Squeal, toot, screech: Invasion of the recorder

But it's something every 8-year-old needs.

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Kennedy’s recorder — it looked like a beginner clarinet but was made of red plastic — came home with a piece of paper from the third-grade music teacher, anticipating parental objections. It went something like this: 

“Your child will only play this recorder in the bedroom, behind closed doors. Your child will play for no more than 10 minutes per day. And don’t worry, the squeaking sound will eventually go away.”

In other words, your home will soon be a cacophonous nightmare, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

“Do we have to accept this recorder?” I asked. “Like, can we send it back?”

Then I learned that we had actually paid for the privilege. Actually, Kennedy paid for it with her own $5 bill, but my wife, Hailey, promised that we would pay her back.

Guess what song this is? Kennedy would say, and then play: Squeak, squeal, toot, squeak.

I knew I had to grin and bear it — especially because Kennedy was just now recovering from a broken thumb. For her to play the recorder, or do anything else with her hands, was a triumph, an ode to joy, a testament to the human —

Squeal, toot, screech, squeak!

“Kennedy, I thought you were going to just play that in your room?” I asked.

Instead of responding to me, she turned to her 4-year-old brother. “Luke, do you want to hear a song?” 

He was a captive audience, lying on the couch, sick.

“Sure,” he said, his eyes half closed.

Squeal, toot, toot, toot, squeal!

When Luke recovered, the sound began to multiply. He got a hold of a blue whistle that looked like a miniature recorder. He announced that he was playing “Jingle Bells.” 

“I just whistle it really loud,” Luke said. “Like this.”

Then he screeched with his mouth to imitate the screeching of the recorder. All across Palm Coast, windows shattered. Perhaps, all across America.

“Luke, bro,” said his 16-year-old brother, Grant, in a teenagerly rebuke.

As the weeks passed, however, Kennedy’s screeching mellowed. I stopped noticing it.

Until one day, I barged into her room and said, “Kennedy, are you done cleaning this room yet? It’s a filthy — ”

There was Kennedy, kneeling on her rug, surrounded by sheet music.

She looked up at me with a big smile and said, “See these?“ She pointed to a few pieces of yarn tied to the end of her recorder. “They’re karate belts. We get a new belt when we pass off another song.”

Then she played.

There was no more denying it: This was “Merrily We Roll Along.”

Pleased as could be, she looked at me for a reaction, hoping, it seemed, for any sign of approval. 

I asked for another song, an audience of one, transformed from a critic to an adoring fan.

I realized that maybe Kennedy didn’t need a recorder, but, like any 8-year-old who was still learning who she was, Kennedy did need something to feel proud of. And this was working, thanks to those karate belt yarns. 

Later, however, she reminded me that I still hadn’t paid her back.

“Paid you back for what?”

“I paid for my recorder with my own $5 bill, but Mom said you were going to pay for it.”

I used the old trick of nodding but not responding verbally. It’s a great way to keep everyone happy without ever having to produce the cash. But she apparently saw through it.

Kennedy tilted her head and said, with another charming smile, “I’m just saying it because I want to make sure it happens.”


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