Sometimes I struggle with what is best for my girls when it comes to their lessons. I always have. In 2006 Grace had the flu. She spent two weeks on the couch watching the Winter Olympics - watching figure skating at the Olympics. She looked at me and said, “I want to do that.” She wanted to be in the Olympics. She wanted lessons. She wanted them NOW! I took her to a local rink and signed her up for their learn to skate program. Basic levels were passed at a rapid rate. She could not get enough of the ice. I used to say she was the happiest in skates. Because she seemed to have a talent and because we were just close enough, and because she talked about the Olympics all the time, we decided to take her to Simsbury for lessons. She completed all 8 Basic Levels. She completed several of the Freestyle levels, all before she was 8! She won her first competition and she placed in her second. Most of all she loved the sport and she loved her coach. But ultimately, she loved her father more. Unfortunately to compete in this sport, or any sport really, much time has to be devoted, much energy invested in practicing and figure skating is not a sport a child can do in any gym or any track. Ice time must be bought, skates sharpened, coaches paid, music selected, dresses fitted and siblings dragged along. We were traveling to Simsbury three to four times a week. Grace was taken out of school early. Homework was done on bleachers. Her little sister unwillingly went along for the ride. Weekends were spent rising at 6am, to be on the road at 7 and we did not return until at least 2 or 3. Sundays were spent at Church and family dinners. The four of us were never together alone, for extended periods of time. Grace decided to try skating closer to home. The problem with this was once you train at an Olympic-caliber facility where you are sharing the ice with Olympians and the children of Olympians, it is hard to find another program at a local rink that compares. Her next coach was not as inspiring. Her lessons were not as long or as demanding. She lost some of the love for the sport and chose to walk away from it and skate only for recreation. In effect, she chose her family over her sport. When I wonder if she misses it, I ask. She always says no. She enjoys skating weekly with her friends and for now that is enough. But tonight I was trying to find my old video of her first competition and she was watching over my shoulder. She said to me “Mom, was I really that good?”
For a while we thought Grace’s passion was athletics. She has taken many basketball clinics, workshops and camps. She can sink three pointers during games. UCONN tee shirts and sweatshirts were part of her daily attire. But it was not her passion.
Along came music. While Grace was skating, Lilah was taking piano lessons. Grace would sit and watch and absorb. When she ended skating, she immediately asked for piano lessons with Lilah’s teacher. Grace forms strong bonds with her teachers, whether it is her coach, school teacher or Sunday School teacher. She immediately connected with her teacher and now two years later she asked to increase her weekly lesson to an hour. Her teacher is wonderful but the school she teaches at has limited opportunities for the students. There are no ensembles and few performance opportunities for the children.
When it came time for flute lessons, we found a school in New Haven. Her teacher is also a music professor at Yale University. Grace has a very different relationship with her than with her piano teacher. Her lessons may not be as “fun” as piano, but she sure does love her ensemble group! She has been expressing interest in leaving the flute to try violin. Ugh. What to do, what to do! We have been talking about it. If flute was just a passing interest, that is okay, she is after all only 10. If she is not connecting with her teacher, I understand that too. I know she is not practicing enough to justify the cost of tuition.
Grace and I had a great chat after her lessons. I told her about my first piano teacher, an elderly blind man who somehow knew every single time I cheated and looked at my fingers. He was not warm and fuzzy but I really enjoyed my lessons with him. While I was still his student he fell and broke a hip. He died from his injury. I cried. It was my first experience with death. I was about Grace’s age. I told her that not all teachers are the same. We all have differerent styles. Sometimes those that are hard or hard to connect with become the teachers we remember mot of all.
Next week I am going to record her ensemble group. When she is focused on her piece, she does not get to enjoy the music being made by the group. She has no idea how good they are. She has only been playing for three months (I don’t count her time in 4th grade band, as she taught herself how to play). I asked her to give it more time before walking away from the flute. Give time to form a bond with her teacher. Let the ensemble group grow and develop and enjoy their first performace in January. I would hate for her to walk away from this experience and look back with regret.
This is when I wish for my crystal ball to help me guide her. She can be intense and driven. She can be aloof and carefree. Her talents are obvious but her path towards realizing her dreams is still unclear. She is only 10! But she did say she would still like to be a vet or a meteriologist, which have not chaged as carreer choices in years but now she is adding muscian to her list of possibilities. I want to give her every opportunity to make her dreams come true.
For now that means sticking with something that is hard. Getting our behinds to New Haven every week. Making more time for flute practice. Accepting that there is a larger goal behind a weekly lesson. Staying with a school that has turned out Juliard applicants and acceptants. For if that is truly her goal, how awful would it be to not have it realized simply because a lesson is not fun? I have a strong gut-feeling that in the spring when relationships are solidified and time has been invested she will be having a much different experience. If we are not, then it will be time to talk about moving on. But not now, not yet.