In Awe

“You have to admit, this is an indulgence,” my husband says, as we walk across the windswept campus to meet our son. We’ve flown all the way from New Hampshire to Minnesota, just to watch the last performance of a production of “A Chorus Line.”

The way I see it: going out to dinner is an indulgence. Buying jewelry or a new pair of boots is definitely an indulgence. Raspberries in February, yes. But taking a couple of days off and flying halfway across the country to watch our son realize his life-long dream of being a musical director — especially for a full-scale, no-holds-barred production of a Broadway classic – to me this feels as essential, as important, as anything I’ve ever done as his mother.

There is not an empty seat in the theatre. The house lights dim. Henry, dressed in black, walks out and takes his place in front of the keyboard at the rear of the stage. For a moment, the spotlight falls on him as, his back to the audience, he lifts a hand to cue the band and begin the show.

How does anyone become who they are meant to be? How are life stories written, paths revealed, passions ignited? By what alchemy of genes and temperament and mystery are gifts bestowed, talents honed, and then offered to the world?

I remember this: We have flown to Orlando on the afternoon of December 25, with two-year-old Henry, to spend the second half of the day with Steve’s parents. We are still newlyweds, and every holiday feels like a game of push-me-pull-you between our two families; having bestowed a grandchild, we are much in demand. It is Sunday morning, the day after Christmas, and we have just finished brunch with Steve’s family at a glittery Disney World hotel.

There, in the sun-drenched lobby, an enormous grand piano gleams. Our toddler walks toward it as if drawn by a magnet. His dad follows, on the job, not about to let his kid start banging the keys in this very public place. But Henry is not a key-banger. He stands with a hand on the piano as if mesmermized; he’s never seen one before, has no idea what it’s for or what it does, knows only that he needs to know. Steve lifts him up onto the bench and sits down beside him.

My two guys are dressed in the matching teal and purple flannel shirts I’ve given them for Christmas – maybe they do look a little corny and out of place amongst the red and silver holiday décor of the Hilton, but they are, to my mind, adorable. They spend a few minutes there, meeting the first piano of Henry’s life. Tentatively he plunks a couple of notes. I snap photos, mostly because of the matching shirts. I am not thinking, “Maybe he’ll be a musician”; in fact, I’m probably not aware of much other than that Steve’s folks must want to get on the road, and that I’ve eaten too much. But, we still have the pictures I took that morning. And, looking at them now, I know: it began right then, in that moment twenty years ago when a little boy first touched a finger to an ivory key and heard music of his own making.

In one hundred days he will graduate from college. He is sending out resumes, putting together recordings, doing interviews with theatre directors by phone, trying to figure out the next step of his journey toward his Broadway dream. But this weekend, sitting in the audience and watching our son play piano and conduct the pit orchestra he’d been rehearsing and coaching for weeks, we had a glimpse both of his past and his future. Being there wasn’t an indulgence. It was an opportunity to pause and give thanks for every moment that led to this one: our son doing what he loves most and offering the best of all he’s worked so hard to be.

And what is our real job as parents, if not first to nurture the beings entrusted to our care, to have faith in their inchoate processes of growing and becoming, and then to show up, again and again, for as long as we are able, to bear grateful witness to their unfolding destinies?

for my reflections & inspiration

your comments

  1. Lovely story, you are so right. And a well written piece. I love your storytelling style!

  2. As a former college career counselor, I really love and appreciate this story. In counseling college students and adults, I was always amazed how their passions and paths in life had often been set in motion years earlier. In fact, in whatever path a person was currently pursuing or dreaming about, there was usually a kernel contained somewhere in an initial occupational dream. Just recently I was observing some of my friends’ toddlers, many of whom I’ve known since they were only days old, and marveling at how, temperamentally, they are still basically the same beings they were when they were first born. How much, I wonder, do we really change?

  3. Nothing indulgent about this experience at all. It was a map marking moment to Henry and to you, on your journeys as musician and mother.


  4. SO glad you got to be there! It’s amazing to watch children grow and unfold. Sometimes so gut wrenching, but sometimes so amazing. Hooray for Henry!!


  5. Oh, wow … crying, crying. As always. This is as good a summary of parenting as I’ve read: “And what is our real job as parents, if not first to nurture the beings entrusted to our care, to have faith in their inchoate processes of growing and becoming, and then to show up, again and again, for as long as we are able, to bear grateful witness to their unfolding destinies?”

  6. Katrina,

    I can only read your piece and smile and think of Rumi:

    “When you do things from your soul, you feel a river
    moving in you, a joy… Don’t insist on going where you think you want to go. Ask the way to the spring. Your
    living pieces will form a harmony. There is a moving palace that floats in the air with balconies and clear
    water flowing through, infinity everywhere, yet contained
    under a single tent.”
    “Let your heart be silently drawn by the stronger pull of
    what you really love”
    ~ Rumi

    Henry has followed his soul and you have guided him! He has been allowed and encouraged to feel that pull of his heart.

    Parenting well done, for sure.


  7. Cathy Hackert says:

    I have written to you before. I am a cellist and a retired public school Orchestra/Strings teacher. (Beethoven 7?)Your son will always remember the effort you made to be there and though he my not articulate it, it was important to him that you were there. Here is my experience of a parent making an extraordinary effort to support their child.

    I have played in the Albany Symphony since 1982 and last year the orchestra made its Carnegie Hall debut.As you might imagine, it was #1 on my personal bucket list. My Dad was 88 at the time and he wanted to see me play there. Now this is a man who is not in good shape, having had unsuccessful back surgery for sciatica.He is in constant pain. While I rode the musician’s bus to New York (about 4 hours), my husband drove to my Dad’s house on Long Island to bring him to the concert. This was not easy for him. He uses a walker to get around and needed assistance from the Carnegie Hall staff. Half way through the concert, he had to leave his seat and sit in his walker in the back, but he made it through. At the end, he made his way to the front of the stage to see me where we tearfully hugged. My husband caught the moment in a photo. My father said to me “I would not have missed this for the world. I have seen you go from squeaking and squawking at Harley Ave. Elementary School, to the stage of Carnegie Hall!”

  8. Robin Evensen says:

    Katrina, this one took my breath away, as have so many of your blog posts. I am so grateful for your ability to put into words what so many women like myself have experienced (or are experiencing). Your words stop me in the middle of a busy day… and it is always time well spent.
    Thank you for another exquisite share!

  9. I read your blog today through facebook. As usual, your words moved me. After I read the article another link came up right after your post. When I read it I couldn’t help but see the similarities of the stories of these two young men and the VERY different turns their lives are taking. I feel compelled to share the link with you because I believe there is some bigger connection between these two stories.

    I should warn you that this story is not a happy one but there is hope for this young man. I hope you don’t see this is as inappropriate but I really felt like some higher power wanted me to share this.

    • Katrina Kenison says:

      This is truly a “there but for the Grace of God go I” story. I know that life can turn on a dime, that all we can do is be grateful for the moment. Thank you for sending this to me; I’m passing it on to Henry. He’ll see the connection, too.

  10. I’m in awe of your story. Last night, my 14 year old daughter and I were discussing the question of “How does anyone become who they are meant to be?” She’s been following her passion for musical theater since she was 2 when she used to want me to video all of her “shows” and today she dreams of being a director. I can imagine the intensity of witnessing your son doing what he is so passionate about. Beautiful.

  11. Thank you for sharing this special moment for you and your family–what an accomplishment for your son, and for you two as parents.

  12. Katrina, I look so forward to your blogs. They always come at the right time. Don’t ever doubt your ability to touch people with your writing. You always do for me. I loved this story about Henry. I hang on to your every word because I am raising 5 children, with two teenagers right now. It is strange watching them grow and also frustrating. I only pray I will have that moment you have had of awe once they have left home and are finally doing what they should be in their world. At times now, I only look back on the moments of awe, but I know that is only natural, as they try to find themselves, and I try and find my way of letting go. Because you have gone through this and you have written about it, it helps me daily, so I thank you.


  13. What an inspiring read. What a sense of accomplishment you all must have.

  14. this one made me cry! remembering Henry and the college application process from The Gift on an Ordinary Day, it’s amazing to learn he is graduating from college. As always thank you for sharing and teaching us all how to be more in touch with our children and the unfolding of their lives.

  15. Once again your words touch my soul and the myriad of feelings I am experiencing as my two daughters move into adulthood. (My youngest celebrated her 20th birthday today) I feel that same urgency to be there for those defining moments and am in awe of the women they have become.

  16. I am also in awe of your amazing son and his bravery in following his heart. And I am in awe of the process by which we are “assigned” our children and how they teach us to listen, almost so that we feel as though we are hearing for the first time.

    Bravo to Henry and to you for this beautiful, beautiful piece. If we teach by doing than your dedication to your gift taught Henry how to use his.

  17. Oh, I love this! Time and time again when I read something you’ve written, I feel as though you have taken thoughts, feelings and emotions from my heart and put them on paper. I am the mom of three boys – 19, 16 and 14. Our 14-year old is a natural musician, and the feeling that I have when I listen to him create music is nothing short of wonder and awe. You are such a gift – truly a kindred spirit and fellow traveler on this amazing journey. I am so grateful that you allow us to share in your adventure. Keep up the great work!

  18. sigh.

    ( and can only imagine how you must be feeling . I am the mother of five, ages almost 14 thru 23 )

  19. Beautiful. So beautiful. When I look at my daughter I am feel honored to be a witness to that unfolding, that becoming, that you write about. Thank you for reminding me that though the way might not always seem clear, it is always worthwhile.

  20. Maybe the music of our own and each other’s children brings all of us closer together, and into harmony with the music of our collective heart.

  21. Jennifer Robertson says:

    Beautifully written. The last paragraph is perfect.

  22. Jennifer Robertson says:

    Beautifully written.
    The last paragraph is perfect!

  23. You did it again, more tears. Having read your books and being a loyal follower of your blog I feel a ridiculous amount of shared pride in Henry (almost as if I too played a part in raising this child just by following along through you). Take a moment to be in awe of yourself this time because as much as Henry has achieved on his own; we all know that Henry had and has someone by his side who allowed him to reach his full potential. Your ability to step back when necessary is something I struggle with, my instinct is to micromanage. It’s hard to watch a 16 yr. old just be 16 when u see so much more.

    • Katrina Kenison says:

      Sandy, Believe me, I write about what I struggle with. I write to remind myself to do what I say. I write in an attempt to get to that letting-go place, over and over again. But I’m finally learning that in fact this is just one of those lessons that life keeps giving me an opportunity to learn. And that maybe the best we can hope for is a willingness to share the struggle, and the lessons, and the beautiful moments. So glad you’re here, sharing the journey!

  24. Donna Daniels says:

    Love this! My oldest daughter is a gifted artist, her drawings are beautiful, and I am always going back in my mind to the day when she was 13 months old and no longer wanted the crayons I set in front of her, she wanted the markers with the finer tip, already knowing what to do from somewhere inside herself. I was hesitant to give them to her, but now am so glad I did! She was born with this gift, this knowing, this pull of what she would become. She is almost 18 and trying to figure out her future, I hope I can have faith and bear witness as well as you have with Henry. Thank you for an inspiring post right when I needed it!

  25. Fred Block says:

    Thanks for sharing. A great read. I always tell my friends who are new parents to pay attention to the little things as it is those moments that you will remember the most.

  26. so touching. thank you.

  27. I’m sure it was fabulous and essential for you and your husband to be there. I agree!

  28. Mary Lynne Johnson says:

    I was so moved by your story about Henry. It went straight to my heart! When our children are doing what they love, it’s the best feeling in the world.

  29. Carrie Finlinson says:

    You write the way I wish I could–say the words that are buried in my own heart! I would have been there too. And it would be no indulgence or sacrifice, just the only place in the world I would be.

  30. I’ve copied your last paragraph unto a notecard so I’ll remember it. It’s a perfect definition of parenting. Thanks for the reminder.

  31. Once again, your storytelling takes my breath away. Thank you. I’ll think of this as I watch Tucker perform in the circus this weekend!

  32. Katrina, I just discovered this post accidentally, but it was just what I needed. I would love to quote you in a presentation I am preparing for the State of Maryland International Reading Conference.(3/28-30) I am one of the featured authors along with my 20 year old daughter, who founded her own girls magazine at age 13. I’ll be talking about how easy it is to miss the quietly gifted children in our classrooms, those whose gifts are not always measured on standardized tests. Only now, as I think back and connect the dots, do I see how clearly her innate talents and interests showed up at an early age. I am glad that her father and I were able to nurture them. Now, our daughter is devoted to inspiring other girls to pursue their dreams.

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