By Nan Leaptrott

He walked across the stage, bowed before the audience, flung his tuxedo tails over the bench as he took his seat, lifted his hands and the magic began.

I sat mesmerized, as I watched his fingers fly flawlessly over the piano keys, observed his perfect timing, heard how eloquent the resonance. Could this be the same tiger who 32 years ago reared his disgruntled head and in a strident tone announced, I hate this dinner rule, Mom? I don’t know how you ever came up with such a dull rule. I refuse to participate tonight and maybe, never again.

Dinner time was not the time to whine, sulk or huff, so my family dinner rules were simple. Put on your best clean face, come to the table, enjoy your meal; be prepared to share at least one positive experience in your day.

I took a deep breath, held my gaze steady, lowered my voice, and responded, Tiger, you are excused from participating in our family conversation tonight. However, I will address your offensive outburst with you tomorrow after school.

The oatmeal cookies were hot from the oven, the glass of milk cold. My tiger returned from school. I could tell by his demeanor he thought I’d forgotten about the dinner drama the night before. Of course, I hadn’t. My tiger and I chatted as usual as I probed with calm intent to glean if there were an underlying cause for his outburst. No grounds for alarm, so I tackled the tiger.

Tiger, dinner rules are house rules. It is important in order to maintain a balance in our home. Since you obviously don’t want to adhere to our dinner rules, I’ve come up with a plan which will make us all happy. You will have dinner in your room. I’ll prepare the same delicious meal for you as I do for the rest of the family. I’ll bring your meal to you on a tray and a bell for you to ring in case you want seconds. This will be your dinner ritual until you choose otherwise.

Wow! This is the best dinner rule you’ve ever made. 

I did not respond.

I thought my tiger may dine alone in his room, perhaps two days, and he would be bored beyond endurance. There were no televisions in bedrooms, private phone lines, cell phones, text, or Tweets back then. Better still, the tiger would not be able to aggravate his brothers, pretending to play the piano at the dinner table. Two weeks passed and the tiger ate in his room alone. One night, the tiger heard our laughter from the table and without a word, he bolted down the stairs, taking his place at the dinner table and picking up the conversation as if there had never been a two-week interlude.

Life is interesting, especially when observed in the perspective of the now, which evokes memories of the then. The day my son came into the world, this new-born tiger reached out with enthusiasm to embrace his uncharted world. His arms were always in motion, his blue eyes keenly observing every movement of everything around him. As I cuddled him in my arms, he cooed as if he were making music. Through the years, he was a happy tiger, easy to please, intelligent, competitive, witty, so his disgruntled outburst at dinner was out of character.

Still, after these many years, some of our conversations settled around my firm dinner rule.  Mom, I wish I’d come to the dinner table that evening with a delete key taped across my mouth, but as soon as I opened my mouth I knew I’d already pushed “Send.” In retrospect, this dinner episode, taught me over time that being primarily self-focused produces limited results.  

Tiger, nothing of value comes quickly. No pretentions or outside trappings can improve the real core of our being.  You’ve mastered the importance in life, and that’s what counts today.

Scatter the joy,Walt Whitman wrote. My tiger scatters the joy, a delightful harmony. He is passionate about life while finding meaning and self-fulfillment in his everyday journey. He does this whether it’s during his endless hours of practice, walks across stages, performances before hundreds, including the Prince of Belgium and Henry Kissinger. It can be summed up in the simple act of going to a nearby school, where there are no music teachers to teach little ones the joy of a simple melody.

 Mom, I wish I’d come to the dinner table that evening with a delete key taped across my mouth. However, looking back on this growing-up experience, I understand without a doubt, the best dinner rule you ever made was the night you refused to feed the tiger.