Quitting

When I hated softball, I wasn’t allowed to quit. I survived. The outfield isn’t the worst place to spend an hour of your sunny spring day. When I hated working at Arby’s Roast Beef, a few of my teenage friends started working there, too. Now I couldn’t quit, although the job wasn’t quite so awful anymore. When I really disliked my private high school, I believed my parents told me I could transfer to the public high school. I soldiered on, though, making all new friends and becoming an expert on why high school is not all that.

My mom tells me now that she never promised me that I could transfer schools. Memory is a funny thing. But I know, deep down, that quitting is not part of my family vocabulary. The sports season was paid up and there was virtue in simply getting though the next month of practices and games. Menial labor jobs made college look good. Enduring a bad year of high school built character. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?

I’ve watched KK suffer through two seasons of soccer, and yes, I made her play even though she didn’t like it. The first year I bribed her by letting her ride her bike to practice. The second year she didn’t want to sign up and I used her friends as a reason to join the team. The first year wasn’t so bad. The next year, well, why again did I make her do something she clearly wasn’t interested in? Did I really want to stand in the rain every Saturday morning after convincing my daughter to play? I heard my mom’s voice in my head, “You don’t quit.”

So, I have mixed emotions about the email I typed today: “We would like to drop out of violin. Perhaps we will pick it up later, but at the moment it’s become a source of frustration.”

We quit, Annie and I. We quit violin. Maybe this sounds silly. Wasn’t Annie the one taking violin? Yes. But, especially with the Suzuki method, I was a huge part of the equation. Maybe I failed. I’m pretty sure that failing is not part of my family vocabulary. Luckily, I am half Alton now, and the Schatz part has a smaller voice. Don’t get me wrong. Enduring that which you hate must have some virtue. Surely, I hated parts of writing my first two books, but it was so worth it. But being an author of a book was a lifelong goal. I’m not sure not quitting softball helped me finish writing the books. Does Annie want to play the violin?

This is the question that finally tipped the scale toward quitting during Chris and my long, animated discussion (healthy argument) about violin lessons last night. Annie and I were locked in battle over violin practice. She didn’t mind group lesson or her one-on-one lesson. Daily practice had become a minefield. After watching me try to make Annie play her tuka-tuka-stop-stop song with more finesse for a mere five minutes last night, Chris was upset. Annie gave me attitude, and I had little patience. Both of us really just wanted to complete the lesson. Neither Annie nor I took any pleasure from our encounter. Afterward, Chris said, “If you are only going to practice for 5 minutes every day, maybe you should start practicing ever hour on the hour so she can really learn.”

And we were off to the races, Chris and I. Our exchange started and stopped, and we picked up this conversation thread hours later. At roughly 10:15, we had covered so much ground. Why were we doing violin? It does seem to help Annie’s fine motor skills.  A month ago, she was playing perfect tuka-tuka-stop-stop songs every day. Now she wasn’t, and she sawed her bow roughly across the strings and argued with me, saying, “But I don’t need to play perfectly. You told me perfect doesn’t matter.”

There’s the kernel of truth. My little perfectionist is trying to learn to just try at so many things. And she is doing well. She tries her best at six different tutoring sessions and at kindergarten five days a week. She struggles with letting go of her idea that perfection matters, and we talk about this idea all the time. It’s OK to not be perfect. We don’t need a perfect little violin player right now. We also know that doing activities she likes and that she is good at is a great counter-balance to the struggle of learning her letters and numbers. She loves to swim. Why not use the money for violin for swim lessons?

Why not indeed? We decide to sleep on the idea of quitting violin. I sleep hard, with no waking. I ask Annie this morning if she likes playing violin.

“A little bit.”

“Would you like to keep playing or do something else?”

“I would rather play the harp when I am an adult or the flute later.”

We’re done. We quit. I am waiting to feel happy about this, but I know I am relieved that we never have to practice the violin together again.

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