The Quitter

This is how it starts: In orchestra, her teacher drops her from first chair to second. She thinks its unfair. She doesn’t understand. The second chair part isn’t as fun or interesting to play. She hates the music, and, so, doesn’t want to practice any more. At dinner, D and I talk about how she should be practicing more so she can get back to first chair and the music that she enjoys. At dinner, she tells us that she wants to quit her private lessons. The writing’s on the wall. She’s already signed up for orchestra next year (the sign-ups occurred before the chair-drop), so she’ll have to get through it. But I suspect we’re nearing the end.

Honestly, I never saw Ms. B. playing violin all through high school. I was pleasantly surprised when she signed up for it in middle school. But she seemed to be really enjoying it. Enjoying it enough that she asked for private lessons and this past Christmas, when the lease on her old violin was up, we bought her a new one. (Parenting Axiom No. 407: If you drop an ass-load of cash on an activity, your child will ask to quit within the next 12 months).

I think what bothers me about this loss of interest in violin, however, is that it was all triggered by the drop from first to second. It’s the attitude of “I’m not on top, and that’s frustrating, so I’m no longer interested.” It’s an attitude she’s had about a number of activities we’ve tried and abandoned over the years. It always drives me crazy.

Here are responses that I would find acceptable:

“I was Number One, but now I’m Number Two. That frustrates me, so I’m going to use it to motivate me to work harder and get back to Number One.”

or

“I was Number One, but now I’m Number Two. I’m not too serious about violin, but it’s not a competition and I enjoy playing. Number Two is still good, and I’m just happy to be here.”

What I’m not okay with is:

“I was Number One, but now I’m Number Two. That makes me unhappy. So I quit.”

It’s virtually guaranteed that no matter what you do in life, there is always going to be someone out there who’s doing it better than you. And the response to that challenge is not to quit, but to push yourself to be as good as YOU can be. In that context, this doesn’t feel like a little lesson about violin, but a bigger lesson about life.

I’m tempted to tell her that if she puts in the work to get back to first chair, and STILL doesn’t like violin, then she can quit and I won’t be upset. But that seems like a plan destined to breed resentment. And we’ve all heard adults complain about their horrible parents making them stay in piano lessons for way too long. It’s a part of childhood. We try things out, and we discard them in a quest to find the things that truly interest us. But when does it become more than just trying things out; when does it become a problem with quitting every time things get hard?

So, what do you say? When is it okay to let your child quit?

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About Shannon K.

My name is Shannon. I make stuff up.
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3 Responses to The Quitter

  1. Kristin Benjamin says:

    Both boys wanted to/did quit various activities. Graham wanted to quit tennis several times. Two points of view that worked were 1) you’ve made a commitment through such-and-such date; 2) I want you to study some outside activity (and not jump around each year) where you have reached some sort of skill level, then we’ll see. And yay!, my hoped for plan worked and he stills plays tennis (just yesterday in fact). W/him I pressed him to stick w/an activity for the long-term. W/JK, he was intense about every endeavor 🙂 but tired of violin after three years. The last year was painful for all of us–the music and cadence was boring; should have mentioned something to the teacher. After that year was finished I told him that since he had kept up good grades throughout, he could choose his next instrument. Before I finished that sentence he said, “drums.” I also told both boys they needed to study an art form and a sport. Good luck w/this, Shannon!

  2. Kelly says:

    Hahaha! While reading Kristin’s comment, I was just WAITING for the word “drums” 😉

    And are you talking about ME and my parents who made me stay with piano until after I was 18?? Hahaha, because that was so me… I guess my parents pretty much evaded much of my fight when I suggested quitting piano but NEVER let me quit things mid-year (like girl scouts, etc) I’m pretty sure that my parents forced me to do freshman band and by the time the year was up and the last of my friends were quitting, I was OUT and there was nothing they could do about it!

    As for the first-second chair conundrum… I’ve never been particularly competitive but as soon as I dropped to 2nd chair I was DISTRAUGHT and worked so hard to get back to 1st. Playing flute in middle school was probably the most competitive I’ve ever been (with myself mostly)

    I don’t have words of wisdom AT ALL but I’m just grateful that I have a few years until Greg and I will have to deal with this 😉 I suppose nowadays, all things band and music can sometimes be tricky since it may not be what all the “cool kids” are doing. I’ve always thought it was great how you guys strive to have A be involved in lots of activities/sports though; Hope it all works out 🙂

    • shannonmakesstuffup says:

      It’s actually not D and I who strive to have Ms. B in lots of activities/sports. That’s all her. She’s a serial ‘try-it’ participant, always wanting to try everything, which I guess is part of why I’m frustrated. It’s great that she has so many interests, but she never sticks around long enough to see that she can succeed. Violin has actually been one of the longest activities she’s ever stuck with, which is also probably why I’m sad to see it start to go. We do make her finish her commitment, however, She’s already signed up for 8th grade violin, so we’ve got at least one more year.

      I don’t think music faces the stigma in the bigger schools here as we faced in Abilene (those orange and brown uniforms! Ugh!), but she’s also in orchestra, not band, which is soooo much more “sophisticated.” 😉

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