for release January 4, 2002
by Melodie Davis
When the Plffftts Finally Make You Proud
Your child is in the 6th grade band. You probably have recently gone through that rite of passage known as the winter holiday band concert. Along with 100-200 or so other parents, you sat stiffly through the screeches and the slightly lagging beat of the percussion. You probably heard a stray plfffttt or two from the flutes and a raw rrracccht or three from the trumpets. You winced and looked down. When it was over, you applauded at first politely and then enthusiastically, knowing they had only begun on their instruments four months ago and the effort they put forth was at least worth applauding. You are proud parents, and not at all prejudiced.
At home you suffer through the screeches and scraws of their practice sessions, even through closed doors. You rush through too many suppers to get your child to lessons, and sit patiently, napping or reading, in the car.
Fast forward just seven short years. Now your child is playing with a university orchestra, concert or symphony band at an excellent school of music. The sound is pure pleasure: full and rich intricate music that delights and impresses. To your still-untrained ears, it might as well be the New York Philharmonic. You are proud parents, and not at all prejudiced.
Translate this scenario to any activity your child takes up as a middle or elementary school child: dancing lessons, basketball, piano, soccer. If you are lucky, your child sticks with an activity and gets to the place where they not only receive pleasure performing, but give it as well.
Of course there are many false starts along the way: you hoped they would develop into a stellar piano player, but they finally decide that basketball is much more fun, or they abandon music or sports all together and to take up art.
But the point is that with practice and lots of experience, something that started out as difficult and tedious to listen to, blossoms into the all-enveloping sound of a mature band or orchestra. Some of the guys in the university band were starting to bald. Some of the girls were developing (prematurely) middle-aged spread! I had to remind myself, these are young adults now. That's not my little girl up there, she's a young woman.
It is wonderful to watch a child follow their dream and develop their gifts and talents, even if there are twists and turns along the way. In doing that, sometimes we as parents have to just stand back and get out of the way. So they didn't pick your favorite instrument to play: you learn appreciation of a new instrument. So they rejected your sport for another, or for art. You learn to value a new activity.
Neither my husband nor I had any band experience at all. I wasn't allowed to play in the band because we had too many chores at home on the farm, and frankly I thought it was a little dorky. I don't think my husband was interested either. So I learned the enjoyment and camaraderie that many kids have experienced through this activity aside from the instrument they learn and musical skills they develop. It is important for parents to remember that this activity is important in and of itself-regardless of whether he ever picks up his saxophone again after high school. That means tempering your enthusiasm for their activity and not buying them the most expensive instrument or equipment in hopes they'll play forever.
Our two oldest girls played Little League softball for a couple of years. At one point we went out and got them really good bats and gloves; it seemed like a necessity. They quit not too long afterwards. It was just another financial lesson in the ups and downs of parenting.
If there is an ultimate goal for any marching band member, it might be to play in the Rose Bowl or Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. We were thrilled when our daughter got to play in the Macy's Parade this past November. Never did we think her first failed attempts at getting a note out of a flute would carry her down Broadway in New York City seven years later. Although she visited New York as a two year old, her first memory now of Times Square is marching into it as part of the show. But proud parents should always remain humble. No parent is proud of a child all the time. We have to let her and all our children try their wings and make mistakes. Sometimes they make you hold your head up, searching over the crowd for a glimpse of them coming down Broadway. Sometimes they make you want to crawl in a hole and pull it in after you. No matter, we love them just the same, and just as we made mistakes, they have to make their share. It's called growing up.
You can still request a free desk calendar for 2002, as long as supplies last. Write to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from a number of organizations including the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three growing daughters.
NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 790 words; end material = 105 words
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