Is Cello Or Violin Better For 7 Year Old Boy Keeping the Train on Track

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Keeping the Train on Track

“Talent is 99 percent perspiration and 1 percent inspiration.” Thomas Edison

I had the privilege and joy of sitting and watching my daughter perform at the Suzuki Festival this weekend at Yale University. In his magnificent Woolsey Hall, the large, magnificent gilt pipes for the front and center organs stared us parents (and more than proud grandparents) in the face as we watched several hundred musicians balance pint-sized violins, maneuver mini-cellos and percussion guitars on stage. Classical and folk music filled the air, starting with Copland’s invigorating “Hoedown” and ending with Suzuki’s signature “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” which we parents enjoyed (or endured) anywhere from a hundred to a zillion times, depending on our length in Suzuki program. But we sat there, all of us, mesmerized and shattered with pride. To think that our children could have more music books permanently ingrained in their brains; that their thin little fingers can slide over strings with lightning speed; and that they could produce such beautiful music with complete strangers in perfect harmony, their only connection being the study of the same music under the same pedagogy, was almost too much to comprehend. It was nothing short of great.

It was a sad striking observation – especially given the glory of the occasion – to note the high rate of “de-selection” from the system as the children grew up. While dozens and dozens of toddlers proudly belted out “Twinkle,” only a few teenagers took the stage for the advanced pieces.

This could be said about anything. How many little girls enjoy all that pink tulle for those first few years of ballet, after all, only to give up before moving on to pointe? Or enthusiastically embrace an early morning lap swim with the neighborhood gang, only to give up when the coach asks them to swim five hours a day? How many unused drum sets, guitars, easels, and athletic equipment gather dust in garages around the world as overly ambitious pursuits—quick bangs from the blocks each—disappear after the realization that hard work enters the collective consciousness of our youth?

Let’s face it: it’s much harder to stick to something than to start something. Building enthusiasm for a new project, whether it’s oboe or oil painting, is no more difficult for most of us than getting our fans up and off the sofa. We order new equipment, new art supplies or new instruments, practically salivating with vision. We enthusiastically enter our new lessons, proudly wear new things, full of excitement and energy for the newness of everything. Like looking into the eyes of a new baby and realizing that this life holds promise, we eagerly embrace new projects and realize too slowly the terrible sacrifices required to grow.

One of the hardest challenges of parenting is discerning how long we require our children to hold on to something…keeping the train on the track…and knowing when it’s okay to let them jump off.

Do we decide the moment the frustration level becomes unbearable that “now is the time”? Or do we grit our teeth and realize that this is all just part of the process? When our kids slam the door, stomp their feet and scream “I hate this!” do we take that as a sign that we should stop now? Or do we simply acknowledge it as a good time for a strong coffee, some dark chocolate and a time-out?

I have been amazed – in these past almost twenty years – by the number of parents who throw in the towel too soon, as well as those who manage to sustain themselves through the mastery of their children. I’ve received my fair share of well-intentioned but unsolicited advice from honest parents who just see things differently than I do. There is a big difference here and it is difficult to resolve. And today it was particularly noticeable.

Since, of course, there are great individual differences between children and families; in the limitations of time, energy and financial resources; and in pure persistence (or pure stubbornness) personality variants, one can’t come up with sweeping generalizations to keep—or move—a train on the track. There are simply too many variables in the equation. Regardless, one gist is almost universally true: children despise hard work, and anything that requires mastery requires hard work! As parents, we have to figure out when to chalk up something unpleasant—violin practice or spelling practice or swimming routines or frustrated painting sessions—to hard work, pure and simple—or to “it’s time to get off the train.” path.” There are few things that couples argue about more, few questions that moms ask me more often, and few things that cause me more personal anger than this issue.

I wish I had an answer. I wish every situation had a solution. I wish it was as easy as encouraging every parent to stick with it to the bitter end! Fight to the final victory! Until you hear the recital, witness the home run or hang the blue ribbon you’ve been waiting for. That you won’t let him quit until he finishes that tenth book of violin music or makes it all the way to Little League majors. That he has to take Spanish until the end of high school. Or he has to enroll in art school until he uses up all his expensive supplies.

But it’s never that easy. No. Parenthood is always full of surprises. Our children can outsmart us, outsmart us, and outsmart us…and they will. Just when we think we’ve got this parenting thing figured out, we’re faced with another trick, challenge or dilemma and it feels like we’re back at square one. Or we realize that what worked for the first child has no power over the second. Oh god.

One thing I know for sure: mastery commands respect. So is consistency. Persistence. Persistence. Stick-to-it-ive-ness. We reward singers who make it to American Idol and athletes who make it to the Olympics. We love stories about persevering against all odds and pulling through even when it hurts. And so, while this certainly doesn’t mean that it’s never okay to let a train derail – because sometimes it really is – make sure you don’t mistake your usual everyday impatience for a quick fix solution. For greater peace and quiet in the home. Or increased harmony. For less fighting or stomping or slamming doors.

Remember, always, the dirty little secret of parenting: it takes a lot more nurturing, a lot more patience, and a lot more energy than anyone ever warned you. That it takes years of hard work and practice. That practice is hard work and that hard work is just practice. And that it will all be worth it when you get the joy – as I did today – as you simply sit back, smile and think, “We did good.”

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