I’m hoping my kids will learn to play piano someday. That’s why I’m not making them take lessons. This may sound crazy, but hear me out. I took piano lessons as a kid, and I do not play piano as an adult, although, I suppose if I worked on it, I could. The same is true for a lot of things I can no longer do, like badminton and skinning the cat on the monkey bars, but maybe these are not in the same category as piano. Piano lessons are in the category of Things Your Kids Hate Now That They Will Thank You for Later. Like braces. Of course, if my kids asked for lessons, I’d be all over that. They both have played other instruments for school band, but piano lessons somehow still seem like a basic requirement of a Montgomery County childhood.

What I’m trying here is either a brave or foolish experiment in which I choose not to spend all my time making my kids do things. There are a lot of things I have to make them do on a daily basis (beginning with getting out of bed in the morning). I realize I’m setting them up for a possible lifetime without bad memories of being forced to practice piano, or, that they may someday say, “Mom, why DIDN’T you make us take piano?” Because that is what children do, once they’re grown, they blame their parents both for what they were forced to do and for what they were never forced to do. I also (gasp!) do not always make my children eat their vegetables. Clearly, these lapses should be reported to the proper authorities. Regardless, no one in my house plays piano right now, and yet, we have a piano. Which I’ll get to in a minute.

When I was a kid, there was probably a period of time when I wanted to take piano lessons, and I believe I even asked to take them. This period of time lasted at least 20 minutes. I wanted to play “popular” music, and this is not, of course, what I was being taught. As everyone knows, unless the child is really interested, parents have to remind, cajole, and finally threaten their kids to get them to practice. I’m sure I needed reminding; however I did practice some, and I learned to play, if not well, passably. I was motivated not by nagging, but by fear. My piano teacher bore a remarkable resemblance to Danny DeVito’s mother in Throw Momma from the Train. I’m not sure why I didn’t think of having her knocked off at the time. She would stand over me while I played, chain-smoking, dropping long ashes onto the keys. She would make slurping sounds, sucking on her ill-fitting dentures, and if I made a mistake, she would smack my hand. Then, for the last 10 minutes of my lesson, when she was completely fed up with my lack of ability, she would call in her grandson and have him play “the way it’s supposed to sound,” while I sat on the plastic-covered sofa and listened. I noticed she didn’t drop ashes on the keys while he was playing.

I had a similar, though totally nonviolent, experience taking voice lessons. I have no talent for singing. So why was I taking voice lessons? Because I wanted to, actually. Just my luck, the young man up before me was a budding opera star—and his lessons always ran overtime into mine, while the teacher closed her eyes and swayed rapturously to his mellow intonations. So for the first part of my lesson, I would listen to him as well.

“This is how it should sound,” my teacher would say.

I eventually figured out that the only way I was going to do anything musical was if I didn’t have to worry about “how it should sound.” And I was likely to be the only one who didn’t worry about that. So now, I only play for myself or my (nonjudgmental) kids, and I only sing in my car with the windows up.

Perhaps I’m scarred for life as a result of these experiences, but I decided that if my kids are to play piano, it should be something they initiate. So, I put a piano in the house and waited to see what would happen.

My husband had questions about this. Why are we putting a piano in the house if none of us can play it? Well, first, it was my grandmother’s piano. Not a great one, but with sentimental value. Long ago, she performed at the Olney Theatre with people like Burl Ives. Since I only know Burl Ives as the singing snowman on the TV show, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, I can’t help imagining my grandmother on stage playing and singing opposite a snowman with a ukulele. But the main idea behind owning the piano is this: Every party I remember growing up included some point in the evening when a guest would sit down and play spontaneously, and people would sing. That was just normal. And that was what made me want to learn an instrument in the first place. When I described this fantasy that people would simply show up at our house and play the piano for fun, my husband looked at me as if I had just said that if we get a dog our children will keep their promise to take care of it. However, as it turns out I was right. When my son’s friends come over, they will get up and play concertos in the middle of a poker game. At those moments, no one is forcing the kids to perform, and I have to believe they’re playing because they want to; they’re playing for themselves, and that’s the best reason there is. A deep commitment to music or to any creative pursuit can’t be externally applied.

I don’t know yet whether my kids will take up the piano, or whether they’ll stay with the brass section, or pick up the guitar, or something else I haven’t thought of, but I do know that whatever they decide, in this case at least, it will come from them and not from me.

For more from Paula Whyman, see www.paulawhyman.com and her online parody newspaper www.bethesdaworldnews.com.