Parental Form

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When I was a kid, no one used backpacks. We just carried our books in our arms. So it wasn’t unusual to lose stuff on the way to or from school, or for parental forms to come home with wet dog-eared corners. On one such day, I handed a piece of white mimeographed paper to my mom, the top of the kitchen chair reaching just under my chin as I stood looking up at her hopefully.

She read the form and looked down at me. While shaking her head from side to side, she said, “Girl Scouts. You don’t want to do this, do you?”

That was my first experience with extracurricular activities.

The next was orchestra. Like I said, we didn’t have backpacks, so if you didn’t want your parents to find something, you couldn’t crumple it up and hide it in the bottom. My mom discovered the notice as I was doing my homework at the dining room table. Her face turned dreamy as she said, “Oh, Orchestra! Wouldn’t you like to play the cello?”

Indeed, I had never given a passing thought to the cello. Suddenly, I was getting the vibe that this would make my mother happy, and so I nodded yes.

The cello made my life a living hell. Firstly, unlike the Girl Scout form that I handed to her the minute I arrived through the door, this one had been in my math book for a while and, as such, was the last in my class to be turned in. The orchestra director was a little disappointed at the late submission, but when my mother assured him I could already read music, he accepted my form.

The school was able to find one last cello, presumably from the thrift store, riddled with scratches and graffiti from previous orchestra drop-outs. I wish I had a nickel for every kid who asked me in horror, “What did you do to your cello?”

My social life needed all the help it could get. Sitting on the bus next to a 4-foot instrument didn’t do me any favors. I envied the girls with the cute little flute cases, their hair impeccably braided. Not only did I suffer the slings and arrows of mean-hearted boys, and the sidewise glances from flute-cased girls, no room remained for my closest defenders to sit next to me. Alone in my seat, arm draped grudgingly around the awkward luggage, I intently engaged the changing landscape out the frosted window.

Practice was torture. I knew my parents were out in the living room laughing. I could see their stifled grins when they stopped in to my bedroom to tell me how good I sounded. Even as a kid I recognized a snow job. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star never screeched so bad. Forced to form new unwanted callouses, my fingers burned.

Rehearsals were embarrassing.  Anyone knows that the better one likes a thing, the easier it is to learn. Mom was right — I did know how to read music. But reading it and applying it to an instrument takes devotion. I was more determined to find a way out of it than to learn it. It didn’t take long for me to realize I couldn’t blend in. The director had a keen ear for the kids who played the wrong notes. Lucky for him, I learned how to fake it.

After our first concert, Mom said, “You sounded so great!” I replied, “You couldn’t hear me.” “Yes I could,” she encouraged. Another snow job.

“No, you couldn’t,” I explained, “because I wasn’t playing.” As it turns out, it was easier for me to learn how to move my bow left and right at the same time as everyone else than it was to play the thing. I’d hold my bow just above the strings, so as not to make that awful screeching sound. And being able to read music, I knew when to turn the page, further corroborating my own personal performance. I may have failed at the cello, but my acting performance was remarkable.

The next week she asked if there was something I’d rather play than the cello. I wanted to be in band. I wanted a clarinet, or maybe a flute. “Really?” Mom asked in disbelief. I nodded emphatically and my mother went to the school office and asked for the appropriate paperwork.

She dropped me off early the next morning with the completed form and signed check in hand. The band door was open, the teacher rustling through papers with his back to me. I handed him the envelope buoyantly. I still remember my excitement.

But it was too late. The other kids were a year ahead of me. There was no way he’d let me join unless I was able to take private lessons and catch up to the rest of the band. Even then I held out hope. I had taken private music lessons before. It was hard work, but I thought I could do it.

Unfortunately, it just never came to fruition. Whether my parents were too busy, or I found other interests, or they distracted me by signing me up for bowling and golf and more organ lessons, it just never happened.

Some memories make your heart warm. Some make it weep. We live them and then learn from them and then go on to choose what today will be. We do our best as parents and hope the love we spent was enough to balance the times we broke their hearts. Fortunately for me, the abundance of love I received more than made up for any misdirected parental form.

Peace . . .
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25 Songs, 25 Days (Day 13) A song That Reminds Me of a Former Friend

She was my best friend from high school, who I met on our first day of Junior High School Health Class.  That was the year I made a working model of lungs that looked like a triple-D set of falsies when I blew in a straw.  We sat at black lab tables, two per work station.  I can remember the penis the teacher drew on the board, with the dotted line erection that made us all giggle.

After graduation, we were still friends.  I attended my first real concert with her.  The year was 1981.  The venue was the Met Center, St. Paul, Minnesota.  Styx put on a great show.

We stayed close pals for a few years after graduation.  We were in each others’ weddings.  But as children and careers distracted us, the friendship waned.  We catch up now and the at reunions.  The occasional email is sent.  Yet get us together, and within minutes we are the same girls who giggled at science projects and chalkboard genitals.

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If You Treat Children Like Human Beings

I am back from what I am beginning to recognize as my annual December break from reading and writing.  The break is used for celebrating family, the spirit of giving, and visualizing peace on earth.  Also, a whole lot of running around with a list in one hand, bags in the other.  Despite what I hope for the holidays, I am programed to fall into the Christmas rut I have dug for myself, one year at a time.

DSCN0909Separating myself from reading and writing opens opportunities for listening and watching.  I watched A Christmas Carol with Patrick Stewart while baking Butter Currant Tarts, slicing baguettes of parmesan and garlic, and simmering spiced pecans.  My mouth already waters in anticipation of next year!

Frequently I will watch  TED Talks through Netflix from my smartphone while walking on the treadmill.

TED (conference)
TED (conference) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In addition, I recently found TED Talks radio podcasts on Stitcher, to listen to while walking the dog.  One particular story caught my attention, and I pulled it up on YouTube this morning to watch the full presentation.  It is a talk by Bill Strickland, and to tell you why it caught my attention, I need to flashback a few years.

Travel back with me to the year 2006.  My youngest, a daughter, was in middle school.  This is an average school with average teachers in an average neighborhood with average parents and kids.  It’s the one that operates down the block on any average day.  My kids are pretty average kids by anyone else’s standards.  (By mine, they are aMAZing.  Of course!)

I’d had a couple prior grievances about which I felt strongly enough to bring to the head of the school.  After all, by 2006, my fourth was attending.  We’d dealt with teachers, coaches, volunteers, programs, special groups, over-achievers, and detention.  We’d gone to parent nights both willingly and grudgingly.  After nine years at one middle school, having a couple of grievances over teachers is expected.

Which brings us to the night I was at the school for an extra-curricular event.  Before we left into the cold, I thought I should hit up the girls’ restroom one last time.  I had no sooner locked the stall door and pulled down my bloomers, as a man’s voice echoed in.

“Come on, how long are you gonna be?  I gotta get in there!”

I responded back apologetically, “Oh!  I’m sorry!  Just a minute . . . ”  And the voice came back softer, “Oh, I’m sorry. No hurry.”  I emerged after barely stopping to wash my hands.  The janitor stood leaning against a mop in a yellow bucket on wheels.  He apologized again, saying he hadn’t realized who was in there.

Why did that matter?  Should our children expect to be treated with less dignity than their parents?  I could have been the school track star, the valedictorian, the class clown, or as it turns out . . . a parent.  I was a faceless parasite.  The principal heard from me again.  I don’t remember how she responded, but I do remember counting the days until my youngest graduated from that school.

Bill Strickland speaks in Charlotte
Bill Strickland speaks in Charlotte (Photo credit: chascow)

Materializing once again into present-day 2013, I watched this TED Talk by Bill Strickland.  Bill has made it his life’s mission to treat children in not-so-average neighborhoods with the respect and admiration they deserve.  So much of what he said is quotable, but something stood out and brought this incident in the girls’ restroom to the forefront of my memory.

He said, “I figured that if you treat children like human beings, it increases the likelihood they’re going to behave that way.”

And this is how all children — affluent, disadvantaged, challenged or gifted, should be treated.  Because they really are human beings capable of amazing things, not only in their parents’ eyes, but in the eyes of the world.  I am so saddened when I think back to that gruff voice in the restroom.  I was a strong, confident woman in the peak of my adulthood.  How would a pre-teen girl feel with her pants around her ankles and nothing between her and that man but a flimsy metal stall?  What is the likelihood she felt like a human being at that point?  What is the likelihood that there are many of her across the world?

Because I think this is a very powerful talk, I have included the video below.  I would love for you to find the quotes that are meaningful to you.  Someone once treated Bill Strickland like a human being in the middle of chaos.  Listening to his words, you cannot mistake the good he has done for nothing but the chance to pay it forward.  The video will take about a half hour of your time, so if you can’t watch it now, be sure to bookmark it for later.

Peace . . .

Weekly Photo Challenge: Escape

This challenge was posted waaaay back in May.  Bear with me as I catch up with my Weekly Photo Challenges!05.21.2011.7

Anyone who has passed though the regular gradations of a classical education, and is not made a fool by it, may consider himself as having had a very narrow escape.
~~William Hazlitt

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Escape | The Daily Post

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