My 11-year-old son came home excitedly from school a few weeks ago, holding a form and grinning. I held my breath. I knew that form and had successfully avoided it three times already, but now the jig was up.
The paper he waved in my face was a permission slip to take music lessons. The happiness in his voice was palpable as he told me that he had chosen the snare drum – the heaviest, loudest instrument possible. I did what a good mother should do: I signed the form, wrote a cheque, encouraged him and then thanked God Almighty that we have a basement.
I am thrilled that my youngest child wants to play an instrument, truly. While my older children gravitated to sports more than arts, he has always been musically inclined. He sang as soon he first learned to use his voice, and from the beginning he was melodic and lovely.
Later, he copied Shawn Desman's dance moves from videos and thrilled his grandparents by learning their favourite Bollywood songs. He took performances at family dinners very seriously. More than once, I thought, "I need to put him into acting classes!" or, "He needs to sharpen his movements by taking ballet or hip hop!"
What stopped me was a deadly concoction: laziness, combined with a paralyzing fear of the overbearing helicopter parents I knew I was bound to encounter.
I imagined my son surrounded by kids with parents like the ones from those awful reality shows, the ones full of evil pageant coaches and domineering dance teachers. I thought of him competing against kids whose showbiz moms and dads hover over their child's every lesson, always ready to attack if little Johnny doesn't get chosen as first chair of the violin section. I was scared.
Now, I am a parent who cheers (some might say "bellows") from the stands watching my children play. I am excited and, because I love sports, I get really into it. But I've never excelled at engaging with their coaches on the social and personal levels that might help propel them forward.
My type of exuberance is not helpful in the elite echelons of youth sports, where strategizing is more crucial. Any organization has its share of politics, and sometimes I think I could have done better by my kids if I had schmoozed with coaches and invited them to a cottage in Muskoka. But I don't have a cottage in Muskoka, so they make a team or group on their own merit.
I have helped my four children navigate through rejection and it is tough, watching them deal with disappointment. With sports, at least I know enough that when any of my children are passed over in try-outs or auditions, I can agree that yes, it sucks and life isn't fair, but then give semi-useful advice on what they might practice at, for next time.
When it comes to drumming, and this school music curriculum, I know nothing. It's not only noisy, but foreign to me. I signed the permission form, a wave of anxiety washed over me. After my son's first class, I immediately asked about the other kids, the competition. Who did we have to beat in order to get a shot at being the best snare drummer in the land? He named off a few classmates as he was air drumming with his very new, beautiful drumsticks.
My concern about other people's parenting is based on experience. When my daughter was 8, she was on a soccer team with another little girl who was also a competitive gymnast. Her mother was fiercely opinionated and took every opportunity to remind you that her daughter was gifted with tremendous athletic talent.
On one particular occasion, this helicopter sports mom made my daughter so upset that she came home with angry tears in her eyes. I was not there to witness what happened, but I heard my daughter's tearful rendition, which I confirmed with the friend who had driven my daughter to practice that day.
Although most parents watched from the viewing gallery, the mother of the little gymnast felt she could be on the floor because she knew the trainers. She stood on the sidelines of the gym reminding everyone that her daughter was sailing through the activity. She also commented on other children's difficulties, though that wasn't the coaches' usual technique.
The girls became self-conscious and upset. Although my daughter has always been very supple and determined, she was not the fastest on the team. She felt irritated and frustrated with all the negativity being poured on by this mom, and it didn't help her speed at all.
Trampling on another kid's happiness to encourage my own child's success is not how I work. I was furious. But in an effort not to feed into the dirty system of overbearing parents, I decided against telling that mom off at the next practice. Instead, I avoided her for the rest of the season. Even now, with our daughters at the same high school, I give her an occasional side-eye. She doesn't remember me because I don't possess notable athletic gifts.
Overbearing parents can be toxic for entire communities, but I will continue to encourage my son, trust his music teachers and buy earplugs. I intend to fully support him, despite my fears and the fact that the drums are very, very loud. If he stumbles, I will tell him what I tell his sportier siblings: that hard work is rewarded though sometimes not in the ways he might want, that what is meant to be, will be and that he should have faith in himself.
In any case, my parents are thrilled my son is playing the drums. It's payback for the seven years I played the cello.