Sunday, July 22, 2012

Hard Work Makes It All Worthwhile

If I've learned anything in my 42 years on this planet it's that I value the successes for which I worked hard far more than any that came too easily to me.  While it's nice to have things come easy once in awhile, my brain isn't fully engaged unless I'm working hard to meet a goal.  I want my kids to experience that same kind of satisfaction knowing that through diligence and hard work they've attained something incredible. 

My boys are learning about working hard and reaching goals through their piano practice.  While they might not necessarily enjoy the practice part, they like the end result of playing their music for adoring fans through recitals, talent shows or competitions.  It takes quite a bit of discipline to get to that final phase of what looks like effortless playing.  Months and months of practice and lots and lots of tears. 

I give 100% of the credit for the boys' piano prowess to my husband.  He has, from day one, been the one to coordinate classes, push them to practice, work with their piano teacher, help them with piano homework and strategize their musical future.  He works hard to keep the momentum going and I'm witness to the fact that it's no small feat.

People ask me if my boys enjoy practicing piano.  I'm sure visions of boys running to the piano with smiles on their faces screaming, "Yippee, it's time for piano practice!" flood their imaginations.  Surely, the boys beg to practice piano because they've been playing for so long, right?

Wrong.

Just like any other 7 and 9-year-old rambunctious, energetic, boys, my boys would much rather be doing something other than practicing piano.  Like hanging over a pool of sharks by their toenails.  They fight, they argue, they throw temper tantrums.  Yup.  Temper tantrums the likes of which you've never seen.  But, their histrionics are no match for their Dad's persistence. 

If my husband had a dime for every time an adult said, "I wish my parents never let me quit practicing piano" he could have paid for their lessons five times over. When people ask us why we make our kids play piano it's simple.  Music makes you smarter.  Playing piano helps with creativity, math, attention to detail, focus, perseverance...and the list goes on.  Even though they don't want to practice I can see that sense of accomplishment in their eyes when that really tough piece of music starts to become easier.  When it starts to flow off their fingers.  When it starts to sound like it's supposed to. 

Nicholas is practicing Eleanor Rigby.  You know, the Beatles song.  It's hard.  He was convinced when he first started practicing it that it was too hard to learn.  He whimpered.  He balked.  But my husband suggested I put the song on his iPod so he could hear the way it was supposed to sound.  So Nicholas listens to the song on his iPod and he practices it on the piano.  He keeps at it.  He's still practicing.  It will take many months to learn this difficult piece of music. 

But every time Nicholas hears himself playing the dah-dah-dah-dah-dah of the first part of the song:

Eleanor Rigby, picks up the rice in the church where the wedding has been
Lives in a dream
Waits at the window, wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door
Who is it for?


He hears it all coming together.

Even I stopped doing the dishes the other day and walked over to the piano because I was so impressed with what I heard.  I looked at him sitting at the piano with a huge grin on his face.  He knew he was nailing it.  He knew it sounded spectacular.  He also knew it took a lot of practice to get to that point. 

Christopher will be getting his Beatles song soon enough.  He will cry and whimper and balk.  But we're not falling into the trap of letting our kids off the hook too easily.  Nothing worth having comes without hard work.  Cries of "I don't want to" or "It's too hard" permeate our house to the point of ridiculously high blood pressure.  Sometimes I want to scream, "fine, forget it!" because the hysterics are unbearable. 

In the end, however, we are doing our kids a great disservice if we don't teach them about goals and working hard toward an end result.  That's what life is all about and the sooner they figure it out the better.

The boys won't have to ask their Dad one day why he let them give up piano when it got to be too hard. Instead, the boys will thank their Dad for not giving up on piano and, more specifically, for not giving up on them.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

When Saying "Ain't" Is Worse Than Swearing

Christopher had  a less than stellar baseball experience this spring.  His Little League team was littered with attitude problems, the coach's head wasn't really in the game and he was stuck in the outfield for those innings when he actually did play.

The coach started off great, but lost steam in the end.  I had high hopes for the guy who began his practices and games with "hey, champ, you've got a great arm on you" or  "you're too talented to watch strikes go by and not swing"  turned into "I have nothing positive to say.  There were too many errors in this game to count," followed by a bellowing, "What's wrong with you?!"

Suffice it to say the team didn't get too far in the playoffs.  The kids weren't having fun.  The coach wasn't having fun.  The parents, definitely, were not having fun.

I wasn't the only parent who thought the season was wrought with problems so I don't think my version of how the season progressed is too off base.  It really was excruciating to watch.

At the end of one of the playoff games the coach proceeded to tell the kids how disappointed he was with every mistake that was made. During his post-game wrap-up he offered no positive reinforcement whatsoever.  One of the parents had enough and grabbed his son out of the group while yelling a string of profanities at the coach.

This parent told the coach he was the "worst effin' coach he'd ever seen."  He went on to say he "ain't never seen a coach do a worse job" and "my kid ain't never playing on your team again." I quickly scanned the group to see which of the 7 and 8-year-olds heard the offensive f-bomb because that was my cue it was time to leave.  I could see things were getting pretty heated so I grabbed Christopher and said, "let's go."

I wondered if Christopher was going to ask me about the expletive-laced language this parent thought was appropriate to spew in front of the kids.  I wanted to explain that his behavior and language was inappropriate and uncalled for.  I did not agree with the coach either, but there are better ways to voice a disagreement.

On our ride home we talked more about the coach's inability to provide any positive reinforcement and how Christopher would hopefully get on a better team next year.   I wanted Christopher to know that his experience this year was not normal.  He would have to try again.

When we got home Christopher told his Dad about this parent's outburst.  He explained how they lost their game and how the coach told his teammates how many things they did wrong.  He brought up how the father of one of his teammates started yelling at the coach.  I was bracing myself for his description of the f-bomb and preparing my speech about how disrespectful it was, etc.

But his description of the f-bomb never came.

Instead, Christopher told his version of the worst part of the tirade by telling his Dad, "you wouldn't believe how many times this guy said 'ain't'!"

Christopher Murray, future grammarian.  His English teachers are gonna love him!

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