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The Mother Magazine, Editorial

Issue 44, Jan/Feb 2011

Cello by Candlelight, by Veronika Sophia Robinson

To hear a Bach suite on solo cello moves me to tears. It reaches a place deep in my heart which words can’t describe. I’ve felt the call of this deep-sounding string instrument for about two decades, and promised myself that one day I’d learn to play.

Autumn brought more than golden leaves and crisp, sunny days. She brought me a cello! And so, a new chapter in my life’s journey has begun.
These bitterly cold Winter mornings are a time I cherish. In the dark, I steal out of my warm and cosy bed on a mission. First, I step out into the morning chill and claim a basket of firewood from the porch. Then, I creep upstairs to the barn. My morning ritual ~ a sacred time ~ begins with lighting the wood-burning stove, a stick of incense and a candle. While the room warms, I roll out my yoga mat for some gentle asanas and meditation. And then I play. An hour or so of my day is spent in solitude teaching my instrument to ‘sing’: both of us learning the ways of cello.

This musical awakening: a joy, learning and discipline, sets the tone for the rest of my day. I’ve been deeply inspired the book Never Too Late, the musical autobiography of John Holt (of unschooling fame). He taught himself to play cello at midlife, and his message is simple: it’s never too late to learn an instrument. We must let go of all the cultural myths that persuade us that languages and music must be learnt in childhood. I know from my journey as part of an unschooling family that when the fire (inspiration) is there the learning occurs. That I’m now forty three years of age doesn’t disqualify me from becoming proficient on an instrument that has long called out to my heart. I’m a failed childhood pianist because I could never grasp the job of my left hand: to play the bass clef. As the cello is in bass clef (and the reason I love it so much) I knew I’d have to overcome my belief that I’m too stupid to learn. Turns out learning the bass clef wasn’t so hard after all ~ and was mastered within a few hours.

The one thing that always breaks my heart is when I hear mothers say they’re going back to work because they’re “bored”. If we want interesting, charming, hand-crafted lives, then it’s up to us to create them that way. Like guests at a wedding scattering rose petals on the path before the bride, we must decorate the road upon which we walk with interesting, challenging, inspiring and soul-enhancing nourishment. Being a SAHM (stay at home mother) can be a unique sabbatical from the rat race ~ a time to discover our gifts, talents and abilities, as well as develop new skills. And we can do this all alongside our children, all the while modeling to them passion and pleasure.

What do we give our children if we contrive to escape their presence because we deem their company boring? Not much, I expect. You can choose to ordain your days with grace and gratitude, and honour the relative freedom of being a SAHM. Boredom comes when we aren’t listening to our inner voice, and parenting is a prison when we invest it with such a thought. You could, instead, choose to see it as a playground rich with opportunities for fun, pleasure, leisure and industry. It’s not selfish to learn new skills and practise existing ones. This is how our children learn about life: by watching us passionatately live ours. Your parenting years might see you dabble in patchworking, calligraphy, candle-making, bonsai, herbology, glass- painting. Maybe you’ve always fancied jazz and want to hit the lazy notes of a sax, or build a go-kart entirely from recycled materials. Does flower arranging, jewellery-making or drawing life models appeal to you? Maybe you’d like to become Cupcake Queen of your street or learn to write Latin. What about rediscovering your love of poetry or teaching yourself picture-framing? Ever desired to know the night sky intimately? What’s stopping you? Salsa, bellydancing, pottery…so many possibilities await. Your children won’t be small forever. Learn audition monologues now so that you’re ready to hit the stage later on. This is your one precious life. Kick boredom out of it and invite charm into your door. Pablo Casals, one of the world’s great cellists, was asked why, at the age of 93, he continued to practise cello for three hours a day. “Because I’m beginning to see some improvement.” If, in half a century from now, I’m playing cello for three hours a day, I’ll know that my journey Earthside is still being well-lived.

One thing I’ve discovered is that learning the cello has similarities to learning to parent. You can read books, take advice and have manuals; you can even watch and admire others who are good at it or have lots of experience; but nothing teaches you to play except holding that fine instrument between your legs and letting the bow soar over the strings. There are good days when every note sings perfectly, and days when nothing goes right. On those days my frustrations are huge because I know I can do it. There’s no such thing as perfect parenting, but each day we keep learning to sing from our heart, and to listen for the fine notes. It’s those days that give us the grace and gratitude to master the days where we don’t appreciate the value of the sounds we hear.

From my family to yours, we wish you a gorgeous year of possibilities, gratitude and love.

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