How to Mess Up During the Pandemic

My daughter botched her online piano recital. She reminded me how to move on.

by Dulce Zamora

My 14-year-old daughter, Sienna, had her annual piano recital via Zoom for the second time in a row. She usually brings her A game to all of her performances, but this time, she made a lot of mistakes on her featured piece, a 1908 composition called Fig Leaf Rag by African-American composer Scott Joplin.

She played a second number while she and her 12-year-old sister, Jasmine, sang a duet. The music, Afterlife in the Limelight, is from the YouTube animated series Inanimate Insanity. This performance had fewer errors, and both girls sang beautifully. (Of course, I’m biased!).

Not every performance can be great. Perhaps that’s useful to keep in mind since Sienna performs a lot, from piano recitals to choir concerts to theatre shows. Plus, she wasn’t horrible. She did persist and maintain her energy despite the flaws. The piece was also a technically demanding.

However, a voice inside me says there is also something else is going on: Our minds are saturated with pandemic-related stuff. I know this is a controversial statement. People might say I am overacting. Or, others might say I’m looking for something to blame. They can think what they think. It doesn’t change how it feels to live within our reality as an Asian American family in Singapore.

…there are times when constant positivity feels forced and ignoring the pain feels counterintuitive.

Here’s some context: In October, Sienna was in the high school musical production and in a choir concert. As per official rules, she and the other students had to be fully vaccinated to participate. They also had to undergo official pre-event COVID testing before every one of their shows. Only 20 people were allowed to sing unmasked at any given time even though 50 performers could be on stage. The shared microphone had to be wiped down between each number. They had to maintain social distance during all rehearsals and shows. They could not interact with audience members, even after the show.

On the guest side, we couldn’t sit together as a family. Everyone 12 and under had to be in a special family zone with one adult. So, in the course of five different shows, my husband Noel and I took turns sitting with Jasmine, while the other sat alone in another section. We were prohibited from taking any pictures or video should the angle of our shots make it look like the cast violated social distancing rules, thereby jeopardizing government approval of future performances. We weren’t allowed to mingle inside the auditorium nor were we allowed to congregate after the show. I’ve just seen the rules for the upcoming choir concert, and it looks like we are not allowed to participate in the show, sing along, or cheer out loud either. Oh, and of course we’ve had to be fully immunized, or take an official pre-event test to enter the theater. The exception has been for children 12 and under, due to lack of vaccine availability here for that group.

Of course there are understandable reasons why these measures are in place. We all want to be safe from COVID. Plus, under the circumstances, Sienna and fully vaccinated her high school peers are lucky that they received approval for their performances. They also obtained permission to sing in choir class after a ban that lasted more than a year. The kids in elementary and middle school have not been as fortunate. They haven’t had a public performance in nearly two years. They haven’t been allowed to sing in choir class either. Instead, resourceful teachers have had the students reflect on great recordings and video performances, arrange and write music, and share meaningful music with one another.

It’s amazing how flexible and resilient everyone has been, from the teachers, to the support staff, to the students, and their families. Everyone has coped the best they could and we adults have provided as much logistical and emotional support as possible. There have been lots of times during the pandemic when we’ve comforted the kids or reminded them how blessed they are, because there are other people who are going through much worse.

Still, there are times when constant positivity feels forced and ignoring the pain feels counterintuitive. The overall mental load can feel heavy at times — not so heavy that it’s unbearable, but burdensome enough to strain our emotional muscle. On their own, the rules aren’t so hard to follow. Many of us are willing to do our part to keep the community safe. In total and over time, however, the measures designed to protect us can hurt in other ways. It’s like carrying a bag that feels light at first, but the burn and fatigue eventually set in, especially when stuff keeps getting added to the pack and we are carrying the weight for an extended time. No matter how much we’re reminded of our good fortune, it doesn’t change how tired and pained we feel.

For the most part, many of us are keeping it all together. We are strong for others around us. Sometimes, though, when I’m alone in the bathroom, I allow myself to put down my armor and to feel grief. I’ve missed natural connections with others in my community. These days, conversations can be awkward and rushed as we’re discouraged from gathering. For nearly seven months, we’ve found it challenging to meet with other people, even in our own home. Group sizes and visitors have been limited to two to five people, depending on the restrictions du jour. We haven’t been allowed to gather in groups of more than eight since Singapore first locked down in April 2020.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m extremely grateful that we live in a place where COVID is taken seriously. We’ve practiced a lot of gratitude at our house. As part of Thanksgiving month, we’ve even written the people, places, and things we grateful for in homemade Fall-color leaves and have displayed them on a banner our living room.

When the kids are onstage, I sense their joy and enthusiasm. They’re infectious. There is nothing like a shared experience with a group of people. It’s what makes concerts, retreats, and other events so meaningful.

I think that Sienna is happier because she has had a chance to interact with other people. In her spare time, she has also been able to express her emotions through art, song, dance, and fiction writing. All of these elements have helped her cope with adversity, from serving quarantine orders to messing up in piano recital. After the latter event, she took the time to reflect on improvements she could make for the next recital. Then, she decided to let go of the disappointing moment. When we’ve experienced incredibly difficult times, we often learn perspective.

Likewise, Jasmine has found ways to move forward. She has cooked, sewed, made homemade Christmas presents, sings, dances, and writes fantasy stories to channel her feelings.

You have no idea how proud I am of my daughters. While I am doing a lot to support them, they are also teaching me how to deal with challenges. A blemished performance and limitations can be overcome. What matters most is that we keep going, and we hold on to what we can of our humanity. This even means acknowledging our pain.

No matter what happens, you can bet we’ll keep expressing ourselves in different ways — even if we’re limited to the walls of our home, even if we have to belt out the sad or angry songs, and even if we don’t feel like it. So far, these actions have helped us ease the heavy mental load and soothe our weary souls. Sometimes, we need to create our own music to continue singing, no matter how flawed we might feel.

© 2021 Windswept Wildflower

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