Tag Archives: parents

Sometimes, It’s Okay to Quit by Donna Small

When I was around seven or eight years old, my parents decided to sign me up for organ lessons. That’s right – organ lessons. Not something cool, like dance or even piano. I was the kid who played the organ for my church. It was a huge contraption with several keyboards, pedals that went across the floor, and large pipes that went up through the ceiling.

Remember the organ from Beauty and the Beast? Yeah…it was just like that.

As you can imagine, I was thrilled. (Note the sarcasm here.)

Anyway, every Wednesday night, one of my parents would take me to my lesson. There was a very nice woman in town who gave lessons out of her home. She, of course, played the organ, but also played other instruments as well, including…

wait for it….the accordion!

If I managed to play a piece particularly well, she would bring out her contraption, swing the strap around her shoulders, and squeeze the thing in and out making sounds to accompany my attempt at music.

It was not pretty.

I took lessons for years. Emphasis on the “years” part. When I started taking the lessons, I still had baby teeth. When I was finally allowed to stop, I had bee through braces, acne, puberty and was driving.

Years….

The interesting thing is, I hated every minute of it. I never practiced my songs, never looked forward to a single lesson, and continuously begged my parents to let me quit.

They never would.

So each week, I’d grudgingly get into my parents’ car and head to my lesson, feeling much like someone forced to go to the dentist for a root canal week after agonizing week.

Finally, I graduated from high school and began attending college. At last, I was allowed to quit my lessons. The small organ we had in our house was moved to my grandmothers’ house and the spot where it sat was filled with another piece of furniture. (It couldn’t be sold or given away because my parents felt certain I would eventually want to resume my lessons and they wanted to make sure I had an organ to play on.)

I never took another lesson.

Flash forward several years and now I’m the parent. I have two beautiful girls who are finding their way in life. A rather large part of that, in my opinion, is trying out different sports and activities to determine where they want to focus their energies. I don’t force them into sports or playing an instrument. I encourage if they show any interest. I pay the fee if they express a desire to join a particular sport. And I’m happy to do so. What I will not do is force them to continue something they hate participating in. Knowing that I put zero energy into my organ playing when I was their age makes me think that forcing them to do a sport or activity they don’t want to do is tantamount to flushing my money down the toilet and a surefire way to create animosity between us.

That being said, once they’ve joined a sport, they are required to complete the season and they know this. We discuss the fact that they are part of a team before they join. We discuss the fact that their team relies on them for a particular skill and it’s not fair to let the other players down. If, after one season, they don’t want to play a particular sport, that is okay with me.

Both of my girls have tried several sports and have found a particular one they flourish in and enjoy. My eldest is a swimmer and my youngest has chosen softball. Both of them have played their respective sports for several years now and I’m happy to pay the fees, purchase the equipment and attend any and all events.

Because they’re happy to participate in them.

I don’t have to drag them to practice, force them to put on their uniforms, or bribe them to get them to events. They look forward to them…because they had a part in choosing.

All this is not to say I”m angry with my parents for making me take all those lessons. I’m not. I learned a skill that while useless, is a neat party trick. I can’t play Beethoven or Mozart – you know, because I NEVER practiced – but I can play a mean “Down a Papa Joes!”

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Filed under fun, life, music, musings

Land Cradled By the Waves

Some of my earliest memories are of bedtime stories being read to me, and I was an avid reader from the time I learned how. When I was in grade school and junior high I had special library privileges – because I had to jump on the school bus as soon as school was out, I was dismissed from class 5 or 10 minutes early each day so I could go to the library and pick out a book, which I would then read that night and return the next morning. On Sundays, I would check out several books from the church library. I read at least one book a day.

When I was little, my parents thought it was nice that I liked to read so much. They were proud that I was such an avid reader. But I was raised on a farm where everyone was expected to pitch in and help, and as I got older, what was perceived as cute became an irritation, especially to my Dad, who thought I should be working instead of “wasting time” reading. I took to reading late at night, sometimes in my bed, with a flashlight, half hidden under the covers, so my parents wouldn’t see the light. There are photos of me sitting at a picnic table or in the back seat of the car when we were on family vacations, reading, when according to my Mom and Dad, I should have been doing things with my family – hiking, swimming – the things “normal” kids do. When I tried to read, my sisters and brothers teased me. My parents yelled at me. Reading became a sore spot.

I stubbornly ignored them and kept reading… and writing. A poetry class and then, a creative writing teacher, inspired and encouraged me to write, to express myself. I was a straight A student, fueled as much by what I learned from the books I read as what I was taught in class.

But somewhere about the time I was a junior in high school, I started to accept the message that was repeated over and over again – at worst, that reading was a waste of time, at best, that reading was something people only did when they were too old to work and had nothing better to do with their time. I stopped reading for pleasure. My school courses became more demanding and required more reading, and I was involved in several extracurricular activities – choir, yearbook editor, 4-H, youth group at church – that required my attention and took a lot of time. This was even more true in college. What free time I did have was spent talking with friends in my dorm. I started working and dating. I wrote reams of poetry while I was at Wheaton, exulting in first loves and new experiences, questioning, learning, growing up. But I read only what I had to.

I married after two years at Wheaton and moved to Germany. I continued my studies and wrote avidly – this time in the form of term papers and hundreds of hand-written letters to my parents, in-laws, Grandmas, and friends. But I didn’t read. I earned money and I worked. I gave up the fight and listened to the inner voice in my head that said I was being lazy when I sat down to read a book… that I should be working… that I should be doing something worthwhile, productive.

Books in English weren’t that readily available in Germany, but more importantly, my life was in crisis. My marriage was a mess, and I made a series of bad choices in the years that followed… choices that I was ashamed of, felt guilty about, and couldn’t talk… or write… about. I lost hope, felt depressed, eventually got divorced. I neither read nor wrote during this period. How can a person read stories with a happy ending when you are so cynical that you don’t believe in them? Writing seemed pointless. It didn’t solve anything, help anything, change anything.

I acquired a sarcastic wit as I fought my way back to emotional health and rebuilt my tattered financial status. I worked countless hours opening a business and eventually found both happiness and success. But I never opened a book.

Then, a friend invited me to join her at Prince Edward Island for a week and a half. Her aunt and uncle owned a vacation house on the water, and had rented the one next door for us to stay. I arrived at the sleepy little island one summer day, and felt immediately at home. Plainly rural, yet beautifully scenic, it lives up to its Indian name, Abegweit, or land cradled by the waves.

I’d never been on a seaside vacation. My family camped, changing locations every night, seeing new sights every day, traveling hundreds of miles over the course of a week’s vacation. I was bored silly, or more accurately, fit to be tied, after 3 days.

My friend’s Aunt Doris was a reader. She handed me a book and told me to relax. I started Sandra Brown’s “French Silk” later that afternoon, sitting in an old lawn chair, overlooking the water. I had read six books by the time I left for home. She let me take another to read on the airplane. I had finished it by the time I reached New Jersey, and bought another at the airport to take me to Minneapolis.

I haven’t stopped since. A year later, I was inspired to write my first novel. My employees, parents, and brothers and sisters all seemed to think I was wasting my time. Would writing pay off? It didn’t seem likely that I would ever get paid for the hours and hours I was spending in front of the computer, typing away.

This time, I again refused to listen. I kept reading… and writing.

In my first published book, “Night and Day”, recently released by Second Wind Publishing, Jensen Marie Christiansen finds pure magic on Prince Edward Island, the place where I rediscovered my love of reading. Is it any surprise I chose this very special island to be the setting of Jensen’s dream come true?

Although my family has learned to accept my passion for books and writing, the entrepreneurial side of me is still bothered on some level that I may never net more than one or two cents an hour for the time and energy I’ve spent writing my books. But I have learned to be proud of my voice. I have learned that dreams really do come true.

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Filed under books, Sherrie Hansen