Many of you have asked for “tissue warnings” on my more emotional posts. This, my friends, is not one of those. Well, unless you’re a happy crier, like me. If you are, then consider yourself warned.
Oh, and one other thing. It’s long. I’m sorry about that. I tried to make it shorter, but I couldn’t. I’d like to think it’s worth the time.
In our school district, students in the fourth grade are invited to join the instrumental music program.
Brooke is a musical kid. Unlike her mom, she has damn near perfect pitch. Also unlike her mom, she sings like an angel.
Luau grew up playing the flute. Well. He also plays the piano, a little guitar and can essentially pick up anything that makes a sound and create music with it.
Throughout her childhood, he has quietly taught Katie to play just about anything too. They started with the piano. He didn’t just teach her how to play it, he taught her to listen to it too so that, given enough time, she can now, like her Dad, figure out how to play just about any song by ear. Same for the flute, which he was thrilled was her instrument of choice when fourth grade came around.
We wanted Brooke to have the same opportunity. There was just something in the way that she sings and the way that she listens to music (loudly, from inside it), that compelled us to ensure that she had a chance to explore how it’s made.
So we tried. We really, really tried. We had a music teacher (one who she already knew and loved) come to the house once a week. He brought anything in which she expressed an interest – a guitar, a violin, a recorder, a flute. He let her touch them and play (with) them. When she honed in on the violin, he tried to show her how to use a bow.
There were moments of magic. Moments when it looked like .. maybe .. just maybe .. but we finally had to acknowledge that it just wasn’t working. She finally just shut down and we decided that pushing wasn’t the answer.
Brooke is in fourth grade. At the beginning of the school year, the kids learned about the instrumental music program. They were encouraged to choose an instrument that appealed to them – that they would like to learn how to play. Somehow I hadn’t considered that she would choose something, but she did.
Now, please come a little closer, because this next part isn’t something that I want to say too loudly.
When I heard that Brooke had declared that she wanted to play the clarinet, I panicked.
I know, not cool. But the whole traveling instrument petting zoo just hadn’t worked. And it had pretty spectacularly not worked. And that was one-on-one. At home. So how the hell was it going to work in school? In a band room full of discordant sounds – and Jesus, do you know how much my kid hates discord? There’s a reason she tells me not to sing in front of her – off-key just ain’t okay to her discerning ear. Have you heard fourth graders play a bunch of musical instruments? Together? All at once? Off-key doesn’t even begin.
So I panicked.
But, see, when I did, I forgot something. Something really big. I forgot that if we believe in our kids – really, really, REALLY believe in our kids, that hard things – even really, really, REALLY hard things – are possible.
And I forgot something else. I forgot that the WE in this story isn’t just us parents. I forgot that other people have skin in this game too. That, if we’re really, really lucky, then other people have FAITH in our kids too and BELIEVE in what they can do and will be damned if anything will stand in the way of them being able to TRY.
But see, the cool thing about having a whole team of people who care about your kid is that even when you forget, they’re still there carrying the flag. Kinda like a faith safety net. (This is when my friend Jeneil would pull out some scripture about faith safety nets and say something like, “Even when we forget, He doesn’t.”)
But well, that’s what happened. While I was panicking, Brooke’s aide, Ms J, was plotting.
She was talking to the music teacher and the instrumental teacher. She was making the team bigger. And the new teammates got together and decided that to make this work, Ms J would need a clarinet too. So they dug one up so that SHE could learn alongside Brooke so that she could help to teach her.
Can you imagine?
So to recap, while I was panicking, Ms J was believing.
Once she had it all in place, once she had worked out the logistics of what she BELIEVED was possible, she told us that Brooke wanted to learn to play the clarinet. And that she could.
I was overwhelmed with gratitude. Getting HER a clarinet? Who does that? But I was still afraid for my girl. A damned clarinet? For the love of Pete, why a clarinet? Have you ever tried to play one? She faces so much frustration every day, did it really makes sense to set her up for more?
But I didn’t say any of it out loud. It was in motion and my girl wanted to try.
I thanked Ms J up and down. She didn’t seem to understand why. I told her that I was grateful that she wasn’t balking at the challenge. She said, “Jess, she’s INTERESTED IN THIS. Why would I ever balk at something she’s interested in?”
Yeah, she actually said that. I know.
So Luau too Brooke to the local music store and they rented a clarinet. As soon as they came home, she wanted to put it together and give it a try. Luau did his best to show her how it worked – where to put her mouth, how to hold her lips, how to breathe, where her hands needed to be (just to hold on, not play notes on it.)
I watched her body tense up. I wondered again if we were doing the right thing.
Coordination disorder. Profound motor planning challenges. Needs intensive fine and gross motor therapies.
This was the kid who was frozen solid on playground equipment. Who couldn’t jump off a one-inch matt. Who couldn’t hold a crayon when she was four.
A God damned clarinet?
I stayed quiet and watched.
She tried. She asked Luau for help. She made one small sound but couldn’t replicate it. She grew more tense and more frustrated and more anxious. She yelled.
We told her that learning to play the clarinet would not be easy. That it would, in fact, be hard. Even really hard. But we reminded her that she can do hard things. Even really hard things.
We told her that it was time to put it away for the day and that she could try again at school.
I was afraid.
Yesterday, I had the following conversation with Ms J. For ease of reading, she’ll be PINK and I’ll be GREEN.
So proud of your daughter she made a sound with the clarinet. She said I can’t do it I said yes you can try again. she tried again and then surprised herself when the sound came out.
Aaaaaaahhhhh!!!!!!!!! That’s AWESOME!!!! Thank you SO much for encouraging her. I just .. Oh man. Thank you!!!!!!
Her being able to face and get through her fear made my day.
So beyond awesome!!!!!
I almost fell off the chair I was so proud lol
Ha!!! I would too. Was she psyched??
She WILL do this!!!! I have faith.
And that’s why she will. Because you know she can.
Ya I think the sound startled her because I think she thought it wasnt going to happen. Then she smiled when I obnoxiously yelped and said “See I told you you could do it I’m so proud!”
We kept talking about it all day and how it might be tough but just like other things that were tough for her that she was able to accomplish she will do it.
That’s so awesome. I can’t wait to ask her about it tonight!!! Thank you x a million!!!!!
You don’t have to thank me. I love watching her succeed. It is a pleasure to me. It makes everything worth it to see her accomplish things that others may not think she can.
I adore you, lady. She’s a lucky lucky kid.
No, I’m the lucky one.
All right woman, you’re already in the will, ok? Lol
I say that because I get to see her accomplish what she does. And I get to see the smile on her face when she does something she never thought she could do.
I know. And I say what I did because it’s completely awesome that you treasure that. And because I thank God every day that you are there with her, believing in her and pushing her and loving her. EVERY DAY.
I have to tell you it is so hard sometimes controlling my emotions when she works on something so hard and then is able to do it. Sometimes I have to hold back tears I’m so proud. Lol I’m such a baby.
Nope. You’re an awesome teacher taking pride in your joint accomplishment. That’s the way it’s supposed to be!!!
I’m so tempted to ask if I can share this whole damn conversation on my blog so that parents can see what’s possible when the people in their kids lives believe in them. Cause it’s just so friggin awesome. And I know so many people just don’t have [people like you in their kid’s lives]. Or believe that they (you!) exist.
I have to say she works WAY harder than I do.
She works harder than all of us!!!
Really??? You don’t mind?? Cause I’d so love to do that.
You can. I don’t mind. Cause it will give parents faith and sometimes you need that.
Yes!!!! Thank you!!!!
“ … it will give parents faith and sometimes you need that.”
The thing that sometimes, in the middle of the day-to-day, is easiest to lose. The thing that in the day-to-day, we really need the most.
Thank you, Ms J.
Ed note: This is why I advocate for Special Education funding. Because EVERY child should have a Ms J in their lives.