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Little Spouse On The Prairie: Musical Regrets

Valerie Brown-Kuchera

I am living testament that the cliché about regretting quitting piano lessons is absolutely true. I only took lessons for a short time as kid before my whining succeeded and my mother allowed me to quit.  Determined to push my own children to do better than their mother and understand the lifelong benefits of music, I have enrolled all three in piano from the time they were four.

This means that I have now been dragging kids, kicking and screaming, to music lessons for longer than I’ve been married to Joel. This means that I have now been forcing kids, whining and griping, to practice for well over a decade.

When people have told me to enjoy my kids’ childhoods while I can, because those precious moments will go by before I know it, I don’t think they were talking about the moments spent forcing kids to practice music. During the years that this self-flagellation has been going on, I have collected quite an assortment of kids’ excuses and ploys to avoid practicing.

Millicent, my now 16-year-old daughter, was my Guinea pig child, as many oldest children are. I enrolled her with a local teacher, expecting she would become a virtuoso within a few short months. I was shocked when she expressed a deep desire to quit lessons about two minutes into the first practice session. I told her she could quit at the end of eighth grade, a dictum I held to until she came to the realization that she was getting too good to quit, and she really did not want to let her music go after all.

She still takes lessons and is highly involved in school music program, mostly due to my incredibly stellar parenting skills. Nevertheless, the struggle was real getting her to that point, and after years of hearing more whining from the music room than actual piano playing, I admit I was ready to throw in the sheet music and let her quit many a time. Millie’s most creative reason for not practicing was, “My teacher told me not to because I might get confused if I work on my own.”

My middle child, Dashiell, perpetuated probably the most elaborate scheme to avoid practice, but it kind of backfired. He decided that he would record himself practicing, then play the recording while he messed with his Legos. The idea was that I would hear from the other room and think he was busy doing scales, like the dedicated young prodigy he was. The funny thing was, he was never satisfied with his recording, so he kept erasing it and re-recording it over and over until he had practiced for like, two hours.

Dashiell was also famous for saying things like, “When I die sitting miserably at this piano, you’ll really regret that you made me do this. You’ll wish you had let me live out my last days having fun with my Legos.”

Thus far, though, Dashiell is the only one who has harangued me into allowing him to quit before eighth grade. He took up the bari saxophone in order to get out of the piano, and something clicked! He became serious about practicing that instrument without me even telling him to, and eventually, I gave in and allowed him to drop piano at the end of his seventh grade year in favor of more lessons with the sax.

It remains to be seen whether my littlest one, Clementine, will manage to wear me down before eighth grade.

Last week alone she gave the following excuses for not practicing: (1) The lightbulb in the music room is burned out and it was too dark (it wasn’t), (2) She had a migraine (her migraine did not prevent her from watching cartoons turned up to full volume), (3) Her back was too itchy, (4) She was too terrified by the scary story Dashiell had told the night before, (5) Grandma told her she didn’t have to, and (6) She had practiced in her imagination for several hours.

I will keep up the good fight in hopes that none of my kids arrive at my age with musical regrets. I hope to spend my golden years listening to the sounds of my adult children telling their own kids, “If my childhood was made miserable by a parent forcing me to practice, then, by golly, yours will be too.”

Host of Little Spouse on the Prairie, a regional comedy feature that airs Sundays at 8:35 a.m. during Weekend Edition.