Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Flushed Away

Piano lessons.

Ugh! That's sort of my response when those two words come up. I, of course, am a piano drop-out and so have this nagging desire for my children to not have the regret I do. That means I want to sign them up for piano as soon as possible and then patiently tutor them through years of lessons until they master it well enough to at least play all the hymns and some other enjoyable music of their choice.

OK, so maybe instead of "patiently tutor" I should say, "nag, beg, force, coerce and manipulate." It never starts out that way. I mean, my two oldest children were just as excited to start piano lessons as I was for them to start. But then, it slowly wore of--the excitement, that is. Until, inevitably, I have found myself paying for weekly lessons without hearing the daily practice. That makes for slow piano learning, let me tell you. We seem to be on the 20-year plan when it comes to mastering those hymns, and I just can hardly take it.

Truthfully, Hallee is doing well (finally). She is to the point of practicing without complaint and without urging. Thus, she is making great progress. I love it!!!! There is hope for her.

Nate, on the other hand . . . well, let's just say, it's not quite that way. Let me explain.

Nate started lessons a couple of years ago and has done quite well. That is, until he became so actively involved in sports (his first love by a mile) that his free time became more limited. That led to a decreased desire to use some of that free time up practicing the piano. Now, I can hardly blame the kid, but still, 20-30 minutes/day just doesn't seem like it should kill him.

Here he is at his last piano recital in May. Doesn't he look like a piano player?

Long story short, this summer I finally decided to put my foot down. I had tried the reasonable techniques most mothers used: reward systems, encouragement, sitting down with him to practice, praise, etc. No results. There are times when moms have to pull out something more, when they have to dig deep and really come up with something good. Or maybe desperate is a better word.

I called Hallee and Nate into the bathroom one day a couple of months ago. I showed them a $10 bill and asked them how they would feel if I just flushed it down the toilet. Hallee immediately caught on to the object lesson, but Nate was a bit slower. "Why would you do that?" he asked. I simply repeated the question. "What would you think of me if I just ripped up this $10 bill and flushed it right down the toilet?"

"I'd think you were crazy!" Nate finally said. Aha! The desired response. That's when I ripped up the money before you could say "jackrabbit" and flushed it down the toilet--right before their bigger-than-saucer eyes (I just have to say it was worth it just to see the expressions on their faces).

My husband had come in at that point. My frugal, save every penny and count every penny you ever spend husband. "Was that real money?" he asked incredulously.

"Of course," I responded. "This powerful lesson wouldn't have been effective if it wasn't."

"Are you planning on doing that again?" I guess he realized we had TWO children in piano and thought I may have plans to do it twice. I shushed him. He was ruining the moment.

I looked at Nate, who was smiling in shock and disbelief and I think even a little respect and pride for his crazy old mom and said, "This is exactly what I'm doing every week when you don't practice the piano. I'm flushing my money right down the toilet, and you're right--it's crazy. In fact, I'm not doing it any more. You either practice or you're done." And then I left them all in the bathroom, wondering if I had inhaled too much cleaner for the day.

Now, I'm not suggesting to anyone that this is the way to light a fire under your children, but for me, it was my last great attempt at helping my 10-year-old understand the full commitment. I told him to think seriously about his choice because if he quit now, it wasn't likely he would ever start up again. To his credit, I think he did seriously consider his choice, and in the end, he decided to continue with lessons.

Another victory! Mom-1, kids-0. Not exactly.

The very next day, Nate began complaining once again about practicing. His lesson was the following day. He told me he had changed his mind. He really did want to quit. I told him it was too late. He complained all morning the next morning about having to go to his lesson. I ignored him. We drove to lessons. He came out ogling about how much he loved piano. I mean, was I on a roller coaster ride or what!?

This went on for a couple more weeks until I finally could stand no more. I sat him down, and using the best analogy I could think of--a sports one, of course--I explained to him the necessity of practicing. "You wouldn't expect your baseball coach to simply let you show up to the games, would you? You wouldn't expect to get better without practicing, would you?" He seemed to understand the concept when it came to sports. Piano? Not so much. Finally, I realized I was trying to save a sinking ship, and we decided together to let piano lessons go.

I wrote a heads-up e-mail to his amazing piano teacher but told Nate he had to talk to her in person to let her know he would no longer be taking lessons. We drove there the next day. We sat in front if his teacher (who, by the way, is so nice and such a great teacher and so easy to talk to). Nate whispered in my ear that he wished he was dead. There was an awkward silence. Finally, Nate said, "I think I'm just more of a sports guy." His teacher told him what a privilege it had been to teach him and that she would always leave a spot open for him if he changed his mind. And then we left.

Nate was soaring. I was nearly crying. I mean, seriously. I was hoping to raise a well-rounded individual who was somewhat cultured. My chances of that seemed to be gone now that he had quite piano. I knew in my heart he would never do it again. Life was only going to get busier, his demands greater. This was really it.

That was three weeks ago, and I'm sorry to say, I'm still not completely over it. But I'm OK. And I know Nate can still be a contributing member to society without playing the piano, but it sure is hard to let go of the pipe dream I always had of him being an amazing athlete AND a piano player. I guess I'll just have to settle for amazing athlete. And kid. Because he is a great kid. And I love him so much I could burst.

Life will go on, but I just have to say, I seriously don't know if I can commit any more children to piano lessons!