While my two girls are the best of friends (when they’re not busy never playing with you again for the REST OF MY LIFE) they couldn’t be more different. Despite nearly identical upbringings, one of them eats everything, and one eats only treats (unless bribed with the promise of treats.) One started recognizing letters and words as a young toddler, and one wasn’t the least bit interested until she was almost five. One is pants-clinging shy, and one makes new “best friends” somewhere along the journey from the top of the slide to the bottom. I’ve learned from this that qualities we may wish for our child, and may work hard to instill, are just that…wishes. In other words, a mentsh tracht und Gott lach.
Seven years into this whole parenting thing, you would think I would have learned this lesson. And somehow…..not so much. My ongoing folly in this regard was pointed out to me, not so subtly, by my daughter Ella, when we read the PJ Library selection, Kugel Valley Klezmer Band, by Joan Betty Stuchner, a few nights ago.
Ella, our first grader, is shy. She takes a long time to warm up to new people and new situations, and prefers needs to know EXACTLY WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN NEXT in order to be comfortable. One new environment a year is about all she can manage, and since progressing to a new grade is not optional, that’s it. School is her one activity. At the same time, she’s an incredibly bright, talented kid with a wide range of interests. Consequently, I can’t seem to help my self from seeking out, and sometimes signing her up, for lessons, camps and all the other amazing experiences for kids that I’m just sure she would love if she would just give them a chance. Art camp, children’s chorus, Montessori camp, museum programs, swim lessons…..let me count the ways I have made my daughter miserable through the best of wholly misguided intentions.
One such experience occurred this past September. Our family attended an open house at the local music school, where different instruments were set up around the building, giving children the opportunity to listen, touch and try. When we entered the violin room, Ella’s face immediately lit up. The teacher placed the instrument on her shoulder and guided her hands along the bow. “I love it” she whispered. All the next week, she would turn to me at unexpected moments and say “I can’t stop thinking about the violin.”
“Hooray!” I thought. “I’ll sign her up for violin class!”
Ella agreed with a grave smile, but as the date approached, she became increasingly anxious. On the day of the first class, she refused to even sit with me and watch. “I don’t want to do it,” she insisted. “Maybe when I’m older.”
I recalled this experience when I read Kugel Valley Klezmer Band to my daughters. In the story, a young girl named Shira falls in love with the fiddle. She dreams of learning to play and ultimately joining her father’s Klezmer band, but is told that “some things are not possible.” Rather than abandon her dream, she secretly acquires a violin and finds a hiding place in the forest were she practices and practices and practices. And when the fiddle player in the band falls ill on Chanukah, she takes center stage, bringing a roomful of partygoers to their feet.
“Doesn’t this make you want to take violin lessons?” I asked Ella. “Don’t you remember how much you loved it? Wouldn’t it be fun to play like Shira?”
“No,” she said firmly. “I’m not ready. And besides, Mama, she didn’t even take lessons.”
She was right of course. I had totally missed the point of the story. While I do think taking lessons is a better way to learn an instrument than, say, hiding in the forest with a handmade instrument, this isn’t a story about becoming a virtuoso. It’s about trusting our children, and letting them grow according to their needs, not ours. Ella is delighted to spend hours curled up with a book, or a sketch pad, or playing imaginary games with her sister, or exploring the backyard. And while it’s my job to help her grow, I shouldn’t confuse that with forcing her to grow. Someday, she’s likely to surprise me, and perhaps a room full of adoring fans, at the same time.
*A mom makes plans, and God laughs.
The PJ Library® program sends Jewish-content books and music on a monthly basis to families with children through age eight. Created by The Harold Grinspoon Foundation, The PJ Library is funded nationally in partnership with The Harold Grinspoon Foundation and local philanthropists/organizations.