Friday, January 1, 2010

Payback’s a B—.

My daughter has recently taken up the flute. She has a group-lesson every Friday during school time, a private lesson at home every Friday, and she has just begun band practices on Wednesdays after school. It’s a lot, I realize, but music is important in our house and she’s lucky enough to have a school system that still funds and encourages music as part of the curriculum.

Practicing is another matter. I’m sure there aren’t many moms out there who don’t already know how hard it can be to get a kid to practice her instrument every day. But when I sat down with her this past week to practice and really grasped (a) how much she was struggling, (b) that, according to her, she was behind her classmates and (c) how difficult it was for her to accept that she actually had to practice in order to play well, it set off a powerfully uncomfortable chain reaction in my own emotions.

I’m a lifelong quitter. People who know me might disagree. Some would be quick to describe me as a go-getter, a ‘tough cookie,’ a passionate and determined do-er. Stubborn, willful, perfectionistic, yes, but not a quitter. I stand before you today (well, sit) to tell you that these personality characteristics are not mutually exclusive. In fact, it is my stubborn, willful perfectionism that makes me a quitter. Over and over in my life I have chosen the path of least resistance rather than doing what it takes to really reach for a goal. Over and over in my life I have quietly tried something new and, as soon as I couldn’t do it perfectly, completely given up and fervently hoped no one noticed.

I’ve changed a lot in the past five years. Let’s leave it at that.

So when my daughter sat in my bedroom sobbing and whining and yelling about how she just couldn’t do it, how she would never be good at the flute, how she wished she’d taken a different instrument because flute was just too hard, how the other girls in her group didn’t seem to have any problems at all, and on and on ad infinitum, it struck a nerve. On a lot of levels.

Just a week or so prior to this, I was whining to my husband about Eiledon’s academic struggles, how her ADHD is effecting her performance and how I can’t seem to get her to care enough to work at it. I think I said something like, “I can’t even begin to know how to deal with this. I never had to work at anything in school. Ever!” Dan’s reply was like a two-by-four to the temple. “Well, Bek, looks like that backfired on you. And all that work you didn’t have to do when you were growing up? Congratulations: you get to do it now.”

Congratulations. I’m sitting in a room with a 10-year-old version of myself, finally being forced to actually work at something, to try and fail and try again and fail again and NOT give up because it isn’t some stupid gym class or popularity contest. It’s my daughter.

I recently read a quote—I think it was John Taylor Gatto, but I could be wrong—that went something like this: “If you want to build a child’s self esteem, assign them something they can’t do and then have them work on it until they can do it.” I’m not big on Gatto’s opinions about public education, but that one stayed with me. Probably because it’s true.

Eiledon can’t play like James Galway. Because she’s 10. But the way her eyes lit up when I played her the first measures of “Over the Sea to Skye” was magical. “That’s a flute?” she asked. I nodded. It doesn’t matter to me whether she ever plays like James Galway, as long as she doesn’t quit just because it’s hard work. Here’s hoping I can be an example to her by not quitting just because parenting is hard work.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, payback can be tough. But it looks like you have the perfect motivation to see this one through to the end - because, like you said, she's your daughter.