While My Dad Gently Weeps

[and mom, too]

So that was attempt two.

Jack, 6, has now ended his guitar lessons for the second time. Here’s some of the story why.

“Jerk.”
“You’re boring.”
“You don’t teach me anything.”
“I hate the guitar.”
“ I like Mr. Tracy, I don’t like you.”
“Chords are way easier than tabs.”
“It’s too hard.”
“No.”
“I dooooooooon’t liiiiiiiike Smoke On the Waaaaaater.”

Many angry moments, 99.99% of them coming from 6-year-old Jack. He loves his classes with his teacher Tracy, a guy with a Mohawk who has a surfer dude vibe and is, in fact a really nice guy. But no matter how sweetly or calmly or reasonably we talked to him, he would refuse to practice. (“Tracy wants you to practice.” “He wants to teach someone who’s trying.”)

I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced this but the more you try to reason with your kid the more upset you become because, goddamnit, who can’t see reason? That’s logical, right? Yup. Correct, and it should be no surprise that kids are not always the most logical of animals. Still, it should work and it’s good to try, right? Sure.

When we said the lessons had to end unless he could practice (because we couldn’t just stand there trying to get him to do his lesson all evening) he got angry, as well.

Ultimately he was being verbally abusive to us. So much so, I went to a couple of lessons because I had no frame of reference to help him with his lessons, and Carrie was taking the brunt of it all. So now instead of him just calling her names, I got called names, too.

He’s really good at insults. Advanced. It was a power battle of wills just for a 10-minute lesson, and we were being made miserable having to deal with it. And, of course, the whole point is for him to have fun and enjoy. And he wasn’t.

His last practice was Sunday when he actually did a double lesson to make up for refusing to do one Saturday.

Monday we talked to his music teacher asking if it made sense for us to stop lessons as he wouldn’t practice. Tracy said he’d talk to him about it. Tuesday we had his actual lesson and Tracy weaved in the importance of practice more than usual, and even taught him a new song, Happy Birthday because Jack said he wanted to play it on my birthday, next week. Sadly, that’s pretty unlikely to happen right now though a Jack-guitar, Eddie-flute duet was something I was looking forward to.

At the end of Jack’s lesson, his teacher showed him a practice schedule and went through it, 1) Name the strings 2) Go through chords at least 2 times, both up and down 3) Play Smoke On the Water 4) Misc., anything he wanted.

Wednesday, he refused to do his lesson.

With Eddie and Carrie at his flute lesson (he did great, apparently) I was home by myself for awhile cooking dinner and trying to stop Jasper, 2yo, getting into everything. Jasper lost his mind and wouldn’t stop crying – very loudly – because he got into (What, really? Yeah, I know.) candy and I took it away.

I could not pull enough emotional strength from the reserve to sit down and talk with Jack at all about his lesson. I did say he would do his lesson in the morning, instead and, recognizing that I was at my emotional end, I said he could just play so I could just cook dinner (a dinner, which was delicious if a little too spicy for the kids; easily fixed next time.). Yeah, I folded a little but it was survival.

Thursday dawned with promise. I woke up early and, after he got dressed, Jack sat down fairly quickly with guitar in hand and with negligible complaint, he named the strings, and he got through the chords. He made his own checkmarks and seemed to be, pretty much, having fun. And then he wasn’t. He didn’t want to play Deep Purple’s opus. He hit some invisible wall. It was at this point he moaned, the line above, “I dooooooooon’t liiiiiiiike Smoke On the Waaaaaater.”

Tried that reasoning thing again, but guess what, ain’t no one gonna beg:

“Mr. Tracy wants you to play it because it has the building blocks to better songs.”
“Go ahead and play Happy Birthday instead then.”
“You have to start again. You haven’t played a note in 5 minutes.”

Through the brief conversation the day before, and as many times as I could repeat it Thursday morning we talked about us having to stop practice AND lessons. It was clear.

Because: Because he was being nasty mean to us and we weren’t having fun, either.
Because: Because he was not practicing
Because: Because we can’t do this every night
Because: Because you can’t just do parts of the practice
Because: Because we didn’t want to waste everyone’s time and money.
Because: Because it was taking time and energy away from other things – and brothers – we also needed to do of equal importance.
Because: Because sometimes the squeaky wheel doesn’t get the oil.

I’m blinking back tears a little as I write this because it seems like such a failure as a parent not to be able to get your kid to enjoy something as awesome as a guitar. Though we had two Steinway pianos at home, my parents never pushed learning musical instruments on me, at all. At all. And, for whatever reason I never asked, even though I love and loved music.

This background adds to the sense of failure because I know, now, that I regret not being able to play anything and I don’t want Jack to have that regret. He’s 6, it’s not the end of everything but as I watched him put his guitar back in its case for the final time, heard him mumble, “Now, I don’t have to practice” …. [almost lost it there]

… and didn’t make a big deal but just put it away and let him have breakfast, I felt extremely sad, that we’d done something we tell the kids is never good – we’d given up.

This one doesn’t have a happy ending … … … … … … … … … yet. I can tell myself we’re doing great even trying to get him to learn the guitar at such a young age. Someone said that at the Meet the Teacher night, Thursday evening. I can tell myself a lot of things, but the sting of failure has inflamed things to a point where none of it helps. A few more days are going to have to pass, before I can reason … with myself.

Still, “Chords are way easier than tabs.” … Jack didn’t know that a couple of months ago.