In lieu of learning notes this week, here's this week's pivotal incident.
In February the two big girls started taking organ lessons. I'd been struggling with how to keep their interest in music after a difficult year with a piano teacher who was a bad fit with our family. A friend had been taking organ at a local academy and was doing very well, and my girls thought organ was intriguing and that they might like to try their hands at it. So we signed up.
There were warning signs at first. The teacher was used to pupils who were striving for excellence, and that has never been a hallmark of piano ambition at our house. After our first week, I had an email which laid out, gently but firmly, that if the girls didn't improve their practice habits, then our money would probably be best spent elsewhere. I sat on them for a week, setting timers, supervising every practice, correcting posture and wrist position, advising on Hanon and fingering and tempos and All The Stuff. The next week was better; the teacher sent another email praising their improvement, and we went on. They did well at the recital, and I breathed a sigh of relief at the summer break.
During the summer, the kids did play. They just never practiced their organ music. Eleanor and Julia both fooled around with pieces from a Sound of Music easy piano book. Isabel, not taking organ, was trying to learn Jingle Bells. They had fun without working too hard, but it was optional fun. They did it or not as they pleased.
Now, music lessons aren't optional at my house. Whether they like it or not, they're going to have to take something, just as they have to go to religion classes or do their math. So as it came closer and closer to the new year of organ, I exhorted them to practice. They did, halfheartedly. And it turns out they took their halfhearted attitude right into lessons.
After their first lesson this week, I received another email from the teacher. This one was even more firmly worded, though still exceedingly polite. Usually students starting a new year of organ come back with some enthusiasm, some readiness to play. She'd not seen any of that in the girls. The one with the stronger work ethic had powered through her lesson, but there was no joy or eagerness there. The one with the lesser work ethic (my formulation, not the teacher's) was inattentive, vague, nonchalant, and, when sent to the piano to practice while her sister had a turn at the organ console, had spent the whole time folding origami rather than playing. When asked if she was still interested in having lessons, she responded that maybe she would take it this year and then try something else. The teacher was not cashing my check. She wanted me to think about whether organ was right for our family, or, again, whether our money would be better spent on something the girls would enjoy more.
Perhaps it was my daylong sinus headache, or perhaps I'm in the October funk, but I cried over this email. Not little sniffles, not a tear trickling down my cheek, but big wrenching ugly sobs that required a litter of tissues. When Darwin returned home, having picked up the girls from dance class on the way home from work, I said I needed to speak to Daddy in the library and shut the door in the children's faces. I wept big sobs against his chest as the door kept opening and a concerned four-year-old head popped around the corner to ask several times, "Why is Mommy crying?" Why was I crying? Not because I was embarrassed for myself, though I was. Not because dreams of organ weren't panning out, although they weren't. Not even because of a girl acting her age -- I was that age once; I remember how strange it seemed that people thought I was being disrespectful when I thought that I was paying perfect attention, etc. Because, perhaps of failures -- a failure of manners, of real courtesy on the part of the girls; a failure of scholastic endeavor; a failure of household culture, perhaps, that gave my children the impression that they could blow through lessons as carelessly as they blow through their work at home, and that no one would call them on it. I questioned my entire homeschooling project now that I'd seen it tried and found wanting in public -- every homeschooling parent's fear.
After dinner we called the girls in separately and spoke with them. The lesser offender was given a choice about lessons, which she wasn't ready to make right then. After a weekend of thinking about it, I think I'm going to invoke parental privilege and override the choice with my decision -- no more organ lessons, in the best interest of the family. The greater offender was read the teacher's email and told that she had lost the privilege of studying organ, but that didn't mean that she was going to get out of taking music altogether, and that her parents were disappointed in her for choosing to waste the teacher's time and hers by disobeying the instruction to practice, and by being rude, whether intentionally or not, in the way she responded.
She wept. She had not meant to be rude. She wanted to play the drums.
"Honey, any teacher will tell you that piano is the best foundation for percussion because you learn harmony and rhythm," I said.
The tears continued to flow. "I feel about organ the way I feel about the cats," she sobbed.
My lips twitched. I looked at Darwin and saw his lips twitching. I looked away. I bit my tongue sternly. I made the mistake of looking back at Darwin, and we both broke down howling with laughter. And so the evening ended well-ish, although I still continued to tear up at intervals, and my eyes stung the way they do when you've been crying, and I started to wonder if I needed glasses.
And it's Monday morning, and I'm going to write to the teacher and tell her that we're not going to continue with organ and apologize again for the girls' behavior, and we're still homeschooling, and I'm going to research a new piano teacher, and the kids are alternately cutting up the newspaper article about Gone With the Wind to combine the stills into new movie projects while I try to write this out while yelling, "Just give me half an hour to write!" every time someone barges in to show me their story line. And life goes on, I guess.
The Parentheses of Palms
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