When Is It OK For Your Kid To Quit Things?SAMANTHA BEE AND ALLANA HARKIN
Allow me to introduce myself to you: I am a quitter. I quit’ things. There is virtually no extracurricular, no tough-as-nails math class, no sports-ball based endeavor, that I didn’t, at some point in my childhood, simply throw up my hands at and walk away from.
Inspirational words, right? Yeah.
Drink them in.
Was I raised to be a quitter though?
Oh yes, most definitely.
When I was a kid, no one ever made me do anything. Want to take ballet? Oh wait — don’t ballerinas have to go upside down sometimes? I don’t care for that. How about piano? No thanks. My teacher smells like meatloaf. All right then, let’s try this: How about watching television from the crack of dawn until the dark of night with a cat sleeping on your feet and a bowl of Sugar Crisp balanced precariously on your lap the whole time? Perfect.
It’s nobody’s fault really. People just didn’t know back then that a steady diet of disco records and staring out the window at the other children playing in the sunshine all summer long could cause their children to become little mini Rip Van Winkle’s. (That’s me. I’m the Rip Van Winkle.)
But, in the end, you know what all that quitting did to me? It made me determined not to raise my own quitters. And this is slightly more … um … complicated than I thought it would be.
Because my daughter really doesn’t like any of the extracurricular fun-time classes I put her in.
I mean, soccer was a no-brainer. I had to let her quit. Every time she had to put that G.D. Super Soccer Stars t-shirt on, it was like I had asked her to put on a necklace of sausages and jump into a pit of starving grizzly bears.
But ballet. This is a tough one. She liked it just fine until it was revealed that she would be participating in a performance two-thirds of the way through. And now, talking about this performance has become an obsession, complete with tears, bargaining (“How can I do this class with a Band-Aid on my knee? I won’t be able to stretch my leg out!“), phantom stomach aches, and ultimately, recriminations (“Why would you make me do this when you know I don’t like it?”).
As a mother, I respect the tenacity of her attempts to get out of ballet, what with all of the clever tactical shifts. And as a mother, it is very sad to watch my daughter not enjoy something while simultaneously forcing it upon her.
No one expects, or even wants her to go into ballet. No one wants her to take a class that she loathes. All I demand is that she stick with it for the completion of one semester, and then she is free to pick something else. You know, in order that she fully prove to herself whether she truly dislikes it, or is just having a strong reaction to performing for people — which can certainly be scary.
How much does a child have to hate something before they are allowed to quit that thing, and does quitting something always make you a quitter, and is being a ‘quitter’ sometimes just OK?
(Piano though. All my children are required to take piano. I need them to play beautiful music for me when I’m old and decrepit. Plus, I don’t want them to turn out like Allana. Sorry Allana. I love you.)
I have this reoccurring dream fantasy and it goes something like this: I’m at a party and it’s dead silent. Conversation is stilted and then someone whispers something about the wires to the stereo being disconnected, never to be connected ever again. A ripple of exhaustion moves through the crowd. A person starts to put on their coat. And then, suddenly out of the corner of the room a single note is heard and:
“Sing us a song, you’re the piano man…”
The crowd separates to find me, Allana Harkin, sitting behind a grand piano. A smile spreads across my face as I begin the first song in my large repertoire of classic pop and jazz tunes that include far too many Billy Joel hits.
The party comes alive as they circle around my piano all belting out “My Life” and one person yells out over the singing to their companion:
“Thank God her parents made her stick to those lessons!”
Alas, this is all but a dream. I don’t play the piano, and I have no musical talent beyond being courageous enough to sing “Bust A Move” at a karaoke bar.
It’s not like I didn’t have the option. I distinctly remember my parents asking my sister and I whether we’d like an organ or to go to the Barbados for a week. I instantly chose the organ as I had no idea what was this “Barbados” they spoke of. Much to my parents dismay, I spent most of my practicing’ time dancing to the fox trot button that came with the organ. I did learn how to play “The Red River Valley” but eventually decided that electronic cowboy love songs weren’t for me. Therefore I retired from my 3 months of organ mastery.
So is this my parents fault? Should they have pushed me? Made me stick with it? And more importantly, why were they giving us the choice between an organ and the Barbados? Why not the steel drum and northern Alaska? As is much of my youth, it’s all such a blur.
That being said I’m available for weddings. I can play one painfully slow and depressing version of “The Red River Valley” and gleefully dance to a synthesizer. Sam can surely attest to this as I, in my own humble opinion, really made her 40th birthday party come alive.