May 7, 2012

Fourth Grade Lessons

I remember when I was in fourth grade and I quit playing the clarinet. I only played for six weeks, but six weeks was long enough to know the clarinet and I were not meant to be. Six weeks was long enough to know that I should have figured out by then how to get sound to come out of the mouth piece. Six weeks was long enough to know that I hated the sound that emerged the few (and trust me, there were very few) times I managed to squeak out a wannabe-note.

My parents agreed that I could quit if I wanted. (I had a lot of extracurriculars, the clarinet did not have to be my thing if I didn't want it to be.) I felt strongly in my feelings against the clarinet, I knew I would not miss anything about school band, and I had the full support of my parents. But I still remember the light-headed feeling as I walked down the hallway to the band teacher's office and knocked on the door a few minutes before band lessons started. I remember trying to focus on his face and failing, as he sat me down in a chair across from him. I broke out into a sweat and stammered and my eyes watered as I told him I wanted to quit. He asked me if I was sure (probably because most people don't end up on the verge of tears as they try to quit something they strongly dislike) and I nodded. I waited for a deep sigh from him, a frown, a lecture, perhaps. Anything to communicate his deep disapproval and disappointment in my decision.

Instead, he asked me if I did anything else outside of school. I told him I did. I told him I tap danced. I accidentally smiled when I said that. "Oh, that sounds like something you really like," he noted. I did, I assured him. I could feel the weight of the room lighten, but I wasn't sure where our conversation was going. "That's great! I'm glad you have something you really enjoy!" And with that, our conversation was over. I quit playing the clarinet and the world did not end. He wasn't disappointed in me for being a "quitter", the label I may as well have tattooed on my arm before our conversation. We both knew it wasn't a good fit (anyone within earshot knew that) and we both felt better that I could turn my attention elsewhere. That summer I danced at the end of our town's Fourth of July parade and he watched from the crowd, smiling. The next fall, I picked up the violin and played through high school.

Very soon, I have to disengage from something that isn't a good fit, but makes me feel like a quitter, nonetheless. I feel strongly that I am making a good decision, but I can't imagine saying it out loud to certain people. I have unwavering support from my friends and family, but I am so terrified of disappointing others. At eight years old, I was certain that quitting the clarinet would get easier as I got older. Which loosely translates to being certain that making good choices for myself at the risk of disappointing others would get easier as I got older. Twenty years later, I can safely say that it doesn't.


I wrote all that before I shared my decision out loud time and time again. And each time, each and every time, my decision was met by what could have been promises to watch me dance at the end of a Fourth of July parade.

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