|The Violinist by Thomas Eakins|
As we sat on one of the many sofas in the music building's lobby, or stood, or walked around the campus, I observed the other parents who had brought their talented children to audition for the university's music program. Our boy had put a year of his life into preparing for this audition, taking music theory, history and harmony courses, studying tutorials online and wrestling to conquer a difficult Bach Fugue and a Mendelssohn concerto until he could play them upside down and backwards, or so it seemed. Our family, just like all the other families in the room, had found the money for private lessons and supported our child from his first days of drawing a scratchy bow across his quarter-sized violin strings, and I wondered how the other parents were feeling that day as they also waited. I was not nervous because I knew in my heart that even if he was not accepted into the orchestral performance program, he would be able to say that he could not have done more to prepare for his chance to show the department what he could do. At the end of the day of theory tests and a private audition with the heads of both the strings department and the orchestral department, our boy came out smiling, giving us the thumbs up. Everything had gone according to plan for him.
Our son began with the Suzuki method, which encourages children and parents to practice together. I had taken years of piano lessons and so downstairs we would go after supper each night to practice. We went through five levels of Suzuki before the piano accompaniment became too complicated for me, but I also think it was time for the two of us to go our separate ways. I was often tired after a busy day of working and mothering, and I confess my patience was a little on the thin side. We sometimes argued about a passage and how to get it right. I'll admit that I pushed him fairly hard in those days, recognizing his talent and wanting him to strive to be the best he could be. Somehow I just knew I could not let him give up on himself, and I hoped to teach him that hard work, perseverance and steady progress would overcome his frustrations, which seemed to be as regular as his many victories. He could be very difficult sometimes, and emotional, but over the years he learned to regulate and harness those emotions to feed his technical talent and make it into something beautiful. Once the piano parts were beyond me I decided it was time to step back and let him figure out if he wanted to continue on without me holding, or squeezing, his hand, so to speak, through every practice. He had a short crisis, but got through it and committed to his music on his own terms. He was thirteen. Since then he has developed an excellent work ethic which has crossed over to other areas of his life. He also knows how to relax, and when it is important to do so.
I was not pushed as a child. I was the sixth of six children, so that may have had something to do with it. I practiced my piano, but was never made to take an exam. I never once passed a set of swimming lessons due to the fact that I could not float or swim on my back. I did not need pushing to do well at school, and I was challenged plenty by my parents' way of living and bringing up their children, which was fairly strict and scrupulously honest. Nobody, however, hovered over me like a helicopter at any time in my memory, nor did they inflict their agenda on any of my 'talents', dubious as they were.
I have often wondered if I could have done with some more pushing. I have this sense that I sort of floated through childhood. Apparently, I resisted being organized into any activity such as Brownies (girl scouts) or sports before the age of ten. I remember a lot of playing and a lot of reading, always piano and some ballet lessons, and a lot of teasing from my brothers, whom I loved after all. Nor have I pushed my other three children. Sure, I made them all take music lessons, at least for a few years, and insisted they do their best in school, but besides my violinist, I have sort of sat back while they all excelled far beyond my expectations. I have stepped in when necessary and been their main cheerleader and psychologist, but after asking my daughter last night if she ever felt I pushed her and having her respond 'No' with a laugh, I am confident that my approach has been appropriate. Their dad and I have striven to help them learn to discipline themselves so that they gain satisfaction in their various accomplishments. I want the best for them, of course, but it is not my best. It is their best.
One hears from time to time of children who were pushed relentlessly by their parents to excel, and grew up to hate them. As I looked around the lobby of the university music building I wondered if any of the parents there had done so. I hoped not. I also reflected that perhaps my lack of skill at the piano had saved our situation. For once, I was glad I had not been more proficient.
Our son waited for a couple of weeks for news from the university. I was in the kitchen one morning when he came in saying, "Guess what!" He didn't wait for me to answer. "I got accepted into the program." I gave him a hug and phoned his dad at work - he was ecstatic and so proud.
We have a lovely new spring recipe over at Stella's Virtual Cafe: Roasted beet and Spinach Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette. Have a lovely weekend! It's going to be positively summery here.