Gabby: “No, ma’am.”
Me: “And why not?”
Gabby: “I don’t know. I just forgot.”
Me: “What do you mean you forgot? Gab, you know you have to practice every day…”
So goes the beginning of my lecture to my daughter about her commitment to playing the piano. She’s been playing for a little over 3 years now, and when she started, she couldn’t get enough of the piano. In fact, part of the reason I signed her up for lessons was because she was constantly creating little tunes on the piano in our home (the same one I often reluctantly practiced on as a kid.) So, I started showing her a few things here and there so I could really gauge her interest.
By mere coincidence, in the fall of her second grade year, her school offered an after-school piano club program, which Gabby asked if she could join. Of course, I said yes. And by the beginning of the spring semester, her instructor thought she was ready for full blown private lessons. Sweet!
Full disclosure: I have to admit that I do regret giving up on the piano, so part of my enthusiasm was colored by the hope that my child might finish what I didn’t. And I was determined that she would have more discipline about practicing than I did.
Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t go all Tiger Mom, but I did insist that she take it seriously. (Well, as seriously as I thought was appropriate for a second grader.)
The thing is, during that first year and a half of lessons, I rarely had to remind Gabby to practice. She just did it – happily. Not only that, when family and friends came over, Gabby was eager to put on a little mini-concert. And not just any old “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” We’re talking original impromptu compositions here. And yes, I am biased.
Then as time went on, the novelty wore off; and those spontaneous practice sessions became less and less frequent. And then I saw her demonstrating some of the same [bad] habits I did: waiting until the last minute (like right before her lesson) to practice and memorizing her songs as opposed to learning the notes and reading her music. Plus, she figured out she’s fast learner with a pretty good ear, so she could afford to slack a little. (Yep, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.)
I’ve taken into consideration that as a fifth grader, there are now a few more activities competing for Gabby’s attention, so she might actually forget sometimes. And there are times when we have really long days and piano practice simply falls by the wayside in favor of getting to bed on time. But I knew I had to address whether her neglecting to practice was really her way of letting me know that she didn’t want to play piano anymore. Because as any well-seasoned parent knows, kids don’t always offer up how they really feel, especially if they’re worried about disappointing mom or dad.
I asked her if she wanted to stop taking lessons, and she said no. Meanwhile the inconsistent practice continued, in spite of the incentives her teacher and I put in place to motivate her. And my lectures continued, to little avail, other than making her feel guilty, which I absolutely did not want.
One day, I just decided to ask if her she still liked playing the piano. She said she did. And then I asked her if she loved it, to which she also replied yes. So, I said, “Well, when you really enjoy something and want to get better, you make time for it, even if it’s just a little bit each day. You make time for the things you love.”
As soon as those words left my mouth, I was hit by a wave of hypocrisy. Here’s the truth, the frustration I was feeling about Gabby not practicing, wasting my money, yada, yada, yada, was just as much about my own lack of discipline in certain areas of my life today. And if Gabby doesn’t see my making time for the things that I say I love or the things I say are important to me, how could I possibly expect more of her?
So, I’ve decided to back off. Hounding Gabby about practicing really was starting to have the totally opposite effect anyway. I need to give her room to make the decision herself. And if she truly loves playing the piano, I don’t want to steal her joy by having her associate it with constant nagging from her mom.
Time will tell if the piano is a long or short term commitment for Gabby. The last thing I want her to do is feel obligated to just stick it out, if she’s no longer into it.
What I do want her to learn is how to recognize her passions, and apply herself in pursuit of them. And I also want her to understand that is in fact ok to change your mind, and dare I say it, be a quitter.
The best way for me to do that? Lead by example. Stay tuned…
Taralyn Caudle is a freelance writer and Huntsville native who returned to her hometown to raise her beautiful and energetic daughter, Gabby. When she’s not nurturing the talents of her budding artist, she can be found on the hunt for good food, good music, or a good deal on a pair of shoes. Practically possessed by politics, purple, and Prince, she loves alliteration (obviously) and has been known to quote music lyrics in everyday conversation, from Hall & Oates to
Kanye West Kendrick Lamar. Her current philosophy on life: a little bit of sarcasm and a whole lot of laughter never hurt anybody.