The Choice to Rest

Sometime during November 2008, when Oscar was all of four years old, he asked us, with all the earnestness he could muster, if he could begin playing the violin.  A wonderful instructor appeared at his preschool once a week; and after watching a group of classmates go off with her each Thursday morning, tiny violin cases in hand, he was eager to join them.  We made our inquiries and learned that the best time for him to start was after the holidays.  So we told Oscar that after Christmas he could begin violin.  On December 26th he walked downstairs and with absolutely no prompting declared that it was time to head to Providence to pick up his violin.  We did–and our visit to the violin shop coincided with a reporter’s visit as well, and Oscar and his violin landed a huge photo and writeup in the Warwick Beacon, a local newspaper, which we framed and hung in his room.

Fast-forward to September 2009: Oscar began Kindergarten intrigued that his violin teacher would be “following him” to his new school.  We asked if he wanted to continue lessons, and he enthusiastically said, “Yes!”  At each juncture when it was time to renew the contract, we asked Oscar if he wanted to continue; and the answer was always affirmative.

During this time, Oscar maintained that as soon as he turned eight years old and “could handle a tuba” he was going to play.  And lately more and more he has been sitting at the piano, plucking a few notes here and there–and sounding pretty good, I might add–making what happened today all the more surprising.

Oscar has two parents who are at two ends of the musical spectrum–one supremely talented, the other completely lacking.  It is our combined philosophy that pursuing a musical instrument should be something our children find enjoyable.  We are not of the ilk that they should sit–at their young ages–at an instrument against their wills.  And while they understand that not everything is “fun and games” and that practice is work, we firmly believe that pursuing an instrument should be something they choose and something that makes them happy.

Last night Oscar said that he was ready to quit violin.  This came out of nowhere–literally from the ether.  We asked him why and he said that he “wasn’t having fun.”  He then added parenthetically that there were other students whom he felt were better than he was and that he didn’t like having to practice.

We addressed it all last night and this morning–that “fun” with an instrument may not be the same kind of “fun” you have at an amusement park; that just because you’re not the best at something doesn’t mean you should walk away; and that practice is necessary for success in pretty much every endeavor.

We told Oscar that if he were serious about quitting, that he would have to inform his instructor himself.  He said he would–a little hesitant but largely undaunted.  He went off this morning (with his violin stealthily placed in the trunk, just in case he changed his mind).  He told his teacher he was quitting, listened to what she had to say, and then got in the car to come home.

As we drove, I talked to Oscar about his decision and how he felt about it.  He said he “felt bad.”  I let him know that that may be a sign that he should rethink things.  He asked how I felt about his decision.  I told him that I didn’t agree with it but that I accepted it.  And at nearly six years old, I could see him in my rear view mirror take in the weight of those words.  I stopped short of saying his choice to quit violin disappointed me because I wanted to see first if it disappointed Oscar.  Only time will tell that.  And if it does, I hope he’ll turn to us to help him navigate the next step.

Oscar has been saying lately that he wants to “be independent.”  We have had many talks about independence and the responsibility it entails.  And one of the responsibilities is to accept the consequences of your choices.  Today Oscar felt the consequences of a very big decision.  What he does next is up to him.  I know that there will be other decisions he’ll make with which I will disagree but ultimately have to accept.  But it is my hope that by letting him make some of those decisions now that he will learn all that being independent entails.

We could have made this decision for him–forced him to fulfill at least his commitment through the summer, but I have a feeling that trying to maintain instead of slowly relinquishing control has consequences bigger than what he felt today.  He is growing up, and his yearning to be independent needs to be honored within certain reasonable parameters.   We are raising a child, yes, but also a future adult who needs to be able to make good decisions and accept the consequences of all decisions he makes–both good and bad.  As I looked at the little boy today, head downcast thinking that he made a bad decision, I also thought of the man he will one day be.  A parent’s job–to send a child out into the world as ready as anyone can be–requires a total suspension of the ego and desire to control, not to mention the ability to make decisions.  Let’s hope his parents made a good one.

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Night and Day

As a Newporter, I suppose it is somewhat expected that I like (maybe even love) the beach.  But the truth is–I don’t.  Well, at least not from the hours of 9 AM until 5 PM.  During those hours I would rather be anywhere than the beach.  The dentist comes to mind.

But after 5 PM, I am more than ready to go.  The crowds have dissipated, the sun has cooled its proverbial jets, sunblock can be left at home, and the $15 parking fee can be spent at Subway on sandwiches.

My children may not know what the beach looks like before 5 o’clock, but if these photos are any indication, I don’t think they’ll mind.

Where Have I Been?

When I look at the very small number of blog entries I’ve written over the last two months or so, I realize that I probably should offer some sort of explanation–if not to our friends and family then to Oscar, Edgar, and August, who, I hope, will one day read these entries and notice that I sort of disappeared for a bit.

Pretty much every spare second of the last seven weeks I have been working–a second job, if you will–maybe even a third if you count taking care of a family as a job along with teaching from September through June.  A very kind person recommended me sometime in May to help with a writing project that needed an AP English teacher (thank you, Kellie); and since then, virtually every night after the boys are in bed, I have been sitting at my computer typing away, endeavoring to deserve the kind accolades that prompted the recommendation in the first place.

It’s been an interesting experience: I now have a taste of what it must be like to work from home full time.  I’ve learned that you can really get to like people just by corresponding with them through email and the occasional telephone call.  And, everyone sit down now . . . I’ve learned a little something about Microsoft Excel and editing features on Microsoft Word.

And during these seven weeks I have also been able to “squeeze” in family cookouts, a preschool and Kindergarten graduation, a fundraiser for our local animal shelter, a party honoring 20 years of teaching, several kids’ birthday parties, August’s first birthday celebration, Father’s Day, doctors’ appointments, dinners out with friends, a vacation to NYC, Connecticut, and Maine, a few evening picnics on the beach, laundry, and oh yes, a trip to the emergency room.

The one thing that did suffer, if that’s even the right word, is this blog.  There were simply not enough hours in the day to do what needed to be done for my family, at school, and on this project and write here as well.  Plus, most nights my eyes had a fabulous gray film over them from looking at the computer for so long that any writing I might have attempted would have been a little less than what I would have wanted.

But that’s okay . . . I’m not complaining–just acknowledging that I can’t do it all.  Occasionally I have to take time from one area to make time for another.  The non-negotiables are obvious.  But what can wait (and did) is this blog.

Every penny I earned working these last seven weeks is for my children’s educations; and the fact that I did not have to take time away from them to earn it is remarkable.  Thank you, Kristina and Sigrid, for helping me to juggle as much as I possibly could and for understanding those moments when I couldn’t.  And thank you, Oscar, Edgar, and August, for inspiring me to do more for you than I ever possibly could have imagined.

He’s Not Superman, and I’m Not Superwoman

Three days ago, sitting in the exact same position I am currently as I write these words, on a day that was as hot and humid as any we’ve ever known, Edgar did what Edgar has done many times before.  He walked over to August’s Jumperoo, draped himself over the seat component, and hung there a la Superman.  He wasn’t rocking.  He wasn’t rolling.  He was literally hanging there.  I uttered my obligatory and somewhat perfunctory, “Be careful, Edgar” and “Get down, Edgar.”  Edgar shifted his weight–benignly and commensurately with the heat-induced torpor we were all feeling.  The balance was disrupted, and in a flash and most assuredly without warning the seat flipped 180 degrees, leaving Edgar face down on the floor in a puddle of tears.

I lifted him up off the floor.  Oscar exited the play room and proclaimed with a horror that proved that no matter how much he purports Edgar to be his nemesis, his love is beyond compare: “There’s blood!  Lots of blood! What happened to Edgar?!”

I brought Edgar from the dimly lit dining room into the kitchen and inspected his teeth, his mouth–looking for the source of the blood that was on the floor and on his shirt.  Then I saw the drip come from his chin.  I tilted his head back and saw a laceration that no mother wants to see on her child–deep, profuse, and in need of stitches right away.

I called my mother-in-law, who mercifully answered on the second ring.  August, who was napping, and Oscar, who was upstairs now terrified by what was going on, needed someone to stay with them.   When I knew she was on her way, I called 911.  I thought that if Newport traffic and the myriad construction projects held up my mother-in-law in any way, I needed someone to tend to this wound sooner rather than later.  And in what must have been the mere three minutes we waited for everyone to arrive, I worked to apply pressure to Edgar’s chin and to calm Oscar’s fears.

From the time the paramedics arrived to the time we left the hospital, we couldn’t have been in more capable, compassionate hands.  Edgar left Newport Hospital with a stuffed penguin, a coloring book, and fifteen stitches in his chin.  And I left with a remarkable combination of gratitude (that he was going to be okay) and guilt (because I had been powerless to prevent it from happening in the first place).

I maintained my composure while we waited for the ambulance, as we sat in the ER, as Edgar’s stitches were administered, and as we drove home.  But composure in these situations has a definite expiration date–and once we were home and I knew we were safe, I gave in to everything I was feeling.

Oscar, who had recovered from the trauma he experienced as observer, asked me to tell him what was wrong.  I explained that as a mother, when my children hurt, I hurt, too; and I added that I also feel it’s my job to keep my children safe and that I was sad that this time I couldn’t.  Wise soul that he is, he looked at me and told me what my head knew but that my heart had to learn: “Mom, it was an accident.  There was nothing you could do.  If you could have stopped it, you would have.”  Then he patted me gently on the arm and went back to Cartoon Network--stepping outside his almost-six-year-old world only for a brief moment to dispense wisdom and comfort.

I know there are going to be many moments such as this.  The details will be different, but the net result will always be the same: I am their mother.  And as much as Edgar is not Superman, I am not Superwoman.  Keeping them safe at every moment of every day is not within my control; and, truth be told, it may not even be what is in their best interest.  They are going to have to field life’s hurts–both physical and otherwise.  It is how they will learn and grow. But if Oscar’s wisdom and compassion and Edgar’s grace in the face of adversity are any indication,  I am going to have to believe they’re going to be all right.