If you need a reminder that supporting your children is the right thing to do, I have a story for you.
I had forgotten that my mom played in a marching band in high school. Yesterday, quite by accident, we starting talking about it. We were sipping some hot tea and she told me the entire story of her experience. There were lots of obstacles thrown in her path – but she persevered in spite of them – and in spite of her parents.
It was the 1950s and my mom and her family had moved frequently throughout her childhood. “Seventeen schools in fifteen years,” she said. Her parents had survived the depression and were cobbling a living together by following the development boom of the time. My grandfather built tunnels, dams, and roads all over the world. They would leave a community or a job sometimes with only a moment’s notice and with only the possessions that fit in the car. One time, she had to leave behind her best friend, a dog named Duke.
By the time she reached high school, they were living in New York state and things seemed a little more settled. Now a teenager and searching for that sense of belonging we all begin to embrace, my mom wanted to join the marching band. Her high school band was successful and had earned the distinction at school as the group to join. But her parents did not support her interest in joining the band. “They were not going to spend good money on an instrument” and told her she was wasting her time.
She refused to accept this discouragement and decided to play an instrument the school already owned – the baritone saxophone. There was only one complication. Her dad was working nights at the time and slept during the day. Practicing in the house was not an option. “There was a barn out back and that’s where I practiced.”
My mom earned her place on the squad and sported a band uniform that she loved. She competed and placed in tournaments, even marching in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
“You had to be invited to march in the Macy’s parade. We were a very good marching band for such a small school.”
I commented about how her motivation seemed to be driven by her parent’s rejection. I guess I was trying to lighten what sounded like such a hard situation. I said something like: “that reverse psychology really worked and got you to practice and work hard at your instrument!”
But she stopped me and said: “there was no psychology involved, they just didn’t support me. You know, they never went to one performance.”
She went to Syracuse University after high school (and that’s another story about her persistence in the face of discouragement) but she never played her instrument again. I asked why she didn’t join the band in college and she reminded me that it was the 1950s: “There were no women in the Syracuse marching band. At the time, they were known as ‘One hundred men and a girl’ – only the baton thrower was a woman.”
And that’s where her marching band story abruptly ended. She played her instrument to belong and to assert her independence. But she never played again. Where the story continued, however, was in her love of listening to music. She shared her love with me and I have fond memories of marching to John Philip Sousa on the front lawn in the summer; listening to Handel’s Alleluia chorus at Christmas time; and dancing to Godspell and Hair in our living room.
I guess the lesson is to make music a part of your life and to support your child when they show you they have passion for it. If your child is anything like my mom – she’s going to find a way to play. You might as well be part of the experience.