Two years ago Micah announced he wanted to learn to play the violin. We had been visiting friends whose children were learning violin via the Suzuki method and Micah had been quite enthralled and inspired by their playing. I put this off for a while, but finally I felt I had to look into his request. Luckily, we got hooked up with “world’s greatest music teacher for small children”, named Kathleen. This is NOT an exaggeration, this woman has taught hundreds of pre-school aged children to play the violin and never resorted to the type of screaming I wrote about in my last post! Unluckily, I did NOT know what I was getting into with the Suzuki method (on second thought maybe that was lucky, as I never would have signed up had I know). Specifically, I had NO IDEA about the amount of parental participation required. I also did not know that once a month we would gather for a group lesson with all the other Suzuki kids, playing with Kathleen’s direction, for 45 minutes.
I won’t do it the injustice of trying to explain the Suzuki method itself, you can find that on the Wikipedia page. But I will sum it up by saying that children are meant to learn the instrument the way they learn language: through listening, practicing motor skills, and the parent guiding their children as though they are the teacher. The first year of the method involves simply figuring out your relationship with your child and how you are going to inspire them to practice everyday! Yes, everyday! My first year with Micah involved beautiful lessons with the teacher where he listened to everything she said, worked very hard for 30 minutes, and was sweet throughout. At home, we would last about 2 minutes before he was whining, I was yelling, or someone was crying. I am not proud of this, but I actually said to my then-4-year-old: “These lessons are really expensive! And I am tired of being miserable trying to help you practice everyday! So if you are going to make me miserable because you are miserable, let’s just quit!!!”. Yep, mother of the year, right here.
So we didn’t quit and after one year of lessons (just like Kathleen had promised, but I hadn’t believed), Micah could suddenly play a song – by himself! Without me having to hold his arm, move his fingers, or help with bowing (parents literally move their children’s body parts to help them gain motor memory in the Suzuki method). Hallelujah! Then he could play another and another! Suddenly practicing was totally different, still required prompting from me, but no more misery. But boy oh boy, was that first year miserable.
This year, I am half way through year 1 with Ariel. She being a more headstrong personality, this has been even more difficult a start. And I am once again left wondering daily, why I am doing this? It is not like I have tons of free time, now is it?
So you can imagine my utter annoyance and rage when I am sitting at gymnastics watching Ariel, and another mom starts talking about violin. Turns out her daughter, we’ll call her Emily, has just started with Kathleen. So I join in to commiserate: “Oh, the first year is SO hard, isn’t it? Sometimes I just want to tear my hair out, Ariel is so frustrating”. Other mom says (in a sickly sweet voice, I might add): “Oh really? Not for us, little Emily would just practice all day if I let her! She just LOVES playing her violin with me, we haven’t had any problems”. I just stared at her. Then my brain started wondering WHY women, MOTHERS, say these things to each other. I mean, was her comment designed to make me feel bad? I have avoided sitting next to this mom ever since, because I have noticed this Pollyanna attitude applies to everything and I just find it SO annoying and I CANNOT believe that it is the truth!
ANYWAY, getting back to Suzuki group. I am there fighting with Ariel (she loves her private lesson and is, like her brother, the model student for that, but does not enjoy group). She says she is “tired”, she deliberately takes too long getting her violin up so she usually misses playing 75% of the exercises in group. I am trying to coax her to “hurry up” and in walks Emily and her mother looking all rosy-cheeked and rested and ready to go. Behind them, is Emily’s father. I watch the scene unfold: Father sitting on chair, mother kneeling in front of him with her back to him, and Emily facing her parents. Mother helps Emily with her violin while father envelops them all with his arms and everybody sings the notes Emily is supposed to play and they all manage to cuddle while this is happening. It was a sickening display of family happiness and love. Except…
I haven’t told you that Emily is adopted from China. I don’t know the family that well, but I suspect they waited many years for a baby and that this little girl, this little family, is their dream come true. How can I be sickened by that? My heart kind of melted as this realization swept over me. Emily’s parents were truly basking in the joy of these moments with their daughter.
And probably I should remember how lucky I am to have been able to get pregnant so easily and produce 3 healthy, beautiful children. They are gifts that came so easily to me and perhaps I take them for granted a little too often. OK, lesson learned. Fighting over violin lessons with my children is a privilege I am lucky to have. I will work harder on remembering that when I am in the middle of a frustrating violin practice.
(But Emily’s mom is still a little harder to take…)