Good Kids

good kids

His comfort zone

I let my son quit orchestra this week.  It’s a bit hard to write, but I admit it – I let him quit.  I’d had enough with the tears and the worry and the nine-year old stress of rehearsal between football games and math homework.  I was done with driving a cello around our little mountain town because it was too big to carry on the school bus.  I was tired of writing rental checks for the giant instrument in the corner that produced only angst and a horrid screeching noise.  It was all too much.

My son is relieved.  He is glad he no longer has to air-bow his way through Monday evening orchestra rehearsals.  He’s happy to concentrate on basketball and school now that he can stop worrying about his agonizing stage fright.  It makes sense to him: “We’re not really orchestra people, Mom,” he quipped.

But I admit to being mortified.  It’s not just that my brother is a musician or that his wife is a composer or that some research shows that kids who play instruments are smarter.  It’s also not about our closest neighbors having a house full of instruments and kids who play them – really, it’s not.  I’m mostly horrified that I let him stop doing something that proved to be really hard on his nine-year old psyche.

In Wyoming there is no better compliment than being labeled a “good hand”.  Maybe this is true in other parts of America, but here we are particularly tied to the unforgiving landscape around us.  And there’s not a moment’s rest when incomes and economies rely on hard, physical labor.  It does not matter if the work is difficult or mind-blowingly mundane; we are at our core a people who value a hard day’s work – quitting is not an option.

But it is not just the realities of the rural west that has me worried about this most current parenting challenge.  Everything about mommy culture tells me my responsibility is to keep my kid committed.  I am supposed to teach this little boy dedication and perseverance.  I must show him that hard work and determination are necessary and in the long run, rewarding. He needs to learn follow through and stick-to-it-iveness. I fear entitlement and spoiled child syndrome.  Almost everyday something in mommy culture reminds me: “quitters never win.”

While I acknowledge the lessons that finishing the orchestra year might have provided, it seems possible that nine-year old Frank wasn’t the only one who could learn something about follow-through.  I needed to be reminded of my commitment to raising boys who have strong, personal voices.  I want children who speak up for themselves, who question the norms and status quo, who occasionally buck the system and ask (respectfully – I hope!) “What’s the point?”.

We are lucky: our boys have tremendous opportunities.  We live in a small place, but our state funds music and sports and the arts.  My boys have so many choices that we can’t possibly try – and stick with – everything.  I am proud of the conversation Frank and I had at the breakfast table last week.  He was calm and articulate.  He explained how lost and overwhelmed he felt; he reminded me about his attempts to practice and his other successful commitments to soccer and football.  And he made a compelling case for what he needed.  In the end I’m forced to admit – quitting was a valuable lesson for both of us.

– Sarah

9 thoughts on “Good Kids

  1. this is so true and honest.. and I don’t look at it as quitting. I look at as you gave him a chance to try something. It ended up not being something he wanted to do, but he tasted it. There are so many interesting things to do, and not all kids are musicians and not all kids are athletes. But it’s important to taste it and see if it’s something you like and want to master..

  2. I played soccer for years because of the pressure to ‘be involved.’ The best game of my career was one in which I was forgotten on the side-line and didn’t have to play at all. Clearly, I should have quit sooner. When I finally did quit, I took up swimming. I felt more a part of the swim team than I ever felt of the soccer team within 10 practices. Twelve years later, I still love swimming and still practice daily and swim for triathlons. I’d never have discovered my own individual style of athleticism if I hadn’t been allowed to quit soccer. A person simply can’t love everything…it’s great that your son can differentiate and express to you the difference between the things he loves and the things that are expected of him.

    • Thanks Tessa. My younger son is a swimmer and one of my favorite things about this new hobby is that I can already see that he is likely to keep swimming over the course of his life. He found his way to the pool independently and that seems to be the key to his continued swimming happiness.

  3. Good job Mama! I struggle with the same internal conversations. Thanks again for articulating things that many of us think but don’t necessarily have the words to say!

  4. I think you both did a great thing. He tried and that is what’s important because then he was able to make an informed decision about what he wanted to spend his time on.
    you wrote so well about the worry that goes with many of the parenting choices we make for our children and mostly as long as we love and respect them it works. and also is for the most part wonderful.

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