I quickly tuned my guitar and put it in its case. I then grabbed the music to the four songs I planned to play for my son Eddie’s daycare class, stuffed them into my guitar case as well and snapped it shut. I wanted to put the guitar in the car so that when my son was done with his breakfast, I’d only have him to put into the car and then we’d be off.
I offered to play my guitar for my three-year-old son’s class last year after hearing that a man dressed as Clifford the Big Red Dog had come to my son’s school and played a few songs. I didn’t plan on dressing up as a canine, but I thought it sounded fun to perform some music, even if the audience was only three. But with work, an inability to practice, and a fear that I would pick a song too risque – my son’s daycare is in a church — I never wound up doing it. This year, I vowed to play and once I mentioned it to my son’s teacher, she put me on the calendar, leaving me no choice.
As I picked up my guitar, Eddie came running out of the kitchen. “I want to take my guitar, too!”
I bought my son a children’s guitar when he was two. It was one of several things I did to try to build his self esteem, along with ice skating lessons, swimming classes and a weekly music class.
“Where is it?” Eddie asked, scanning the room.
“Behind the couch,” I said.
He didn’t know where it was because he rarely plays it – except for a minute or two when I’m playing mine in front of other people. Then he’ll pull it out and begin strumming it in his own unique way: horizontally. He lays the guitar flat on his lap like a dulcimer and strums it almost like a harp. He doesn’t necessarily enjoy playing. He enjoys the attention it draws. I know the feeling. That’s why I was doing a show for three-year olds.
“Give me your guitar, and I’ll put it in the car,” I said, adding, “I want you to play with me, but maybe you go first, and then I go.”
I imagined every song I played being scuttled by the discordant thuds of someone who knows nothing of the instrument they’re playing.
“No, you go first, and then I go,” he said.
“Okay, that works,” I said.
When we walked into his classroom with our guitars, two boys came running over and began pawing at my son’s guitar. Eddie was beaming.
I walked over to the corner of the room and pulled mine out its case as well and began tuning it again.
“Okay, it’s circle time,” said the teacher. “Everyone on the rug.”
As the children took their places on the floor, I took my son’s guitar out of his hands and leaned it against a bookshelf in the front of the room. I then sat down in the back of the room with my guitar.
The teacher sat down in a chair in the front of the classroom and began reading a story to the class. My son was sitting on the floor in the front of the room and as the teacher read, he moved closer and closer to her until he was standing between her legs, partially blocking some of the children from seeing the book. It was an audacious move, made by someone who has connections in high places. Today, I was that connection. The teacher put her arm around him but after a few minutes, she whispered to him to go take his seat. He did, but within a few minutes he was back up front standing between her legs. This time, she let him stay.
When the teacher finished the book, she announced that there was a special guest in class today. As she introduced me, I took a seat on the floor in the front of the room with my guitar. My son grabbed his guitar and sat down next to me, so close that our guitars banged into each other. I moved a couple of inches away from him to give myself some room, but he inched toward me and our guitars knocked again.
“Hey, buddy, can you move that way just a bit, so our guitars don’t hit?”
He moved over.
“This first song is about Winnie the Pooh. You guys know who Winnie the Pooh is, right?” I asked.
“Yes!” a few of them shouted.
As I started the song, Eddie began to play his own guitar. I tried to ignore it, but as I began to sing, I found I couldn’t concentrate. I stopped playing.
“Hey, pal. You sound really good, but we’re playing two different songs. How about if you do your song and then I do mine?” I said.
He strummed his guitar a bit and then said, “I don’t know what to play.”
He plucked the guitar strings a couple of times, like a harp, and then stopped.
“That was great,” his teacher said and everyone clapped.
“Nice job,” I said.
I then picked up my guitar again and played “House at Pooh Corner,” and then another song. As I played, I could see out of the corner of my eye that my son was pouting. I kept looking at him and telling him to join in, but every time I looked over, I lost my place in my music. By the fourth song, “American Pie,” my son had moved to a chair on the far side of the room near the cubbies.
“Come on over, Eddie. I need you to help me sing,” I said.
He came back to the front of the room, though as everyone began clapping their hands to “Bye, Bye, Miss American Pie,” my son just stood there. When I was finished, I told him to do a song.
“Yeah, Eddie, you do a song,” his teacher bellowed from the back of the room.
“Okay,” he said, picking up his guitar. “I don’t know what song to do.”
“What song do you want to do?” I asked.
In my head, I quickly flipped through the catalogue of songs we sing at home, but all I could think of was, “Come on and do it, do it, do it till your satisfied, whatever it is, bah dah dah,” and how my son inexplicably rubs his hands on his tush, like a Chippendale’s dancer, when I sing it. It didn’t seem appropriate for his Christian daycare. They’d already made me change the chorus of “American Pie” from “..drinking whiskey and rye” to “making a big apple pie.”
“How about ‘Let it Go?’ ” I asked.
“Okay,” he said and started strumming and singing, “Let it go. Let it go. Let it go-ho-ho.” I started singing it, too, and his teacher and several children in his class joined in. My son’s face lit up like the sun.
When he was done, the teacher said, “Okay, circle time is over.” I kissed Eddie goodbye and said, “I’ll be back later.”
When my husband came home from work that night, he asked my son if anything special happened at school that day. Eddie said he played his guitar.
“Layla picked ‘Let it Go.’ She said, ‘Eddie, could you please play ‘Let it Go?’ And then I sang ‘Let it Go,’” my son said.
“But was there a special guest?” my husband asked.
“Mommy played some songs,” my son said, almost as an afterthought. He seemed so aggrieved that morning, I wondered if he’d even heard me play.
We went out to dinner that night and as we sat at the table waiting for our food, my son drove a metal stagecoach in circles around the table. And as he drove, I could hear him humming, “Bye, bye, Miss American Pie.”