In May, I bid "auf Wiedersehen" to our son and to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's "Piano Concerto No. 17, Allegro." Both goodbyes were long in coming, bittersweet and oh so right.
I set a goal of mastering a difficult Mozart concerto movement last year, about the same time our son bravely left his desk job in Bellevue in search of more satisfying work. At his request and our OK, he had been living with us for a time in order to shore up his financial reserves. We all considered it temporary; none of us anticipated unemployment when his planned next step fell through.
In the blink of an eye, we were no longer a predictable, routine-laden household — piano practice, volunteer work, cycling, track coaching, our son’s daily commute to Bellevue. The future was uncertain. The mundane “Who’s gonna be here for dinner tonight? How much chicken should I thaw?” evolved to the expectant “How’s the job search going?” and “How can we help?”
During those challenging fall and winter months, two things were especially hard: finding the right balance between being supportive while clarifying expectations; and not knowing the outcome and when it would decide to show up.
But show up it did,in late March with an opportunity he had cultivated and closed.
Our son headed off in mid-May, pick-up truck stuffed, for his new position as a research botanist in Nevada’s Great Basin Institute, a collaboration of the U.S. Forest Service and AmeriCorps. His goal was to return to field work where he could apply his environmental sciences degree. He pulled it off.
I am so proud of him and I miss him each day.
And I am relieved. I won’t miss the anxiety of those months.
Oh, and the concerto? I’m relieved about that, too. I made all my rehearsals, but let go the May 22 public performance. I can play it another time. We don’t have endless chances with our children, no matter their age.
Learning music — especially challenging classical repertoire — takes time. Lots of it. You breathe it, sleep it, and think it 24 hours a day. When your childen venture out into the world, relocating in search of their dreams, you want to be there — really be there — for them: listening, helping when asked and knowing when to back off. This, too, takes time, and your physical and emotional energy. The truth is that I couldn’t do both at the same time, each reaching a crescendo in the same week.
The other truth is that I underestimated, even with almost a year of practice, what it would take to prepare this magnificent piece of music. Under the best of circumstances, I might have been barely ready to play it publicly with a 20-piece, and very forgiving, chamber orchestra.
Our family’s unexpected, but welcome, transition changed the equation. I simply could not ignore one variable: my primal, maternal instincts. Something had to give. And so, I decided. Disappointed? Sure. Regrets? None.
I waved our son off that May afternoon as he pulled out of our driveway. Earlier, I hugged him, blessed him, spoke my love. On Mother’s Day, he wrote these words to me: “Through times that have been tough, you’ve been supportive even when I am not at my best. When good news comes in you’re one of the first people I tell, because I enjoy seeing the genuine happiness it brings you. Thanks … for being there.”
I’ll take those words over a concerto performance any day.
Sorry, Wolfie. “Auf Wiedersehen” means until we see each other again. For now, you’ll have to wait. But you had children, too.
Taskmaster though you were, I think you’d understand.
Maggie McGuire of University Place is a former News Tribune reader columnist.