After Ballet class we usually walk to Starbucks. I have a coffee, the girls have a water and their favorite little Vanilla scones. Except, the FIRST day of ballet class, they had a hot chocolate. Celebratory hot chocolate. Katie was doing pretty well getting the hot chocolate into her mouth, and I was helping her. Well, first she pointed at it and said, with a concerned look on her face “Iss haauut” several times. Then she started drinking it. Then Abby distracted me and the next time I looked up, this had happened. And don’t ask me about her hair, I don’t know what’s going on with that. I got two kids fed and a ballerina fully outfitted for dancing by 9:30 in the morning, cuts had to occur. In this case, Katie’s Ponytails didn’t make it.
During our morning snack, we talk. Abby tells me about something funny Noah did, or why she likes a certain kind of dog, or what was hard in ballet class. She asks questions and I do my best to answer. This day we talked about music. She told me she wanted to play my guitar and I said she could when we got home.
She did. It sat on her lap, full sized, way too big, and she strummed away at the strings and sang. First they were songs that you and I would know, and eventually she was singing about what her sister was doing. She’s narrated our walks to the tune of Chim-Chimney, a sort of stream-of-consciousness lyrical deluge sung, and sung well, to a tune she knows. This singing about Katie playing with blocks was nothing new.
She loves music, which is why I’ve been talking to my mom about how to introduce her to musical training. While I’m responsible for instilling the skills that she will start her own independent life with, I want to do a good job of insuring that she has a broad and interesting base. Eventually she’ll be the Decider of what she pursues, but I want her to start off with a strong foundation.
At the same time, I think the most important skills to develop are problem solving, self reliance, and a love of learning. I don’t want to teach her anything in a way that doesn’t encourage and build her love for the learning process.
Finally, I recently heard a concert cellist on NPR talking about how she started playing the cello at four. I know there aren’t many people with that level of musical talent, and Abby won’t know if music is that important to her until she’s an adult, but I don’t want her to look back and think, “I wish my parents had given me this opportunity.” I don’t want any doors to be closed. If four is the right age to start learning an instrument in order to become a professional, then four is when she should begin so she has that choice.
My shrink advised me to be sure I wasn’t transferring my dreams onto her. That’s a reasonable caution, except that I’m a parent. Parenthood is just a clever word we came up with that means “Transferring your dreams, motives, and expectations onto your children, requiring them to exceed all of the aforementioned, and then taking credit.”
All joking aside, it did really make me question my motives. Do I want these things for her and her sister because I want them to have options, or because deep down I want to be a concert Cellist? Well not that, but something like it. You get the point.
And then my friend Kristi tweeted:
I think we can all agree that this represents a kind of parental craziness. Three languages? By the time the child is three? French Nanny? My eyes were rolling before I hit “reply”, and I couldn’t stop them until several minutes later. But my behavior is somewhere on this continuum. It isn’t quite at the “french nanny” or “Mandarin immersion Playdate” (I’m not even kidding) level, but I can see that craziness, from here.
Why is it so crucial for us to put all of this knowledge into our children? They certainly don’t care, and if they want it later they can pick it up on their own. Can a child who starts playing guitar at 7 compete with one classically trained since toddlerhood? I submit that she can.
What’s driving the current cultural trend to introduce structured education so early? Is it because we love our kids too much? That’s cheesy. Maybe it’s because we don’t see inherent value in childhood.
What is childhood really, besides a step On The Way to something? But this isn’t a very Zen way of looking at life. For my daughters, childhood is all, and for me, this moment, this who they are now, is all. Instead of worrying about preparing them for a future that they may not even have, I should be focusing on teaching them the things they really need to know right now.
There are things they need to know right now that will also prepare them for their future, whatever future they have.
I want to teach them that the world is full of magic. I mean what you’re thinking; I mean the magic of life and growing things, I mean the magic of moments with the people you love, I mean the magic of Being. But I don’t just mean that. I want them to see the world the way I do, when the doors to an elevator open in front of them I want them to wonder, for a moment, if there will be a small room or a vast ocean on the other side. I want them to realize that elephants really do prefer to nest in trees, but their camouflage keeps us from seeing them. I want them to understand that time is a lie, and that they can change reality by force of will. I want them to know that they’re writing the story, and when they write it from their hearts they will make it sing.
I will focus on these kinds of lessons, the ones that are impossible to believe in as an adult, and impossible to properly live without.