I sat on a wooden bench outside the tiny classroom in the music school, my solemn despair amplified by the sad tune my daughter and her teacher played on their violins. Ah! That was the beauty of the violin. The sounds that arose from the confluence its strings, the bow and a musician’s touch certainly had a way of tugging at my heart strings. Tears filled my eyes as it dawned on me that this was going to be her last class. A couple of weeks earlier my child had decided to stop taking lessons. She just didn’t enjoy it anymore she said.
For years we had been regulars to this school. Every week rain or shine we would be there for her class-an eager child learning to navigate the world of music and an even more eager mom proud to watch her progress. How gratifying it had been to see the transformation from shrill notes to pure melody in the same time that she had blossomed from a little girl into a teen.
I was sad. Why did she have to quit? That too when she had come this far and in her junior year. How would the fact that she had stopped playing the violin reflect on her college applications? There were a few colleges that offered a great education in her dream career but most of them were so selective in their admissions. Recent college campus visits to their information sessions had made me realize that there was truly no algorithm to guarantee an admission. The only thing they all emphasized was they would admit students whom they thought stood out in a crowd. Didn’t that mean their resumes had to be crowded with achievements? Wouldn’t her resume look a little less embellished if she gave up the violin?
Earlier today I had shown my other child, my son, a list of summer camps ranging from STEM to rock climbing, camps that promised to stimulate him physically and mentally and teach him skills that would give him an edge over his peers. I was disappointed when he turned down all of them and instead picked a fun one that in my opinion did not really boost him on the learning curve. My little one was the happiest kid on the block but was that enough in an age of child geniuses? Every day there were stories of exemplary young kids who had achieved greatness- six-seven year olds who played three instruments with ease, kids who were barely in their teens playing professional sports, middle school children who published books, high schoolers who invented apps. that made a difference in the world. It was an intense and competitive environment out there. Were my husband and I doing enough as parents to create a strong launch pad for our kids? Did we fall short in the “push” department? Maybe we were too laidback and relaxed in our approach.
Years ago at my son’s karate class I had taken a heartfelt decision to never force my kids into doing activities they didn’t enjoy. It had come to me one day while I was observing the little ninjas in pristine white kiap while learning a new kick-punch combination. There was one little boy who seemed to outshine the others every time. His kicks were exquisite, his punches strong. While most of the other kids struggled to maintain their balance after a jump kick, this child moved swift and steady. Yet after every move he made, the child would look longingly at his father, who sat across the room, for approval. Each time the dad would signal him to kick a tad bit higher or punch a tad bit stronger. That broke my heart. Of what use is talent if one needs another’s validation to enjoy it? It was such a strong display of martial art yet it was not for himself the child performed. It was to please his father. That just seemed so wrong. That’s when I decided if the kids chose to do an activity they would because they enjoyed it. Of course, since it was their own decision they would also have to take responsibility to make sure they made it to the classes on time and did their bit to practice at home.
It had all worked out well until now. As the time to send them off to college drew near, I found myself feeling anxious, ill equipped. It seemed like my ‘just stay happy and healthy’ mantra had failed to sharpen the killer instinct my kids needed to survive in a shark tank. Also as I sat on that wooden bench I could not help but wonder if all those evenings spent at the music school, all those trips to the music auditions, rehearsals and orchestra concerts had been a waste if they hadn’t added to anything substantial on her resume. Was it unfair on my part to have greater expectations of her? After all, when she chose to play the violin she must have dreamt of making it count too?
Just then that little voice, my constant companion whom I often write about, spoke. “Ahem- You know when she picked up the violin, she just wanted to learn a new skill. You were the one who reached Carnegie hall in your dreams. When your son picked up the tennis racquet all he ever wanted was to hit the ball across the net. You were the one that reached the Grand Slam. They are still young and have just begun their journey in a rowboat to explore the sea of life. The waters ahead are choppy. Instead of being the oars that steer them ahead, you hopped onto a speedboat and reached a destination- an island of imagination that was probably not even on their course. It’s a good thing you let them decide what they liked to do but remember you also have to let them decide how much they like it. They will be fine. You need to focus on your own passion instead.”
Guilty as charged, I thought sheepishly. In fact, ‘the voice’ had been kinda gentle today. She didn’t admonish me about the time I reached ‘Broadway’ when my child landed a fairly meaty role in his elementary school play or the time I teleported to the Olympics when my daughter took her first archery lesson. Or the time that I dragged the poor baby for voice lessons for almost a year- lessons she hated. (that was prior to the karate kid lightbulb moment.)
Fortunately, the kids didn’t take up the offer of being coached for acting or archery. They knew what they wanted. I didn’t. Or else there would have been multiple islands of imagination in the Pacific.
The voice was right. Instead of whining about the trips to the music school coming to an end, I should be glad that I now had more time to write. A passion I had discovered fairly recently and what richness it had brought to my life! When I sat down to write, it was as if nothing else mattered. It was my sacred space where the words just flowed from my heart to the screen. There was no one or nothing in between. At those moments it really didn’t matter if a loved one had dug their fangs in my neck or a dear friend’s arrow had pierced my heart or a war ensued outside my realm. I still cared deeply about the world, yes but in those moments it didn’t matter if the world cared back. It was pure joy!
That’s probably how an artist feels when he paints, a sculptor feels when he sculpts, a dancer feels for rhythm… probably what my husband feels when he tees off at the golf course and exactly what my daughter should have felt when she played the violin. If she didn’t, then mastery over the skill would take a lot more effort and would yield a lot less joy. I had to salute her for having figured this out. All was well.
I sat on that speedboat one last time to imagine what it would feel like to compare this joy I felt when I wrote to the joy of a parent whose child had just won the Nobel prize for physics. Sadly, I realized that the happiness a parent felt when their child had achieved something great would always be tainted with pride. It would never be unadulterated bliss. How selfish of me then to dream for my kids or charter their course in life! As a parent I just had to gently remind them to steer their boat to follow their heart’s course, not mine so that they could create sacredness of their own.
That realization felt like a big load off my shoulders. Why did parents worry so much? We didn’t have to tailor our lives to look good on an application or a job resume or prove our children’s worthiness to the world. We had live our lives just for the joy of being, enjoy moment. of togetherness. Yet ever so often, parents in an attempt to mould their creations to perfection ended up squishing them.
Well, I would certainly try not to. Forget summer camps, what I needed was a puppy! To teach me to be in the moment and live, laugh and love.