Desperately Seeking Recipe To Make A Good Mother


Angela’s 4th birthday

Today Angela turned sixteen.  She did not want any big celebration.  As a matter of fact, she had always objected to having birthday parties for herself since she was seven.  We often spent her birthday traveling, her ninth in Vancouver, her tenth in Turkey and her eleventh in Abu Dhabi.  I missed a couple of her birthdays because I was away from home working.  There were also the last two years, which she celebrated with a few of her good friends in Andover.  We were so happy that our whole family is together at home for her sweet sixteen — her coming of age.


In the desert of Abu Dhabi


On the beach of Antalya, Turkey


Girls in their hotel room in Antalya


Angela in the Grand Mosque Abu Dhabi

Over the birthday lunch, Peter and I told her that from now on she will make all the important decisions for her life.  She could bounce ideas off us and we would always listen and give her advice, but she is the ultimate decision maker.

Her first decision when she came of age was to stop playing piano.  It was a shock to me although I felt it coming in the recent months.  It broke my heart. 

Angela’s recital from two years ago

I said, “Oh, Angela, you have so much talent.  And what about the twelve years of hard work?” 

“But I never worked hard, Mommy, and I hate piano.”  She said. 

I swallowed back my tears.

My mother’s piano was taken away by the Red Guards when I was seven.  The next day, my mother sent my brother to several nearby used furniture stores to look for it.  He went with a couple of his friends and came back to tell us how congested the stores were with hundreds of pianos and  people looking either for their own pianos or a steal.  But he didn’t see my mother’s piano.  When my mother retired, she bought a piano and began playing again.  In her 70s, she won first place in a piano contest for seniors  in Shanghai.  My mother has been an exceptional  neuropharmacologist all her life, but the piano is her companion in old age, along with my father of course.  Whenever I visit her in Shanghai I would sit by her when she practiced and wish that I could play. 

My 80-year-old mother playing piano


My mother on the balcony in our Shanghai house


My family in Shanghai

Playing piano, I suppose, is an unrealized dream of mine since childhood.  And for the past twelve years I lived my dream through my children. But I also believed that it was important for my children to be cultivated in music, to learn discipline through practice and to own a skill that takes hard work.

But this is her life.  And she is sixteen.  Isn’t everything that we do as parents for their eventual independence?  I read somewhere in sociology that from day one, the parent-children relationship is the only one in which the ultimate goal is to achieve separation.  I thought of my own mother, thousands of miles away, missing me.  I don’t know if she knows that I miss her very much too, and even at my age I can’t imagine life without her.

Sweet Sixteen.  My baby is growing her wings and getting ready to fly away.



It was a day full of tender moments as we sat together and reminisced on Angela stories and watched seemingly endless frames of videos.  We laughed until tears came out.  Below is a poem she wrote when she was eight.  I guess I should have expected then what I learned today. 

The Dire Situation

I saw no way out,

Our house stank of trout,

The piano was open to play,

The library closed,

There simply wasn’t any other way.

With stinky old cod liver,

And life out of control,

There simply wasn’t any other way.

This was a Tuesday, see

The door was locked

It was 3:33

And horror was coming nearer…

My instinct told me this to help make things clearer:

“Get it over with! You might survive.”

I stood there, petrified, ‘til the doorbell rang,

For more than an hour, I suffered again.

I was forced to tap on ivory blocks

And hum the tune from a wooden box.

When I am grown, I’ll never touch one again

The piano, the deathbox,

A murderer of today.

14 thoughts on “Desperately Seeking Recipe To Make A Good Mother

  1. Joan! Thanks for sharing those amazing pictures and stories! I am so enjoying your blog. Happy Birthday Angela!

    You should take piano lessons!!! It’s never too late and sounds like you would really enjoy it! 🙂


  2. Love the story. My mom used to have me play piano and I wasn’t a big fan. She had a similar story like yours that she never got a chance to do what she wanted so she tried to realize her dream in her children. As a mother myself now, I remind myself that I just want my children to be happy. Everyone is different, Angela is right to choose things that she’ll enjoy to do and I’m sure she’ll do very well.

    Thanks for sharing your life with us, Joan.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I was heartbroken when my children gave up the piano. I don’t play myself but the baby grand still takes pride of place and I enjoy delighting in my guests’ tinkering on occasions. My son has followed in my footsteps is a beautiful writer so I can let his disinterest in playing music slip for now. I bet your daughter will be back at the Piano before too long.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I hated the piano from day one. But, oh how I wish I could play it now. Doesn’t matter much because I have absolutely no sense of timing. So I can only day dream that I am this fantastic piano player making everyone smile. Happy Birthday, Angela! Can’t believe how the time has flown! The children have the most incredible, thoughtful parents!! Love you all.


  5. I love your writing and the stories. I showed Spencer Angela’s poem, he laughed and said, “Good Poem!”. Megan stopped taking piano lessons when she reached level 10. Now she occasionally plays and sings songs she like as a way to relax. I’m sure Angela is not leaving piano forever.
    Happy Sweet 16 to Angela!


  6. […] At Audrey’s piano recital last night, she played Debussy’s Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum perfectly.  But a little indifferently, I’m afraid.  It reminded me that she didn’t like the piano.  I have heard the Debussy for years in this household — first played by Angela, and then by Audrey, from haltingly with many mistakes to perfectly by the end of months long practice.  There were two other pieces played by other students at the recital that almost made me cry.  They were Chopin’s Nocturne in B flat Minor Op.117 and Nocturne in E Minor, Op 72 #1.  Angela played them beautifully in the recitals a few years ago.  They brought me back to the heartbreak I felt when Angela quit piano on her 16th birthday. […]


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