The Harshest Criticism I Have Ever Received
by Drew Holmes
The church service ended, and I descended the steps from the choir loft. It was Christmas Eve and I had played my trumpet for the evening’s proceedings.
As I chatted with Marlene, the organist, a member of the congregation approached me to offer her feedback.
“Well, you’ve certainly played that better!” offered the woman critically.
“Thanks, mom.” I replied flatly.
In six words my mother, the woman who had been to almost as many of my performances as I had, leveled some of the harshest criticism I had ever received as a musician. The real kicker? The only reason I was playing that night was because she had requested it.
I was just out of college and trumpet playing had taken a back seat to career building. I was living just outside of Trenton, NJ, and commuting ridiculous distances to my two orchestra library jobs in Brooklyn, NY, and Philadelphia, PA. The train conductors saw more of me than my roommate Geoff did, and I slept more in transit than in my own bed.
When December came, I took time off and returned to Massachusetts for the Christmas holiday. I brought my trumpet to perform in the Christmas Eve service, the first appreciable playing I had done since graduation seven month earlier. It would be another year and a move to Naples, FL, where finally I had only one library gig and a much shorter commute before I would take up trumpet playing again in earnest.
Back at church, the shock of my mother’s criticism washed over me. Who was she, someone who could only play the radio, to criticize me? Then I realized — she was not being cruel; she was being honest.
As a parent, I am tempted to tell my boys everything they do is superlatively wonderful. They are young, so saying nice things is not only easy but necessary. However, the day will come when I need to balance giving honest feedback with risking damage to their ego. At age 6 this is easy to do, at age 22 it will be trickier. Until that Christmas my mother had been gentle in her feedback, but she knew then what I did not — I was ready for her direct critique.
Parents are in a unique position to be our children’s greatest cheerleaders and harshest critics. We have the perspective to see the difference between what needs improving and what is a brag-worthy achievement. When my mother was less than gushing in her feedback, she was not being unnecessarily critical, she was telling me the commentary she offered — good or bad — would be honest.
The Christmas my mother offered me unfiltered and honest criticism she gave me one of the greatest gifts I have ever received — an opinion I can trust.