Quitting Piano

We let Oswald quit piano. (gasp, gasp)

I had no idea what a huge mistake this was until his piano teacher responded with an email about all she had been doing to “better meet his needs” and an admonition that ‘That is the moment when parents need to step in and say “Remember the up and down long-term relationship chart? You are just in a valley and we will help you power through because we want this for you and know how much it will enrich your life.”‘

Who doesn’t love to get parenting advice from their child’s piano teacher?

I thought about writing back. Osward has a suspected brain tumor. (That was true three years ago and ruled out with a MRI.) I was diagnosed with Lyme disease. (True last year though I’m much better now.) I’m taking care of my Dad. (Never been true but I do spend a good hour on the phone with him several times a week.)

The truth is, Oswald’s 10 minutes of practice every day was taking over an hour. He’d fight and argue and hang backwards off the piano bench. He’d say he just needed to do a few handstands or flips to get the wiggles out. Then he’d play a couple chords and go into rag doll mode–sometimes trying to make the chord with his feet. The piano bench and a couple of keys were taken out in the process.

I’ve been going through this with him nightly for 3 years. I finally just asked him.

“Oswald, I’m noticing that you are having a hard time focusing at the piano. What’s up with that?”

“I don’t want to play piano, but I don’t want to disappoint Ms. Mary.” (Waa-Laa!)

So, there it is. He doesn’t want to play piano! There is a real simple solution to that.

Sure, my mommy self is thinking about all the research on how good piano is for ADHD kids and growing brains and all that, and I could have put these concerns on the table and come to a solution with Oscar that met both of our concerns (as Ross Greene has taught me to do)… but my mommy self is also thinking how lovely it will be not to have this battle every day.

And it is lovely. There are enough non-negotiable things in life: clothing, kindness, school. I’m not going to force my kid to learn piano if he doesn’t want to play piano.

The irony is that while I’m absorbing Ms. Mary’s disappointment for him, I’m also absorbing blame from friends for “making” Gerald skate and “taking it too far” now that he’s competing. The difference is that when I sat Gerald down when he was eight and fighting me about skating and I asked, “I’m noticing that before skating you’re really having a hard time, what’s up with that?” His answer was, “I really want to skate, but I’m scared.”

Yep, that we work through that.

What really strikes me about this experience is just how much criticism we absorb (and probably how much we dish out) as parents. Do I be a demon mom for making Gerald put back a cookie or let it go and be the parent making her kid fat? Do I take the glares of other parents while my kid is screaming at Trader Joes, or do I let them see me give in to the whining? Do I take my kid to piano when he hasn’t practiced all week and get told I have to make him practice, or do I not take him and get a lecture on that?

In the end, we know our kids. We have to make the decisions that are best for them and just block out the rest of the world. I am sure there are places in the world where families live in such tight-knit communities that everyone understands each other’s decisions a little better and kids have lots of extra aunties and uncles who will help them explore all kinds of interests as they grow up and figure out who they are. Many days I worry that through adoption our kids were removed from exactly that sort of world. (Though, on the other hand, that whole lack of food and medical care and schooling and clean water thing might have interfered somewhat, too.)

This is perhaps our most important life’s work… and we all need more encouragement. So, parents, let’s be nicer to each other. If your friend gives her fat kid a cookie, then good for her for letting her kid be normal. If she takes it away, well then good for her for helping her kid make healthy choices. To the mom of the screaming toddler, good for you for sticking your ground. To the one with the Fruit Loops in the cart, it’s great that you can realize some battles aren’t worth having. To any parents out there who made their kids stick with piano lessons, I admire your persistence. And to those who let their kids quit, I’ve totally got your back.

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