Conversations these days with my 15-year-old daughter go something like this:
Abby (getting out of the car): “Can you write me a note? I’m going to be late for class.”
Me: “You’re not going to be late. Just be quick.”
“I won’t make it.”
“You’ll make it.”
“No, I won’t. I need a note.”
“In the time it takes me to write the note, you could get to class.”
“I’m not going to make it. I need a note.”
“What should it say? ‘Abby is late for class because she’s late for class’?”
And so on.
Abby and I get under each other’s skin these days – the sneering, the glares, the sarcasm, the outbursts and eye rolls. And Abby’s pretty ornery too.
I like to think it’s just a phase, that someday soon we’ll go back to the days when the sound of my breathing didn’t infuriate her and I didn’t lose my mind because she’s watching back-to-back seasons of “Friends” for, what is this, the fifth time?
So when Abby asked me to accompany her on piano for her school’s talent show, I thought only one thing: Don’t screw this up.
Imagine coming upon a deer in the forest and, not wanting to scare it off, you just stand there very quietly, no sudden moves. Now imagine that deer wanting to sing “Sandcastles” by Beyoncé.
Originally, Abby was going to both sing and play and asked me to teach her the piano part. “You only have a couple of weeks to learn it. Why don’t you ask the Music teacher to accompany you? Or I could play it.”
Hello, little deer.
She said she’d ask the Music teacher.
Some days later, Abby approached me and asked if I would play.
“Sure,” I said, all cool like, but inside I was like Sally Fields receiving an Oscar. “You like me! You really like me!” I asked her mother if she put her up to it. She swears she didn’t.
My piano skills are rudimentary, but this song was right up my alley: left hand octaves and simple chords on the right hand, nothing but whole and half notes. But we would be performing in front of the entire school. I did not want to screw this up, not because I would embarrass myself but because my daughter who barely spoke to me would never speak to me again.
I practiced every day. I listened to Beyoncé’s version. There were backup singers on the repeated verse. Could I be a backup singer? A few oohs and aahs? How hard could it be?
Don’t. Screw. This. Up.
“Abby,” I said in the evening. “Do you want to practice?”
“I’m too tired.”
“Abby,” I said the following evening. “Do you want to practice?”
“On the weekend.”
“It’s going to be a busy weekend. And then there’s school next week. We don’t have a lot of time.”
“It’s fine. You practice on your own, and I’ll practice on my own.”
“But we need to get used to each other.”
“Right, and we’ll do that this weekend.”
Step away from the deer.
We finally practiced. Abby sang beautifully. I kept screwing up.
“I keep listening to you and losing my focus,” I said.
“Just worry about yourself,” she cautioned.
“So, what if I add some ooo-ooohs on the second verse. You know, something a little different on the repeat. Want to try that?”
She was game. It sounded okay. I guess. I don’t know. Maybe it sounded like a 51-year-old wheezing at the piano.
“What do you think?” I asked, grabbing my cheeks. I found myself clawing my face and eyes whenever we rehashed our practices. Anyone watching would see a man uncomfortably worried about screwing it up.
We steadily improved. On the day of the show, we rehearsed at the venue with microphones, me at the piano on stage, Abby beside me. Just concentrate, I told myself. Keep the beat, oooh when you’re supposed to oooh, don’t screw up.
The night of the performance, however, a logistics change found me up on stage, Abby at a mic on the floor far from me, not how we had rehearsed it. That’s fine, I thought. Just play like we practiced.
“Ready?” I asked. Abby nodded.
I began the intro. The F key. It was stuck halfway. What? I had to really hit it to get a sound from it. There was a lot of F in this song. F as in “focus.” Focus! Do not screw up!
I did not screw up. I pounded the F out of that F key. The song flew by. The audience cheered. Abby turned to smile at me. We were so far away, I could only air high-five her. She air high-fived back – or maybe it was a hand gesture that said, “Oh, stop that, you’re so embarrassing!”
Still. I’ll take it.
or slightly closer on Facebook.