An Election Day Letter.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

To my daughter, and all of America's daughters, on Election Day 2016:

Today our nation chooses our next President, and today we end a campaign season that has felt very long, ugly, hate-filled, fact-challenged, and policy-lacking.  On both sides.  Regardless of who wins, a great many Americans will feel upset and angry, afraid for our country's future.  Some will feel their votes didn't count and will say that our political and electoral system is broken.  Perhaps it is, and perhaps we should all think long and hard about overhauling it.

But what I want to tell you before the votes are tallied is this:

Today America wins.  No matter who gets sworn in on January 20th, America wins.  Why?

Because this election reminds us that any American can become President of the United States.  Man or woman, black or white, rich or poor, career public servant or career business person, policy wonk or celebrity, political outsider or Washington insider.  Work hard, take initiative, be committed and determined in whatever you undertake.  If you do those things, there's no limit to what you, your friends, or your classmates can achieve in this great nation of ours.

Because this election represents all that we have overcome.  First, we overcame so much to elect a black President.  Now, a woman has a realistic chance to become President.  My grandmothers grew up in a time when women were expected to be homemakers, supporting their husbands' careers.  My mother grew up in a time when women worked, but for lower wages than their male counterparts, and they were rarely able to reach leadership positions in companies and organizations.  In my time, women have been fighting for equal pay and family-friendly employment opportunities, making slow and steady progress, and we've started climbing corporate ladders and increasing our presence in leadership roles.  You, young ladies, grow up with the benefit of generations of trailblazing women before you who have pushed, challenged, persevered, and ultimately proven what women are capable of and how valuable our contributions can be.  Along the way, those women have opened doors for you.  You live in a time full of open doors, where a woman can do anything, where everywhere you look you will see successful women -- as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, as cutting-edge research scientists, as lawyers and judges, as doctors, as astronauts, as senators and governors, as professional athletes, as entertainers.  And, possibly, as President of the United States.  President.  A woman.  You will never understand how big this possibility is, and that's a good thing -- for you, and the women who come after you, this will seem natural and normal.  

Because this election has people thinking and talking about how women deserve to be treated.  Never before have we seen such attention paid to unacceptable locker room conversation, to how people in positions of power can talk to and about women, to the objectification of women, to inappropriate and nonconsensual touching, to double standards, to the respect that we--as women--deserve and can, indeed should, demand.  This dialogue is positive, and it will lead to a generation of stronger men, who will treat you with respect and stand up for you, just as you all stand up for yourselves and each other. 

Because this election has shown us that, despite all the grumbling, people will participate in our democracy.  More people watched the debates than ever in U.S. history.  In my county, where there's little question where our electoral votes will go, well over 90% of eligible voters registered to vote, an all-time high.  We broke the early voting record too, with over 51% of registered voters casting their ballots before Election Day.  People may be complaining about the candidates and the process, but the fact is that Americans are engaged in the electoral process.  That is because they care about your future and want to leave you with the best America possible.

Because you are the future.  This great nation will ultimately be in your hands.  And, because I know you and your friends, I can confidently say that no matter who wins the presidency, our country is in good hands.  I've seen you and your friends in Girl Scouts, book club, camps, music, sports, and school, and you constantly amaze me.  You dream big, you work hard, you help others, you have compassion and enthusiasm, you stand up for what is right and stand against what you know to be wrong.  You are learning to be critical of sources and wary of unreliable information, you care more about solutions than labels, and you are resilient, determined to learn from each challenge and obstacle.  There will be a lot to be done, to be sure, and fixing the mess that others leave for you will be no small task.  But when women can become anything they can imagine, and when you and your friends start walking through the doors that older women have opened for you, America will be stronger and better for it.

Regardless of who emerges as the victor tonight (and I pray that we know tonight!), let's celebrate America's win.  When people start talking about the beginning of America's downfall, as they surely will, let's focus on Purple rather than the red/blue divide and remember that we, as women, must be leaders and examples as we all look toward a future that, in your hands, is bright beyond measure.

Positively Purple.

Friday, October 21, 2016

The day after the 2012 presidential election, I wrote a blog post titled Think Purple in which I made the point that although we're a nation clearly and sharply divided, it's important to keep our sights on the commonalities we can find, the things that unite us and define us as Americans.  As the 2016 election nears, the debates are finally behind us, and so many of us find our inboxes and Facebook feeds littered with political commentary and propaganda, I want to take this opportunity to remind everyone that no matter who gets sworn in come January, America remains Positively Purple.

Tune in to just about any news outlet or social media, and it's clear that a great many Americans aren't particularly fond of either major candidate.  There's so much talk about character, judgment, values.  About fitness for the office, trustworthiness, likability.  There's talk of a broken political system, of media influence, of an election process that cannot be trusted.

Even if you try to look purely at the issues, there are a million articles and stories out there about obstructionism and failed policies and overreach.  There are a billion more articles and stories about problems with health care, immigration, taxes, foreign policy, and whatever else.  Lots of people who love to talk are busy talking about everything wrong with America and our place in the world, our leadership, our candidates, and even our electorate.

I pay attention to politics, but I don't live it and breathe it every moment (I'm too busy with law work, raising children, making musicvolunteering, and trying to sew a few things).  I've watched a lot of debates, followed campaigns, read a lot of analysis.  I've found my attention fine-tuned to some statewide elections, one of which could very well change the course of my career.  While I enjoy the intrigue of political strategy and the excitement of an unpredictable election cycle, I'm tired of the pervasive suggestion that America's divide is too deep and wide, America's differences too stark and sharp, to ever heal.

While candidates and commentators are fixated on shades of red and shades and blue, I'm choosing to focus on Purple.  In workplaces, churches, schools, cafes and shops, I see people who are working hard to make good lives for themselves and their loved ones.  While television, radio, and Internet are overrun with talk of government dysfunction and an angry electorate, I see people smiling at babies, helping others, and out enjoying life.  While our system relies on red and blue, and on strong convictions among our citizens, I think that what we all need right now is more of the good stuff that comes from red and blue mixing -- Purple.  After all, it's not the red and blue that define us as Americans.  Purple does.

What is Purple?  It's the willingness, even the desire, to come together.  It's our shared optimism and hope that, despite America's shortcomings, better days are ahead.  It's the belief that, regardless of who wins the election, our nation will survive and, ultimately, thrive.  It's the desire to help fellow Americans, humans even, who are suffering.  It's the drive to do and be better, individually and collectively.  It's respect for hard work, ingenuity, and inspiration.  It's passion for ideas and process.  It's respectful discussion and respectful disagreement.  It's working together, finding common ground and mutual interests.  It's helping hands and neighborly hearts.  It's the celebration of progress and achievement.  It's accepting and celebrating differences among us, secure in the knowledge that we all share important fundamentals.  These are the things that make America work, and we must not lose sight of them.

I invite you to join me in looking for Positive Purple.  Look for the fundamentals that we all share, our common values, the things we can all agree on.  Look for Purple, and I promise you will find it.

You'll find Purple in all our nation's respect for red, white, and blue, for the flag that reminds us that we live in a great democracy, where citizens have the right to participate in our political process and cast a vote for our leaders.

You'll find Purple when you see people pushing themselves outside their comfort zones, trying something new, taking on life's challenges with energy and enthusiasm.

You'll find Purple in generations coming together, in traditions passed down through families and cultures, in being lifelong teachers and students.

You'll find Purple in America's volunteers and philanthropists, who are giving their time and money to help others.  And nowhere is Purple more obvious that in America's youngest volunteers who learn the importance of community and giving back, from their earliest days.

You'll find Purple in a sunset that takes your breath away and, for one brief moment, has you thinking of nothing but how good it is to be alive.

You'll find Purple in people's commitment and determination to learn new skills, to expand their capabilities.  

You'll find Purple in America's families, in the power of love, acceptance, and forgiveness that binds us.

You'll find Purple in parents who are juggling many obligations and making many sacrifices to give their children every opportunity possible.

You'll find Purple in the promise of new life and the innocent joy of babies.

You'll find Purple in the real-life superheroes who inspire you, the people who are out there finding solutions, taking risks, making the world a better place for all of us.

You'll find Purple in the teachers who spark our children's imaginations and fuel their desire to learn, and in the young people who are so eagerly and diligently learning to be tomorrow's leaders.

You'll find Purple in silliness, in laughter, in the things that make us smile.

You'll find Purple in the appreciation for natural resources around us, the beautiful oceans, forests, mountains, deserts that make America so grand.  

You'll find Purple in the soul-stirring power of music and the arts, in how our communities embrace the arts, in the artists who share their talents with us.

You'll find Purple in positive news stories that deliver messages of hope and encouragement (have you heard that giant pandas are no longer on the endangered species list?!).  

You'll find Purple in toughness and grit, in perseverance and resilience. 

And this is only the beginning.  Purple is all around us.  I encourage you to tune into it.

Allow it to lift you up, to help you see past political conflict, divisive labels, polarizing rhetoric.  Set an example for our leaders who sometimes seem incapable of seeing Purple; show them that red and blue do indeed mix and that we are all better off when they do.  Let our common ground and shared love for this great country guide us.  Let's build the Purple Mountain Majesties and show our leaders, and the world, what it means to be America the Beautiful.  

Saying goodbye.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

My father passed away recently, unexpectedly.  I've been thinking a lot about the importance of goodbyes, both in life and after a loved one has died.  I think we, as humans, need to know that we have conveyed our respect and goodwill when parting.  The need is especially strong after a loved one has passed, and even more so when there wasn't a significant or adequate goodbye beforehand.  I'm no psychologist, so I can't begin to explain exactly why we need this.  I suspect it has something to do with accepting the major change that has occurred, allowing ourselves to acknowledge the blessings of a shared life despite the grief of loss, and giving ourselves permission to carry on with a life that can, indeed must, involve some joys.  And, of course, it has everything to do with recognizing and honoring strong bonds between people.

The tricky part of this is the how -- while I have come to believe that the goodbye is very important for all of us, it is also clear to me that our needs as to the type and form of goodbye are extremely different.  Some people want to say goodbye in a church, where ritual and tradition run deep.  Some want to say goodbye in the company of others who also loved, admired, cared for the one who has passed.  Some want to say goodbye out in nature, where the air is fresh and they sounds pure.  Some want to say goodbye privately, where they cannot be seen or heard.  I'm not sure how we can know what our needs are at such a difficult time, but I do know that it's an important question to ask ourselves.

Because I've been thinking about goodbyes, I want to share a story that I wrote many years ago.  My sweet aunt reminded me about this story at my dad's memorial service.  I hunted high and low for weeks and finally found it.

Goodbye, Grammie.

My Grammie was my father’s mother.  She taught me that freckles are angel kisses and red hair is beautiful.  She bought me Easter dresses, took me to the zoo, sought out the city's finest chalupas for our dinners out, and let me sleep in her bed when I was young.  She cooked delicious meals of squash casserole, fried okra, cornbread, and macaroni and cheese.  She sneaked me Cokes when my dad wasn’t around, and she never told him that I liked them.  More importantly, though, as I got older and began to visit her when no other family was around, she became my friend.  We talked for hours about life, love, politics, religion, and family.  I got to know my Grammie as a person, as a woman who had experienced heartbreak and loss, who had learned self-reliance and perseverance, who loved life.  This is my Grammie and me at her 80th birthday party, right after the mariachis serenaded her:

My Grammie was proud and strong-willed, feisty, opinionated.  She had to be – she lost her husband (my grandfather) when she was a young woman, and she was left to raise four children on her own.  She worked as a secretary at an army hospital, assisting hard-to-please generals.  My Grammie was an old-school secretary who typed 90+ words per minute on outdated, clunky typewriters and took authentic shorthand.  I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that my Grammie was very much in charge behind the scenes, but she let her bosses believe that they were calling the shots.  Until she retired years after she hit 65, she wore pantyhose, heels, and business suits to work everyday.  She wore bright colors and big clip-on earrings.   Why bother with neutral colors and boring work clothes, she thought, when you can wear clothes that announce, “I am here.”  So she chose to wear gold pumps and emerald green suits, bangle bracelets, and necklaces that couldn’t be missed.  It wasn’t everybody’s taste, but she looked put-together and proud, and she was noticed when she walked into a room.

There’s so much to say about my Grammie, but the point I want to emphasize is that she made the most of every day and every situation, and she lived without regrets.  I realize this about her more and more as I get older and face my own life struggles.  My Grammie loved to laugh.  She enjoyed sports and could recite statistics for most of the players of the local NBA team.  She organized groups to go to dinner and the theater.  After she retired, she took classes at the local college.  She didn’t mess around either; she took tai chi, Shakespearean literature, art appreciation, and classes about writing an autobiography.  She continued learning and growing, experiencing new things, as long as it was possible.

In early 2001, my Grammie began to slow down.  Her heart was weak, and she was not getting around as well as before.  This troubled her greatly because she was one to do and go and see, not one to sit and watch.  There were many doctors and many medications, but her health was deteriorating.  Though in increasing pain, she remained stubborn and fought for the life that she loved.  I saw her around May or June of that year, and she was a shadow of the woman I had come to know as my friend.  She was pale and thin, she lacked strength in her body and her voice.  But, in true Grammie style, she wore bright red that said loudly, “I am here.”  We talked about many things that day, including a trip to Europe (my first trip abroad!), that my boyfriend and I had planned for July.  I think she was as excited about the trip as I was, and she encouraged me to enjoy every moment of that experience.  Before I left her house, my Grammie told me that she loved me, that she was immensely proud of me, and that she knew I was happy.  She said that I would marry that boy who was taking me to Europe (she was right, I did!).  She told me that she had lived a full and rich life, and she wanted me to know that she had no regrets at all.

As planned, I traveled to Europe that July with the boyfriend, who is now my husband.  After a short stop in London, we flew to Trieste, Italy and took a bus to Slovenia.  On our second or third day in Slovenia, we walked up the coast of the Adriatic Sea to Piran, a tiny fishing village with narrow cobblestone streets, ancient walls around the city, Venetian architecture, and Mediterranean charm.  We were drawn to the Church of St. George, whose bell tower stands guard over all the rooftops of Piran.  On the way up the hill to the church, in a little alley of a street, we stopped to photograph this above the door to a home:

I knew at that moment that our trip to the Church of St. George would be special and meaningful.  The outside of the church is plain and unadorned, boring even:

But the inside, while cozy and simple, contains an exquisite combination of Renaissance and Baroque artwork in vibrant colors:

Photo courtesy of Sailing Choices.

As I studied the paintings, I thought of my Grammie and how much she would love that church.  Although I have never been a very religious person, I lit a candle for her at the altar and said a prayer thanking God for my Grammie and all that she gave to those around her, and I asked Him to take away her pain.  After we left the church, and all that day, my mind kept returning to my Grammie and her fight against a weakening body. 

From Slovenia, we traveled north to Austria.  We found a wonderful little inn in Salzburg called Hotel am Dom, which was steps from the Residenzplatz in the center of the Old City.  From the inn, we could see twin green domes of the Salzburg Cathedral, or “der Dom.”

We went into the church, with its intricately carved columns and carefully painted archways.  Where the Slovenia church was intimate and warm, this church was grand and ornate, a magnificent and impressive example of  Baroque architecture.  Mozart was baptized at that cathedral and played organ there for two years. 

As I looked around the Salzburg Cathedral, my heart grew heavy with thoughts of my Grammie.  I lit a candle and prayed for her.  It was a vague prayer asking God to watch over her, to take care of her and make sure that she was okay.  After wiping away a few tears, I sat under the main dome of the cathedral and looked up.  This is what I saw:

What does not appear in this photo are the gorgeous paintings and windows that line the inside of the dome.  But at that moment, as I sat there thinking about my Grammie, all I saw was the dove at the top of the dome.  The dove of the Holy Spirit.  It took my breath away.  I meditated on that dove for a good long while before moving on to explore other parts of Salzburg and later Munich.

The day we returned Europe, my father called to tell me that my Grammie had passed away while we were gone.  Although I knew when I left that there was a possibility that could happen, nobody thought that her health would deteriorate so quickly.  Once I got over the initial shock, I asked my father for details.  I learned that she died the day that I visited the colorful little church in Slovenia, the day that I asked God to take away her pain.  She was buried on the day that I visited the Salzburg Cathedral, the day that I sat entranced by the dove of the Holy Spirit who rose in a beautiful golden display at the top of the dome, the day that I asked God to take care of my Grammie and watch over her.  

In her last days, as her health was failing, my Grammie made certain wishes known to the family.  She wanted a simple funeral without much ceremony, she wanted family to be together, and she wanted me to play Amazing Grace on my flute.  I wasn’t there to fulfill her wish, and I cried countless tears about it for years.

I miss my Grammie.  I miss our talks and her stories.  I miss the way her sheets and towels smelled, and I miss her perfume.  I miss her big hugs.  I even miss her sharp little comments about how I should do something different with my hair.  I cried at my wedding when an aunt told me that my Grammie was there with me and again when a cousin gave me one of my Grammie's bangle bracelets.  I still cry when I think about the fact that she was not able to see me marry the man she somehow knew I would marry.

Three years after she passed, my husband and I went to visit my Grammie’s grave.  Although I knew exactly how to get to the cemetery, I previously had not been able to face her headstone and the guilt I felt for not being with the family when she was buried.  I guess I grieved and mourned in my own ways, which did not involve a cemetery.  But, years later, I was hit hard with an undeniable desire to visit.

So, years after lighting a candle in Slovenia and watching a dove rise in Austria, I finally played Amazing Grace for my grandmother.

I fought tears and played a pitiful sounding first verse.  After a deep breath and a pause, I took it up an octave and played the second verse loudly and with gusto.  I played it for my Grammie, for her bright colors and gold shoes, for her "I am here" spirit.

That was the goodbye I needed.  As I look back now, I realize that I was also playing for me, so that I could let go of the guilt.  So that I could heal.  

Being Violin Mom, Part 2.

Monday, October 19, 2015

In my last post, I wrote about what Being Violin Mom means.  I described the burdens and the pressures, and I touched on the challenges and the obstacles.  So why do it?

Here's why.  I want to give my child the gift of music.  I want music to touch her soul.  I want it to deepen and enrich how she experiences the world and relates to people.  I hope that she will feel joy and sorrow, exuberance and loss, and everything in between, in music.  I want her to develop the heart and spirit of a musician, and all that goes with that -- compassion and resilience and determination and so much more.  I want music to energize her but also to comfort her, to connect her with others, but also to be a steady companion when she's alone.  I want her to learn musical self-expression for times when words fail.  I want her to find a safe space in music, where she can lose herself and find herself.  I want music to become part of who she is and how she sees herself.  Suzuki says, If children hear fine music from the day of their birth and learn to play it, they develop sensitivity, discipline, and endurance.  They get a beautiful heart.  That is what I want for my daughter, a beautiful heart.

Of course, I realize that music is not the only way to a beautiful heart.  But I'm also pretty convinced that it's one way.  And I believe that a beautiful heart filled with music is about as good as it gets.  

Is music really a gift I can give, and will Suzuki violin really help my daughter's heart and spirit?  I don't know.  But it's worth a try.  Even if we don't get there, I have no doubt of the collateral benefits of the process itself.  Time management, responsibility, organization, hand-eye coordination, perseverance and commitment, memorization and recitation, concentration, public performance skills, listening skills, discipline, non-verbal communication, goal-setting, confidence-building, the value of hard work, the satisfaction of achievement.  I've seen impressive development in all of these areas already, and my daughter is only nine.  Although it's harder to see in myself, I'd bet even I have developed in some of those areas through our violin journey.

Here are some things I've learned, with a few years of being Violin Mom behind me.

Together we are stronger.  We are in this together.  Maybe not forever, but certainly for now.  We succeed or we fail together.  We learn together, or we don't learn.  We tackle challenges together, we celebrate together, we pick each other up and encourage each other when we feel beat.  It's not always easy or smooth, not at all.  But here's the result -- our relationship and the trust between us is stronger for it.  When love is deep, much can be accomplished, Suzuki says.  I'm counting on it.

Music is bigger than practice.  It is easy to get bogged down the practice particulars.  Review + memorize + polish + skills.  Repetitions.  Every day.  It is harder to keep sight of the bigger picture.  This isn't really about learning Gavotte or vibrato or bowing patterns; it's about music and the human spirit.  It is necessary to be concerned about the importance of educating a really beautiful human spirit, Suzuki says.  He's right.  But not only in violin or music; in life and parenting generally.

Children will amaze and inspire.  Children are capable of so much.  With a loving environment and plenty of encouragement, children learn at a remarkable pace.  I am amazed by what my child can play.  Astonished, truly.  I am inspired by the sound that comes from her hand and her violin.  It's moved me to tears more times than I can count.  Her recitals have taken my breath away.  

Walking into the classroom to find her performing for fellow students, seeing her play for hundreds of people during her school's talent show, knowing that she took her violin for show-and-tell when she was Star of the Week, watching her play at the fire station and park and farmer's market -- all of these things amaze and inspire me.  I'm pretty sure she's inspiring others too.

I talked earlier about wanting to giving my child the gift of music.  What I didn't say but is so very true -- she has given me that very same gift.  She has brought music back into my life, filled a hole, awakened something in me that I needed.  

Enthusiasm is contagious.  When I set aside distractions and immerse myself in the music, when I let my daughter see my enthusiasm and patience for learning and playing music, I see it reflected right back to me.  When I'm excited, she's excited.  Almost always.  Suzuki says, Parents who have smiling faces have children who have smiling faces.  Suzuki also says, An unlimited amount of ability can develop when parent and child are having fun together.  The more enthusiastic and positive I am, the better my daughter learns.

There is no substitute for hard work.  We try hard to make violin fun, but there's no denying that we work hard at it.  Repetition is the key to success, Suzuki tells us.  So we play things again and again. We learn new pieces but still revisit the old ones.  We learn new skills and then apply them to Twinkle.  We sacrifice and we make time, even when it's difficult.  We don't give up, even when it's tempting.  Suzuki tells us, Don't hurry, don't rest.  Without stopping, without haste, carefully taking one step at a time will surely get you there.  So we march on.  And on.  And on and on and on.  The result?  Accomplishment.  Achievement.  Beautiful music.  A feeling of tremendous pride for reaching a goal.

This is why I do it.  This is why it's worth it.  Beautiful music, beautiful heart, beautiful spirit. 

Please understand that I am no expert on the Suzuki method (not at all!), nor am I an expert in teaching children violin.  I'm learning as I go, and I know that I still have lots to learn.  I'm trying hard, doing pretty well some days and struggling mightily others, hoping love and perseverance pulls us through tough spells, hoping that the gift of music is worth every challenging minute.  I share this in hopes of encouraging some other violin parents through the inevitable Suzuki Slumps (which surely are a valuable, though painful part of the process), just as others have encouraged me when I needed it.

Being Violin Mom, Part 1.

Friday, October 9, 2015

I've been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be the parent in charge of Suzuki violin.  I've never homeschooled, but I imagine that there are some significant similarities between homeschooling and being Violin Mom.  In the case of homeschooling, however, learning likely happens when everyone is rested and fresh, unlike the music learning in our family, which happens when everyone is exhausted and rushed -- not the ideal circumstances for any sort of education and certainly intensifies the challenge.

There's just too much to say about Being Violin Mom for one post.  So this post tells how I got here and what it means, to me, to be Violin Mom.  The next will be what I've learned and why I keep doing it.  So first, how I became Violin Mom.

My daughter started begging to play violin when she was four.  I let her pester me for an entire year before I seriously considered the idea.  Although I played flute/piccolo and loved band (even played for a while in college), I knew nothing about string instruments or orchestra.  I feared fitting music practice into our already hectic and busy life.  I dreaded having to attend every lesson and be the home-teacher and whip-cracker.  I hated the thought of practice battles and enduring the inevitable frustration that accompanies learning a new instrument.

I finally gave in when my daughter started making violins out of cardboard boxes.

I had so much trepidation about beginning violin that I sought out a teacher who would not follow the Suzuki Method precisely but would be a bit more flexible.  She was less formal about CD-listening requirements than other teachers.  She did not have a strict practice policy or require group classes. She would come to our house.  She's the daughter of a violin teacher and the sister of an accomplished violinist.  She plays both classical music and traditional fiddle music.  It all sounded perfect.

But it wasn't.  During lessons, my daughter was very distracted -- what is my brother doing? what is going on in the next room? what can I play with?  The teacher tried hard to engage her with fun games and rhymes and challenges.  But mostly it didn't work.  During practices, my daughter was grumpy and resistant.  She was finally doing the thing that she'd been desperate to do for over a year, and none of us were having any fun.  Sure, there were small successes.  But they were overshadowed by the slumped posture, the sour face, and the inevitable struggle prompted by they mere mention of "violin."  Was she just too young?  Was it just too hard?  I didn't know.  

What I did know was that we were all out of energy and out of patience.  So we took a summer off to see if we had what was needed to continue.

Obviously, we did continue.  We ended up switching to a new teacher (recommended by the first), who has a nearby studio.  I still don't know what exactly changed and how we got back on track. Maybe it was doing lessons outside of our house, in a space filled with positive energy and light that's designed around learning violin.  Maybe my daughter grew up a lot that summer.  Maybe I grew more patient.  Or maybe it's that I bought into Suzuki Method and accepted my role as home-teacher. Whatever happened -- probably all of those things -- I'm thankful because I have no doubt that a great deal of good has come from it.

But that's not to say it's easy.  It is not.  IT IS NOT.  This is what Being Violin Mom looks like, or feels like, to me:

Beast of Burden.

I have to make violin happen.  I initiate practice (though I must use positive words like "let's make music" rather than more negative ones like "you need to work on violin"), I nag until the violin is out of its case, I set the practice structure and define practice goals, I determine repetitions and drills, I police posture, I attend lessons and take notes, I make sure we make it to group classes. 

I try to create a positive learning and playing atmosphere.  I do my best to be encouraging and compassionate and creative.  When I sense my daughter's attitude is suffering or she's feeling defeated, I find a new place to practice or turn to games and challenges.  I pull out dice and bead counters and stuffed animals and whatever else I can think of because I know that sometimes it's important to shake things up.  I find an audience for her to play for.  I issue challenges that set my daughter up for success because I know that accomplishment fuels motivation.  

I tread carefully between building up my kid's confidence, commiserating and soothing when she feels crushed by frustration, and firmly pressing ahead when it's the last thing we want to do.  When I'm feeling especially worn down by it all, I read articles and message boards, looking for fresh ideas and inspiration.  

I shoulder all of this responsibility knowing that if I don't follow through, my daughter will not learn violin. Suzuki is pretty honest about the fact that a child's success or failure depends on a parent's ability to bear this burden.  The fate of a child is in the hands of her parents, he says.  Any child can be developed, it just depends on how you do it, he says.  Creating desire in your child's heart is the parent's duty.  Every child grows; everything depends on the teacher.  No pressure there.  Nope.

No Rest for the Weary.

Practice only on the days you eat, Suzuki said.  I wonder, was Suzuki in charge of preparing food for children to eat, for buying the food, for cleaning after meals, bathing children, and washing the laundry soiled with food remnants?  All after a hard, long day of difficult work?  I suspect not (though I do not bear that burden alone either; I am extremely fortunate to have a partner in all of those tasks).  Make it a habit, just like brushing your teeth, Suzuki teachers say.  But my law brain is quick to draw all sorts of very valid distinctions.  It's simply not the same.  

Still, I recognize the undeniable benefits of daily practice.  I know that if you can get a child to play for five minutes, they'll probably play for much longer.  If you can get into that music space, most of the time good things will happen.   So six days a week, I try very hard to have a productive practice. Nobody's perfect; homework and family obligations sometimes get in the way, and I often give myself a pass on Fridays because end-of-week exhaustion tends to make productive practice impossible.  So I drink wine, celebrate having survived another week, and try not to think about it too much.  But I still feel terribly guilty because we eat and brush our teeth on Fridays. 

All Work and No Play.

This is what should be happening in any one practice:  (1) review pieces already mastered, not just to keep them fresh, but also to improve skills for current and future pieces (we've got about 25 review pieces at this point, so no easy task); (2) memorize a new piece, or maybe just "noodles" of a coming piece; (3) polish a piece so that it's performance- ready (bowing! dynamics! style!), which is the standard for truly moving on to the next piece; (4) skill work like scales, reading music, vibrato, bowing drills.  On all of these things, repetition is crucial.  Suzuki is serious about this -- Repetition is the key to success, he says.  Knowledge plus ten thousand times is skill, he says.  So we play things over and over again.  Maybe not 10,000 times, but a lot.

Here's the tough part of this.  What's missing from that practice list?  (5) If there's time, play just for fun -- write a song, experiment, sound out a song you've heard.  I don't want to imply that Suzuki does not believe in violin being fun -- quite the contrary!  An unlimited amount of ability can develop when parent and child are having fun together, he says.  But the reality is that there's only so much time and so much energy and so much patience.  There's only so much we can do.

Every day, review + memorize + polish + skills.  Every day, figure out if there's time for fun.  Every day, decide out how far we can push bedtime, whether the kid can go without a shower or without reading before bed, whether we let chores slide.  All because I want to allow a bit of time for my kid to be a kid, to just play.  For fun.  But so many days, we end practices without ever getting to that important item (5).  So many days, so much guilt for too little fun.

So there you have it -- a peak into the Violin Mom part of my life.  If after reading this you're wondering why in the world I'd put myself through all of this, then stay tuned.  More on that to come.