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When Miss F was five, she began violin lessons.

It wasn’t my idea; I recall discouraging the idea a bit, put off by the cost. But she persisted and I relented and a little violin appeared  in our house.

I learned with her, scraping out rhythms like tucka, tucka, stop, stop and one, two, wait, four. Then came the first song: Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. We practiced together and, looking back, it is probably true that I enjoyed it more than she did; watching her learn pleased me even more than learning myself.

Encouraging a five year old to practice required effort.

But we managed a few minutes of practice most days of the week. At first. By her second year in violin, her attention had noticeably flagged. Lessons were fun, but practice seemed tortuous. I experimented with motivation techniques, tying her practices to points and stars, praise and play dates.

I stopped the lessons once, but started again when she promised to practice regularly. We got through another year this way.

Summer break and lessons ended for two months. Promises were made to practice a couple of times a week aover the summer. Three times, the suggestion of practice met with such resistance or ended in such frustrating bouts of tears that I didn’t mention it again. She did not pick up the violin all summer.

Still September came and she wanted to play, wanted it more than dance class, than basketball, than anything else except Brownies. So I enrolled her again.

The pleasure it gives me to watch her play. To listen. Busy with my own studies, I had given up learning along with her. She had progressed beyond my  skill and musical knowledge. (I never learned to play an instrument.) The pleasure I took in her pride, in her sense of accomplishment when she would play a song for Deda or Baka on skype.

But practicing. Practicing became a battle. Any practice at all. She could resist with the passive strength of a  professional protester, a veteran of repeated sit ins and group arrests.

I am busy. Too busy for imagining ways to get her to practice. The money we spent on lessons could have gone so many other places. The time wasted nagging; the evenings ruined feeling angry with her instead of, oh, getting homework done peacefully, or reading together on the couch.

I stopped mentioning it. I did not take her to her lessons and did not mention it. She did not notice. The teacher e-mailed. I felt sick; I was surprised by how much I wanted her to play violin.

Before I ended lessons for good, I talked with her about it after school that day. Did she miss violin? Yes. Ddi she want to continue? Yes. Did she want to practice. She would, but later, tomorrow sometime. Deal: practice today when we get home before bed and I’ll take you to your violin lesson, practice anything, practice twinkle, twinkle.

She didn’t want to. We talked: she didn’t have to play; she was good at other things, like reading and singing; if she wasn’t interested enough to practice, perhaps she just wasn’t interested; she could take a break now and begin again later, when she was ready to practice; next year she would learn an instrument in school, she could pick any instrument she wanted; we would not sell or give away her violin.

It was settled. She was satisfied. She hasn’t mentioned the violin since. She hasn’t picked up her violin since, or even looked at it. But I miss the idea, the idea of one of my girls playing the violin. Miss F got out of it what she wanted, in two years and a bit of violin lessons she learned to play a few songs. Now she is ready to move on to other things.

Maybe the little one will take to the violin. When she is old enough, we’ll see.


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