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.