The power of being a raw beginnerAsha Dornfest
I just played a tune on the fiddle! I’m inordinately proud of myself for scratching out “Twinkle Twinkle.” I’ve never played a string instrument before. My last musical performance was in the high school marching band.
A little context: I’m spending the week at Fiddle Camp with my daughter. How we ended up here is a long and lovely story, but the short of it is that my daughter has developed a furious love of the fiddle and discovered this camp. Through quiet persistence (and winning herself a partial scholarship), we’re at a YMCA camp facility in the California redwoods with 300 people of all ages from around the world. Playing fiddle.
Really, I’m just here as her “adult guardian.” My plan was to use this as an opportunity for a personal retreat while she’s in classes. I had NO intention of (or interest in) learning fiddle myself. But at the welcome dinner, several campers encouraged me to take the Basic class and give fiddle a try.
And that’s when it kicked in: my reflexive impulse to flee from something challenging and new. The tape in my head started rolling: I don’t want to play the fiddle. It will be too hard. It will be embarrassing. I can’t do it. Besides, I came here to support Mimi. My plan was to read and write during my “off” times. I deserve some time to myself. I don’t HAVE to play fiddle if I don’t want to! If my head could have crossed its arms in front of its chest and pouted, it would have.
Outwardly, I listened, like a good parent would, to the camper suggesting how wonderful it would be to gain insight into my daughter’s experience learning the fiddle. I nodded my head in agreement as he reminded me that opportunities like this don’t come along often, and that I’d already paid for camp…why not take advantage of a lesson? But inside, every cell protested. I considered running to my cabin and hiding in my bunk, or feigning illness. I said I would think about it.
The next morning, at breakfast, I sat with Melissa, the fantastic mother of two kids also attending camp. (Interestingly, there are relatively few young kids here…most of the campers are teens-to-adults.) She and her kids are experienced fiddlers, and when I told her I was thinking about taking the Basic class, she broke into a smile and clapped me on the shoulder. “Good for you! So few adults let themselves experience what it’s like to be a raw beginner.”
Yes, indeed. Her words reminded me that my Achilles heel, ever since childhood, has been my tendency to avoid challenge. I’m attracted to the easy win and high-chance-of-success. Always have been. I’m not unique here — most people naturally gravitate toward things they’re good at, which is fine to an extent. But stick with that habit long enough and you risk stagnancy. You bypass the learning curve. You begin to cling to stasis like a security blanket until anything new feels threatening. The trajectory on that doesn’t look good, especially as a parent, for whom change is the name of the game.
Think about how often our kids must handle the risk of trying something new. Everything’s new to them! Every time they take a new class, or start a new school year, or attempt something they haven’t tried before, they must face that period of feeling unsure and probably a little uncomfortable. They don’t have adult experience to fuel them through those moments–the knowledge that it’ll be okay in the long run no matter what the initial outcome.
In the end, Melissa’s simple observation quieted my inner tantrum and I attended the Basic Adult fiddle class. After an hour, my shoulder was sore and my teeth ached from the out-of-tune-screeches emanating from my borrowed fiddle. But I could play effing Twinkle Twinkle. I played it for my daughter and she was so proud of me.
I’m still not interested in learning to play the fiddle. I’m going to do plenty of writing and “retreating” while I’m here. But saying “yes” to a couple hours as a raw beginner reminded me how important it is to integrate challenges — even small ones — in my day-to-day life. Stasis feels great for a while as a place to rest and catch my breath. But I don’t want to fall into the trap of calling it home.
What challenge will you say “yes” to this Fall?
Asha Dornfest is the co-author of Minimalist Parenting: Enjoy Modern Family Life More By Doing Less and the publisher of Parent Hacks, a site crammed with tips for making family life easier.