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Maybe Learning to Play the Cello Is Making Me a Better Parent

Updated: Dec 15, 2019

I live in a house of musically talented boys. (They wouldn't say that, but I don't mind bragging about them). For the past 11 years, our home has the sounds of guitar, piano, saxophones, violin, and trumpet reverberating throughout bedrooms and into the living spaces. My husband and I have listened to them progress from Mary Had a Little Lamb to Mozart's symphonies and Charlie Parker's jazz pieces. Their skills have dramatically improved from their beginning days, so much so, that it's like having free concerts in the house when they rehearse.

Their hard work and love of music inspired me to learn a new instrument this year. I grew up playing the flute; a default from my instrument of choice - the piano. Renting a flute that could fit in my school bag was cheaper for the family budget than buying a piano for the house. But that was over thirty years ago. Learning any instrument (even a woodwind variety) would be starting from scratch. So, with my options wide open, I chose something that had always intrigued me - the cello.

I brought my rented instrument home and waited three weeks before my first lesson. Like any eager over-achiever, I had watched dozens of YouTube videos on how to hold the bow and play beginning notes. Each day, I practiced what the video experts told me and ignored the parts that didn't feel comfortable. I figured all of us cellists probably have a unique way of holding the bow and I just needed to find what was most comfortable for me. With each practice, I had visions of wowing my instructor and speeding through the basics in order to really start the "good stuff." But, on lesson one, I was told we wouldn't be using the bow for at least the first month. What??? A month later, I was told how holding the bow incorrectly would lead to years of strenuous playing and possible injury.

Humbled and humored, I truly went back to the basics (the correct way) and worked systematically through six different versions of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. It's been 3 months and I'm just now learning my second song, which still uses only the eight notes from my first song. In these short 12 weeks, I've learned more than a proper bow grip and how to read from the Bass Clef scale. In fact, I've learned so much that I can make this bold's actually changing how I parent, possibly for the better!

How? Here are the top lessons I've learned:

1. Dreaming about something is half the fun of actually doing it. It's easy to become a tad bit too realistic the older we get. Dreaming can seem a waste of time, especially if it doesn't lead to something practical. While envisioning myself producing beautiful sounds on this gorgeous instrument, I feel younger than my years. With that sense of youthfulness comes boldness and a belief that "I can do anything." I see this in my boys when they share their ideas and aspirations for the future. And now I can be fully present with them because I relate to their excitement.

2. Retraining the brain requires patience from loved ones as well as myself. As the family listens to my 100th rendition of TTLS, and all the squeaky, grinding sounds that emit from my instrument, they know the 101st attempt just may be beautiful music to everyone's ears. My struggles are less about the instrument and more about the habitual ways I think about the instrument. I hold tension in my arms, wrists, and hands; my brow is furrowed; I'm thinking too much versus relaxing and feeling my way into the moment. Yet, at no time has anyone come into the room and said, "Would you just relax! You're making this more difficult than it needs to be." And for that I'm grateful. No one is rushing me during the retraining of my brain. Now I want to return the favor to my children. When they struggle with their approach to a new subject, can I allow them the space to discover what they need versus rushing them to a different outcome?

3. Getting humble requires a sense of humor. I'm 46 years old and I'm learning the Suzuki Method - something usually practiced with kids is young as two years old! I only know eight notes but that doesn't stop me from practicing them in a variety of ways. When I finish my weekly lesson with my instructor, a young boy of 12 enters the room and says he can tell I'm improving. His compliment makes me smile because I know he's being sincere (and that I'm the newbie in this arena even though I'm almost four times is age). Being of the beginner's mind-set is helpful as a parent. My boys have so much to teach me but all they've known is Mom teaches them. During the last three months, they've seen a different version of Mom. I don't know everything and they are responding with great support (as well as a few jokes now and then).

4. What seems mundane practice is actually the "good stuff." One day I will play a piece of music that requires all four strings and a variety of notes. One day I will graduate from the basics to complex compositions. But if I keep thinking about the future, I may miss out on the good of this present moment. Raising a family comes with its share of mundane moments but now I can see them from a new perspective. The basics of every day living provide the strong foundation for our future. I don't want to rush through the minor struggles of chores, disagreements, and homework assignments. I want to remain mindful of how I engage with the boys so I can notice when I'm tensing up, furrowing my brow, and feeling stressed. Practicing awareness helps each family member make their own discoveries at their own unique time.

I will continue going to my weekly cello lessons and subjecting my family to evening rehearsals. Maybe, in another year, I'll have even more ah-ha moments to integrate into my parenting repertoire. And, maybe, just maybe, I'll get them all to play with me - which just might be another Blog In the Making.

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