When to stop and when to go

Sunday, August 4, 2013

A couple weeks ago, I stood in the doorway of the music studio I teach at and had one of those conversations with a mom.  One of those conversations that sortof makes me want to thump my head against the wall. (I was going to say stab myself in the eye with a fork, but that seemed a little overdramatic).

Her 7 year old daughter had been taking voice lessons with me for about a month to six weeks.  I had been sensing that the child was bored and dissatisfied with how things were going.  She wasn't doing any practicing at home, the mom had mentioned that she really didn't know how to help her daughter practice, so even though I left copious notes on the ipad she'd brought for me to take notes on, including links to practice videos, there had been virtually no improvement or learning going on.  They were going to quit.

She stood with me in that doorway and told me that she hated announcing that it was time to go to singing lessons and hearing her daughter whine and complain and put up a fuss.  She didn't do that for dance class, she told me.  I had suggested early on to this family that a childrens choir might be a better choice for one this young, but they hadn't been interested in driving the distance to the nearest choir.
The mom continued to tell me that when she threatened her daughter with quitting dance, her daughter was very distraught, but when she did the same for singing, her daughter didn't care.  This to her was evidence that they should quit.
Needless to say I was fairly annoyed about all this.  I tried to connect with her as a mother of young girls as well--daughters who also give me a hard time when I say its time to go to practice or rehearsal.  I shrugged and commiserated that it was those times that we as moms have to decide whether to hold our ground or decide its time to move on.  It took everything in me not to let my annoyance take over, allow sarcasm to rule and shnark at her that it was time to grow up and be a mommy and not let her daughters bad behaviour determine her path in life.
But I didn't, mostly because I really have walked in those shoes, nearly weekly.  I find "cheerleader" added to my hat stack as a mom, nearly every week for one of my girls, when I say "Time to go to ________practice", and the groaning begins.  I know the consternation of working though the mystery of whether I'm being a good parent to keep forcing them to go, or a good parent to recognize that said activity is not really their thing, and let them move on.

We came to the crossroads of this exact issue with Honour about a month ago.  She's been highland dancing for about three years now.  At first she did very well and the teacher told us she had a lot of good, natural qualities a dancer needed in terms of her body type.  At the end of her first year of classes, she started competing and it took her a full year to get her six stamps and move from Beginner level to Novice level. (Which is a normal rate of progress).  This year on the one year anniversary mark of the start of her competing, she not only did not get a stamp, but she didn't even get a medal (6 places awarded in four dances, out of about 15 dancers).  She has yet to get even one stamp in the Novice category.  To say she was getting discouraged was an understatement.  She was ready to quit.

I was SO torn.  I don't believe in letting kids quit.  I don't believe in not finishing what you start.  But what would be 'finishing' in this situation?  There are two more levels above Novice, each of them harder and harder than before.  This highland dance future was looking bleak.  I decided to get some advice.

I messaged a friend whose daughter is one of junior coaches at our dance studio.  Surely she had gone through this with her daughter at some point.  I messaged with another friend whose daughter dances with Honour, but who's been dancing longer than Honour.  I messaged with my cousin who inspired us to consider highland dance in the first place, who I would consider 'successful' in dance, having completed all the levels and topped her highland career off with a trip to Scotland to dance in the Tattoo. And of course, I talked to my mom.  With the advice and encouragement of these ladies, and some intensive prayer to ask Honours heavenly father what would be the best plan for her, we came to a decision.  Not only that, but I determined a plan to implement this decision--possibly even more important.  We were not going to let her quit, and here was how we were going to help her stick to this path:

1).  She was going to have to practice.  As a musician and music teacher, this is a no-brainer for me, when I tell my students to practice.  However, I had been lagging on this front when it came to Honour and dance.  I'm very concerned about becoming a 'soccer mom', and didn't want to push a level of dedication or commitment that would raise eyebrows.  However, her beginner days of doing well in competition on only 2 hours of dance class a week were long over.  She clearly needed to practice.  So I pulled out the first go-to idea I usually implement with my students: The Practice Chart.  I tried to make it attractive so she would be drawn to filling up all the little boxes with happy face stickers.  Notice that I did not put dates across the top. I knew that it would be unreasonable to expect her to practice every day, especially with holidays (like we're on now, hence why I'm blogging) so her goal will be to simply fill out every block.

Then I upped the ante with the following chart as well.  This goes on the fridge next to the practice chart.  We also decided that she will get something VERY special when she fills the chart...something she's wanted for a long while....a [used] ipod.  No, I don't see this as bribing.  It's providing incentive, which we ALL need to achieve our goals.

2). She was going to have to exercise.  I've always maintained that I keep my kids in 'something physical' as homeschoolers because they need that.  They don't have gym class.  However, 2 hours of dance a week is not really cutting it.  Again, resisting the soccer mom picture in my head, the idea of working out above and beyond both her practicing and her classes seemed like too much.  But after musing upon this some more, I decided that exercising (reasonably) could do nothing but help her, and would benefit her for the rest of her life.
Her teacher has always recommended that dancers ride a stationary bike, so I put out the call on Facebook to see if any friends had one.  Actually, I decided that I needed two, because I've learned that Honour needs a buddy.  And James would be her riding buddy.  I managed to find a bike on FB and also a bike trainer which Honours' bike could go on and convert to a stationary bike.  They started with five minutes upon waking in the morning, and they've not been doing too badly.  I'm encouraging James to increase slowly--five minutes for five days, six minutes for six days, etc.  Honour has been liking the time with her dad one on one!

3) A notebook, made just for her.  This was one of the recommendations from my cousin and my friend whose daughter dances with Honour.  During rehearsal, corrections and suggestions are called out left, right and centre.  Really, it would be difficult for even an adult to remember what to do once at home again.  So not only did I get her a notebook, but I designed and had one printed up just for her.  I can't seem to convert it into an image that blogger recognizes so I'll just describe: It has a cute highland dance picture I found online and I inserted "Honour's Highland Dance Notebook" across the bottom.  I also designed the pages printed inside with subtitles down the left of all her most common dances with lines to write down the notes.  Her teacher and the junior coaches were very impressed and have been helping by writing the notes down for her.  My goal is that she'll become proficient at taking her own notes though.

4) Physiotherapy.  I've had some minor concerns about Honour's musculature for a few years.  I could see her posture starting to droop and at 7-8 years old, that didn't seem right to me.  She also struggles terribly in highland practice during the stretching; she's very tight through the back of her legs and up her back through her neck.  This is something I had a problem with as a kid too and I cringe every time I watch her in practice and the coaches are trying to help her stretch farther.  I can feel it up my own back and neck!  I started seeing a physiotherapist for some back discomfort and so I asked the therapist if she would be comfortable helping Honour too.  So far it's been helpful to me to have her enthusiasm to do our exercises together.

5) Goals.  I've always been a lousy goal maker.  For whatever reason, I've always had an aversion to goals--they somehow feel confining to me.  Or perhaps its just that I'm scared I won't achieve them.  I remember sitting on the lawn of Irwin chapel many years ago with James, him with his notebook out, me balking and whining that he was 'making' me think of some goals.  I think unfortunately I've encouraged him away from that kind of behaviour.  Anyways, I've embraced the idea anew, at least where Honour is concerned.  We sat down and talked with her about her future in highland dance, and what she wanted to accomplish; what we wanted to see her accomplish.  Being my sensible first born daughter, this was an easy task.  We laid out our vision for her: that she a) move from Novice to Intermediate level by next July 1st, and b) that she continue at highland dance until she achieved Premier level, which follows intermediate.  This may take anywhere from two to four years from this moment.  With the new practicing and exercise measures in place, hopefully closer to the two years.  We told Honour that we didn't have any expectations of her becoming a champion, but if that happened, we would be thrilled, of course.  What we wanted for her, was to establish some habits of physical discipline in her life, the determination to stick with something until she was done, and to work towards a standard of excellence in something.  I would say that these are goals for all the activities we put our children in.  Finally, I want her to be able to look back at her highland 'career' and feel a sense of accomplishment that she ran that race to the end.  I don't want her to forever consider highland as that thing she did well at, at first, but then later flunked out of.  We told her that once she reached Premier level, she could choose whether she continued or not.  She was agreeable to all this, and even added her own goal of winning a trophy at competition. :-)

I feel a great sense of satisfaction that we've set out a path for her that is achievable, and yet will require some hard work.  Now when she complains about going to practice, I have all this to point to--and it won't be all my own expectations.

Now I just have to deal with a disgruntled Verity, who feels that she should be able to earn an ipod too....

Honour at Embro, 2013.  Wearing her new (to her) kilt...a 'real' one now, no more kiltie!
(I love that I caught some photos of her up in the air. :-)


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