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Tough Decisions

Friday, August 5th, 2016

Tough Decisions

G is starting high school this year. All through middle school he has really enjoyed playing trumpet in band. He doesn't love to practice (I can relate), but he enjoys playing. He enjoys the community. He feels like it's one of the few things he enjoys that he's good at.

The neighborhood high school is a bit of an overachiever. I have heard countless stories of kids that push themselves (or are pushed by their parents) to many sleepless nights, every AP class possible, every extracurricular club they can manage to squeeze in, all to get in to the best college.

Our family isn't quite as concerned with that (putting it mildly). I really don't think it's all that important _where_ you go to college. And I don't think teens should have to regularly stay up past midnight to finish homework. I get that it might happen occasionally but not regularly.

Add to that that G hates school. Pretty much always has. He has a great knack for memorizing stuff and, sadly, that's quite helpful for getting good grades. But during the school year, every Sunday afternoon/evening, the great spectre of school looms on the horizon and comes and settles on his shoulders. Anxiety about life and school and and and and and. It is not usual to have tears on Sunday evenings.

He has always shied away from after school clubs and activities because he wants to spend as little time at school as possible. And that feeling is only magnified by his homebody, introvert personality. Please don't ask him to leave the house any more than he has to. Top that all off with his learning style. It's extremely challenging for him to listen to a teacher's lecture and take notes at the same time. He inherited this directly from his father. That apple did not fall far. But he still has to learn how to learn. And he's still figuring that out. Unfortunately, if you don't fit the mold, the school has a hard time knowing what to do with you. And that just adds to his anxiety.

All of that dictates a lot of what my job has become. My job is to remind him that it doesn't matter what he gets on the standardized tests. That all he has to do is practice calming techniques to learn how to take a test (any test) with less anxiety. And my job is to help him figure how to study. How to remember what the teacher says when he can't write it down as fast as they talk. (still working on this a lot!) And my job is to let him know that it's okay if he doesn't take all AP classes. That it's not worth it. As I say to both boys, "Sing the songs.... Let it go. Shake it off." My job is counter act all the stresses that the school heaps on.

So... that all brings us to this fall's tough decision. To participate in band in high school, there is concert band in the spring and marching band in the fall. And just like in academics, the school is also an overachiever in extracurricular activities. The marching band has been in the top three in the state several years now. It's a big school (around 2400 kids) and a big band (I think over 200). And the people associated with the band (kids, parents, teachers) work their butts off to be as good as they are. Band camp starts three weeks before school for 8 hours a day (only 4 hours the last week before school starts). Then once school starts there are practices Tu, We, Th for 2-2.5 hours after school. Then football games Friday nights (home and away). Then competitions on many Saturdays.

The week before band camp started, they even had what I called a pre-band camp camp. It was only an hour. Basically an hour of exercise to get the kids ready. They stand for many hours at band camp, practicing marching. It's hard work. And the first four hours (starting at 7 am) they are out in the Texas sun. After the pre-band camp camp, I thought it was going well. G was sore, but he's not an athletic kid. I knew that the conditioning was actually good for him.

The first day of real band camp was hard. Alarm going off just before 6. Big yawns. But I got him there (with a friend). And oh were they beat at 4 pm. I managed to get him to day 2. And even day 3. But day 3 was a struggle. He was beyond exhausted. But I'm sure so were many other kids. I talked to a few other parents who assured me that their kids too thought it was hard but they stuck it out and were glad they did.

I had been outwardly supportive of G choosing band way back in the spring. No one knew the nagging doubts in my head. When was G going to get homework done? Everyone says the kids do. But G does not have good time management skills (hahaha, again putting it mildly). And with his personality, once he gets behind it's like he's fallen into a pit and he just gets deeper and deeper and can't dig himself out. I was worried that he'd muddle through fall semester but that it would be just barely and how would that affect him. But I managed to hide all my doubts. I went back and forth often.... he'll be fine. No he'll be overwhelmed. He'll rise to the challenge. He'll feel like a ten ton rock is crushing him. I was really conflicted.

After two days of physically demanding band camp, he was starting to doubt himself. Some parents said I should encourage him to stick it out and push through. And I really thought myself maybe that was best. But I just didn't know.

And so when he started doubting himself, I had to let him know that whatever he chose was fine with me. I didn't want him to stick with band just because of me. I wanted him to want to do it. And he did. I didn't want him to quit band because of me, but I did feel that we had to lay all the expectations out on the table.

He was already questioning after the first day. And after the second even more so. But he was just as conflicted as me. He cried a lot trying to figure it out. I know that my eyes got watery a few times, but I tried not to show him any of my sadness because most of what my sadness was was simply not knowing what was the best decision. Seeing the pros and cons of both.

But he did have to make a decision. Sometimes I think I should have pushed him harder to stick with marching band a little longer. But I know in my heart, that his motivation had to come from within. And in the end he decided not to continue. While there is a part of me that will miss the marching band life, I know that at the same time this will open other opportunities for him. He's going to take art (which he started last year). He's quite good, and I think with a little more time in art class he'll see that too. And he'll have time for other after school clubs. And although I said before he didn't like them, I did tell him that if he dropped band, that I would push him to do some other extracurricular activities. Ones that just aren't as time intensive.

The thing that bothers me most in this whole affair is that the school has made music into a demanding extracurricular activity. You aren't required to do all that for English. Or Math. Or Science. Or Social Studies. Why for music? Or why not have a second option for kids who want to do music but who just can't meet those extreme time demands? It is very frustrating. But it's not the first time I've been frustrate by what I see as the ridiculous expectations of the school system.

It's been a rough week. But we are moving on and doing good.


I keep thinking about what I just wrote. I can hear those nagging voices. You should have pushed him. He's just learning that he doesn't have to work hard. He has to learn how to get through tough things.

But you know, when life itself is hard, you have to pick and choose your battles.

I know that G was 110% dead tired after those first few days. And yes, it would get easier. But as it got easier, school would get harder. I also know just how much he loved band and how hard it was for him to give it up.

And every individual has to figure out what their tipping point is. I know that had I been in this situation, I probably would have pushed through it. But I am very different than G.

I think part of my sadness is that I can't explain why I'm sure that this is the right decision for him. I do try to brush off those judgey parents and their better kids. But it is unlikely that they will ever understand what a day in the life of my child is like. I know this because I would be one of those people if he weren't my child. I wouldn't get it. But now I do. And I just with more people did.

You are a fantastic mama. This kid is yours for a reason. Your caring, loving and insightful relationship with him is so rich. No one else could parent him as well as you do. He is a very lucky, and in my opinion blessed, boy. As for those judgy parents, I've said this to myself many times--your boy is on his own path, no one else's. The decisions he makes (and those which you may or may not influence) are what's best for HIS path. That's all that matters. He will learn the lessons to push through in other areas of his life. He won't fail from these situations. You and he will not give a single ounce of care as to the judgy parents' opinions when you're on your deathbed. You are teaching your son to live his life to the fullest and within his own unique parameters and boundaries by making self-care a priority. There truly is no better achievement than that.
Val Olivas   Saturday, August 6, 2016
Trust your gut. You know yourself and your child better than anyone. What a huge gift you gave him by let him do an incredibly grown up thing for himself, make a decision! It doesn't have to be measured by right or wrong, (simply because you don't get to try it both ways), it just is. And that's plenty okay. :)
Kathy York   Saturday, August 6, 2016
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