The One Thing

"The one thing" by Charisse Tierney (

Image credit: (2016), CC0/PD

When I’m not changing diapers, doing laundry, or trying to feed a small army, I am a professional clarinetist.

As I’ve worked with clarinet students over the years, I’ve spent countless hours diagnosing big and small problems: a new fingering here, a sharp there, or a new reed or piece of equipment as they’ve worked through various technical issues. Sometimes I can figure out why something isn’t working right away, and other times the inner workings of their embouchure and hand position just seem like elusive mysteries.

But when all else fails — whether it’s a note that won’t respond, an articulation that just doesn’t sound right, or a tone that needs some serious refinement — I often come back to one solution: air.

The clarinet is a woodwind instrument. If it doesn’t have wind — or air — it just doesn’t work. I’m always amazed at how, once I revisit the foundations of air support and proper breathing with a student, everything else just seems to fall into place. And this makes it easier to focus on why that student is really there — to express himself through the art of music.

My children are much like these clarinet students. There is one thing that makes everything else work for them. One thing that makes the rough patches in life a little smoother. My love.

It’s easy to tell my children I love them. It’s easy to tell other people that I love my children. But, just as my clarinet students don’t always remember to work off of the foundation of air, my children won’t always remember to travel through life on the foundation of my love unless I make time to remind them.

Our family is preparing for a big move. New house, new school, new friends. Each of my seven children has manifested anxiety over this change in different ways at different times. One day, my 8-year-old son seemed especially angry at every little trigger that came his way. Instead of just correcting his reactions to the annoyances of his day, I sat him down in my bedroom and had a good talk with him, just the two of us. Soul to wounded soul. Heart to hurting heart. It didn’t take him long to admit to me that he was feeling sad about leaving his familiar friends and school behind. I couldn’t fix his feelings and I couldn’t change our situation — but I could listen, sympathize, and love.

We ended our talk with a hug and a promise that we would get through this together. My son was reminded that everything we were doing was rooted in love, and even though we both knew there would be challenges in our future, we both felt more at ease.

I also recently had a talk with my 14-year-old son. An important talk — about appropriate behavior, respect, values, and morals just before he headed out to a school dance with his date. I talked to him about the values his dad and I expect him to uphold, but also told him all the reasons we are proud of him. And I tried to convey that I was open to hearing anything he had to say on the subject.

I fully expected him to run away from me as fast as possible once he sensed I was finished talking to him about such sensitive things. But, surprisingly, he didn’t. He stayed, right where he was on the couch, and opened up to me about some frustrations, his interests, and his hopes for life after our move.

It was my foundation of love that helped my 8-year-old resolve some anger issues, and it was my foundation of love that opened up some of the elusive mysteries of the teenage years.

I still don’t always know how to handle an unruly temper, and I certainly don’t know how to raise a teenager — but I can always fall back on love. Honest, raw, time-consuming love. It’s the air my children breathe. It’s the foundation that makes them strong. It’s the one thing that makes everything fall into place.

Copyright 2019 Charisse Tierney


About Author

Charisse Tierney lives in Wichita, Kansas, with her husband Rob and seven children. Charisse is a stay-at-home mom, musician, NFP teacher, and a Catechesis of the Good Shepherd catechist in training. She is also a contributing author to The Catholic Mom's Prayer Companion and Family Foundations magazine. Charisse blogs at Paving the Path to Purity and can be found on Facebook.

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