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Sex, Sippy Cups, Rock 'n' Roll: Guitar Class Saved Me

When I first heard about the guitar class for grown-ups being offered at Hootenanny, a funky spot in Brooklyn where my kids took Music Together classes, I was intrigued. Also? I was hesitant. I hadn’t picked up a guitar since high school. With 2-year-old twins, the thought of making time to practice an instrument seemed, if not insane, then at least highly unrealistic.

But when I pulled the Yamaha acoustic out from under my bed, Swiffering three inches of dust off the case, I was happy to find she was well-preserved in all her glory. With a shiny white lacquer, a dark mahogany neck and electric pick-ups to accommodate my inevitable appearance on MTV Unplugged, it was indeed a shame that no notes had sounded from her in decades.

Now, I knew why I’d never had the heart to sell her – I was going to play again.

On the night of the first guitar class, I hastily fed and bathed the kids prior to my husband’s arrival home. As he took his seat on the couch and started our nightly ritual of story-reading, I threw on a denim jacket, swiped on a bit of lipstick, fluffed my hair to rock 'n’ roll volume and picked up my trusty ax before heading out the door.

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A brief pang of guilt was quickly replaced by a feeling of sheer coolness as I strode through my neighborhood. I caught glimpses of myself in store windows. The woman reflected back at me was not a tired mommy with drool on her T-shirt, she was a rock star! As passersby glanced in my direction, I channeled my inner Nancy Wilson and realized that they probably thought I was on my way to a gig, having no clue I was actually going to learn kiddie songs in a carpeted room that required me to play in my socks.

When I arrived, the other local parents and I attempted to tune our instruments as we made chit-chat. We were blissfully free of our parental duties for the night, but almost as if against our will, the conversation quickly turned to toddler beds and night weaning.

Wait – weren’t we here to rock?

Then one of our classmates unzipped a backpack and placed a six-pack in the center of the room. With the first crack and fizzle of a popped bottle cap, the tension and apprehension seemed to lift.

Our teacher, Pete, needed no introduction since most of us had taken his classes with our little ones. With a mess of graying hair and gray skinny jeans, he played gigs on the Lower East Side by night as his alter ego, Pete Sinjin. A parent himself, he knew how limited our time was, but suggested that we try to practice guitar in increments of five minutes. Basically, whenever we could find a spare moment. Pete told us he had read entire books that way, while riding elevators to deliver packages as a bike messenger in San Francisco.

One by one, we each introduced ourselves, and immediately it was clear that we were a ragtag bunch. Just how bad were we? As we plucked our first strings, Pete picked up one student’s guitar, turned it in the other direction and handed it back to her with the stellar advice not to copy the left-handed guy.

I felt like a bit of a ringer, having played in a band as a teenager. OK, not an actual garage band, but an after-school activity – rock ensemble. The head of our school’s music department, Mr. Walden, who sported a Rick Springfield-style mullet and a bolero tie, led us through Faith No More’s "Epic" and encouraged me, the only girl in the band, to turn my amp up to 11. After playing our first school dance, we felt like Def Leppard coming off the stage at Giants Stadium.

Back in Brooklyn, Pete told us that children’s songs were a great place for us to start, not just because we could play them for our kids, but because they were generally simple, using no more than three familiar chords.

Jamming on 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star' and 'I’ve Been Working on The Railroad,' I was able to remember who I was before my life became focused on measuring out milk into sippy cups.

As we strummed enthusiastically, our teacher walked around the room. He moved wayward fingers onto the correct strings. Soon enough, we were all playing a C-chord in unison. “Yeah!” Pete said, clearly pleased with the results.

We spent the next six weeks drinking beer and making music. It all came back to me, how to read tablature, how to play “bar” chords and even how to tune my own instrument. There was now an app for that for the iPhone, but I remembered how to do it the old school way.

One night, when I returned home later than expected, I tried to explain to my hubs why suddenly this class had become so important to me. Even though we were playing kid songs, I wasn’t thinking about the kids. Jamming on "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" and "I’ve Been Working on The Railroad," I was able to remember who I was before my life had become focused on measuring out milk into sippy cups. In a strange way, this class was saving me — or at least a part of myself I’d thought was lost.

The week before our final class, Pete asked us to come up with any rock songs we wanted to learn. During the last class, he passed out a sheet with the chords for my choice: a song by Oasis. Pete demonstrated the chord progression, showing us how cool it was that a single note rang through the entire song.

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So on a recent Saturday night, after my husband and the twins were asleep, I cracked open the case, pulled out my guitar and began to practice. I was careful not to strum too loudly. “Cause maybe/You’re gonna be the one that saves me,” I sang in whisper, surprised that my fingers were finding the right frets.

I no longer had those teenage fantasies of playing sold-out stadiums. But here I was, making music, even if it was just five minutes at a time.

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