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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