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.
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 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qu80r_ZGD_0
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 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uj9PIZ5MKEs
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.