To those reading my blog…all 8 of you.. thank you.. For any newcomers welcome. Not for the politically correct mind you, but hope you enjoy it anyway.
I happened to attend a school chorus performance a few weeks ago. I’ve seen quite a few of them over the years; some with a court order, some without. There always seemed to be an element of kids who could actually sing somewhat in that particular activity over the years. The boy and girl who were chosen to solo this time- ahhhh not so much. I had to wonder about the singing capability of the rest of those kids if these two were picked for solos. It got me thinking about the whole question of exposing your kids to different things as they grow up. There are two schools of thought I imagine; expose them to as much as possible whether they like it or not or let the child steer their own interest course. I now fall squarely in the latter category. My mother fell into the former with less than stellar results with me.
At St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in the Bronx there was no school choir. It was church based. You tried out and if picked you got to sing during Mass on Sundays; every Catholic 60s mother’s dream. My father sang very well, my mother not so much. I inherited her singing voice but she didn’t let that dash her dreams of having a child in that lofty choir balcony on Sunday mornings. I must have been in the second grade maybe when the tryouts began.
Mr. Tafner, the church organist, was a bit frightening to us kids. He was large, old and totally blind and not the cute Stevie Wonder kind of blind where they wear cool sunglasses either. No, he was the “eyes rolled into the back of their head, all you can see is the whites of their eyes” kind of blind. He lived in a house a few blocks from the church. I remember my audition. I don’t remember actually wanting to be in the choir at all and I don’t remember actually having a choice as to whether I tried out for it or not. I believe I was well aware of the fact even that young that I couldn’t sing worth a damn. My turn came. I began to sing some church hymn. I must have gotten a few words out and Mr. Tafner immediately stopped me and said, “No, you’re done. Out you go.” “Well should I try again” I asked? “No, please, no, you are done”, he just about shouted. “I see”, I said. Take that! My mother’s dream of a child in the church rafters on Sunday mornings was dashed for good. Did that stop her from exposing me to more extracurricular activities totally unsuited for me? Not at all!
Ballet school. Somehow a company convinced my mother that I should tryout and then purchase ballet lessons and I could be on TV as well doing it. Not quite snake oil but close. I remember I was about 8 or 9 for this venture. Yes, I had dreams of being a prima ballerina. Well not really but I loved TV. The auditions for this happened to be in Manhattan. My mother didn’t drive and so it was up to my father to reluctantly take me down to this studio. I wasn’t a tiny 9 year old; not even a medium 9 year old. I was a very large 9 year old. This lady is having me prance around and going for the hard sell to get my Dad to sign me up and fork over a couple of bucks to do so. My father took one look at her and at me trying to ballet and said, “Are you kidding, look at her, she can barely lift her leg.” My hero! Out we went and I never had to take a ballet lesson again!!
My mother owed me and I made her pay. The day the man came around with the World Book Encyclopedias at a hefty price, I made sure I got them. They were my favorite thing to read for many years. I still have them and had them shipped out from New York several years ago. I love those books and the yearbooks that went with them. We all get to our interests sooner or later.
I learned my motherly lesson early on with my firstborn. Marco was two years old and I was so worried he had no social life and friends and culture and oh Lord, no exposure to music and the arts and painting and sculpture and… and…. yep first time Mom! I’m laughing just writing this. I decided we would do one of those “Mommy and Me “ music classes and so I signed us up for one through our city. The class was led by this gray haired, pony tailed, Reverend Tim from the TV show The Middle kind of guy. With the guitar and everything. We were supposed to take our kids and make a circle and he would play and we would dance around and sing with our little ones and expose them to such good stuff that Broadway would be banging on our doors in no time. Well off I went to the circle and no Marco. I turned around and there he was off in the corner with his arms folded and a glare that could wilt flowers. “Come on, sweetie, over here, fun, it’s gonna be fun”, I say through gritted teeth in that nervous “everyone thinks I am a bad mother” voice cause I can’t get this kid to come to the circle. The glare got more menacing and he wasn’t budging. So there I was clapping and prancing around by myself making like I had an imaginary kid in front of me along with the other parents. At a break, I attempted one more time to get him to join our happy go lucky bunch to no avail. “No, let’s go home, NOW”, he says. Sure, I’m with you, let’s go!! That was the first and last time I picked Marco’s activity for him. A few years later when he was 5 years old, he followed me around for days and begged and begged to play football and tackle football at that, not the flag kind either. I had to break it to him that he had to wait till he was 6 and that that the first two years had to be flag before tackle. He played football for 11 years, missing only the season the year his uncle passed away suddenly. I made him give baseball a shot when he was 9 years old. That was a mess, had to drag him kicking and screaming to the end of the season. I think what I learned is that there is no right or wrong way on the interest exposure issue. It’s really all about the kids themselves. Some love trying all sorts of new things. Some come hard-wired with their likes already in place. It’s all about knowing which kind of kid you have and knowing that all are right in their pursuits when you can see that.