As much as I hate the consequences of what I’m about to say, I nod my head, commiserate for a moment with my defeated child, and take a deep breath.
“You just have to keep practicing. It’s the only way you’ll get better,” I say as gently as I can.
I brace myself. Either tears or a swift crack of the recorder against the chair will come next. “I hate this thing!”
“I hate it too. God, I really do,” I think.
“Squeeeeeee, skreee, skree, squeeee, squraaaa squaaaa-eeeeeeeek—BANG! BANG! BANG!”
“Don’t bang it. You’re going to break it. And you can’t expect to learn it in two minutes. Practice some more.” I leave the room.
My son is not a musical child obviously. At least, he won’t be now because learning the recorder for school has not been a good experience. He was excited for this with his very first squeak. Now, not so much. He won’t be trying out for band in middle school, so what’s the point of learning this thing, he huffs.
I know his pain. It’s exactly the way I felt about math from fourth grade on. I’m sure I threw a pencil or two. When would I ever use math? Little did I know I’d be punished decades later with a job that required me to know those same stupid elementary skills and two children who squirmed through math homework. No end in sight to that last one.
I hate to admit it, but I think my son gets his need of instant gratification from me. I hated to practice. If I wasn’t good at something right away, well, it wasn’t for me. Even though I wanted to write from the time I started kindergarten, I was never one for revisions. I thought my first drafts were perfect. Teachers and professors and editors must have wanted to snap my bony limbs in half. Why did they never call me out on my cockiness?
My daughter reminded me last night that she is cut from a different cloth. She wants to learn to do a handstand. I tucked my shirt in my jeans, raised my arms overhead, and pointed my left toe straight out. Like gliding on roller skates, it all came back. I moved forward and felt my body take over. I proudly did a dozen handstands and I can still walk today. My daughter tried for 45 minutes to do a handstand. I watched as she somehow got her hands stuck under her knees and landed smack on her face. She laughed and she tried again. And again. And again. She still can’t do one.
Practice makes perfect. Unless you don’t want to be perfect at it—if it’s something you hate.
As for my writing, I wrote all the time in journals—practice I never realized I was getting. I knew what I could get away with for a passing grade on papers. I finally started to listen to my editors. Now, revise, revise, revise.
And my son? No, I don’t think he’ll ever master that recorder. He’ll put his efforts into another passion another day. But I do fear he’ll end up with a child who wants to play first violin in the orchestra.