My oldest has been taking piano lessons using a wonderful curriculum called Simply Music. There is an exercise that she does called “Peaks and Valleys.” Essentially, it is a more interesting way of warming up her fingers than doing scales, and it coaches her to compose her own simple little pieces. The metaphor of peaks and valleys applies to the shape of the notes as she moves up and down the piano, but it also applies to the practice of piano itself. Sometimes things will be easy, and downhill for her, and sometimes she will have to work harder, as though going uphill. A little visual reminds her that there will be hard and easy times in the future. Things that are currently difficult will become easier with practice, and new things will be learned that will introduced that will be challenging.

This visual and exercise has proved invaluable in our discussions about all sorts of things in life. Scout is used to picking up intellectual skills very quickly, and so hasn’t had much practice in dealing with frustration while learning. Soccer has recently given her a chance to put the idea into use. Despite the fact that both kids begged me to try soccer, Scout was in tears by the middle of her first lesson. The YMCA offers a cheap introduction to soccer, so she wasn’t thrown right into the stress of playing an actual game right away. Mr. T loved it and participated the whole time in a way I had not seen him do before.

On the way home, we chatted about it. Scout expressed that maybe she just “wasn’t made for soccer.” I talked to her about the need to shake it off, and start over again with a fresh attitude. I reminded her that the day had been especially tiring. We also planned how the next time she would watch a bit of the class before her to better know what to expect. Talking about the warm up exercises, and the different kinds of running, and watching some of the drills helped prepare her mentally. New things are intimidating to everyone, but knowing what basically to expect helped her feel more confident.

I find the peaks and valleys metaphor especially helpful in relationships. Any lifelong relationship, whether with family, friends, or you spouse is bound to have peaks and valleys. I think some people incorrectly assume that when the feeling of love, or euphoria or attraction isn’t present, that means the relationship is at an end. I believe that those feelings come and go, and come again. The important part is choosing to continue so that you can reach another peak. Love is a verb, not a feeling. It’s something you choose to do, even when the motivating feeling of love isn’t present. Anyone whose chosen to be loving to a toddler in a tantrum, or a teenager with a bad attitude, or a spouse during a fight knows that love is an action that can be chosen, just like walking or singing. It’s by pushing through the valleys that we work our way up to the next peak. It’s taking a long view.

I hope the kids stick with piano, and develop a lifelong relationship with music in general. I don’t expect them to become concert pianists, but I know that the work and commitment are worth the effort on my part to get them to lessons and to practice. This idea of peaks and valleys has been a valuable learning tool to reference with them and with myself.