soon as we walked in the door to our house, we sat down at my piano, and he attacked the keys in a middle-school “I don’t want to look dumb by accident so I’ll act stupid on purpose” fashion. But he settled long enough for me to show him how to play a simple C scale, how to make chords, how to improvise a song.
And within minutes he could name the notes, play several chords, and slip his thumb under his finger so that he could play all eight notes in the scale fluidly. And we sat there TOGETHER playing for a long time.
And he never complained. And he started composing his own melodies. And he smiled. And we laughed. And it felt like he was MY BOY again before he became my teenager.
The moment became “a special moment” because it made me think of Father’s Day 2011. On this day my dad asked me to play guitar while he played the French Harp. I played all the songs he remembered me playing when I was a little girl. A little Jimmie Rodgers and my signature “Under the Double Eagle,” which I have to play at every Bell shindig. There is music at every Bell shindig.
But that day, for my dad, we had “a moment.” It was our last Father’s Day.
It’s been a long time since I’ve shared “a moment” with anyone. It’s hard to get up each day. The chorus keeps repeating, and I can’t change verses despite how hard as I try. Often I feel as though people I care about give up on me because I’ve given up on me.
But tonight my “moment” with Michael gave me one more reason to turn the page to Thursday.
WORDS OF WISDOM
“I held a moment in my hand, brilliant as a star, fragile as a flower, a tiny sliver of one hour. I dripped it carelessly, Ah! I didn’t know, I held opportunity.” ~ Hazel Lee
I can’t walk through life facing backwards / I have tried / I tried more than once to just make sure / And I was denied the future I’d been searching for / But I spun around and hurt no more / By living in the moment / Living my life / Easy and breezy / With peace in my mind / I got peace in my heart / Got peace in my soul / Wherever I’m going, I’m already home ~ Jason Mraz, “Living in the Moment”
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