It started rather inauspiciously, the day of my debut performance with the Bromley Music Makers.
I drank some inferior wine last night, which gave me an allergic reaction and therefore half a night’s sleep. Then my grumpiness was exacerbated by that Guardian letter and the reaction to it on Twitter. At first I was as enervated as everyone else by the woman pouring out her long-held resentment, bitterness and grief for her “lost” life to a 10 year old son who was, seemingly, just being a ten year old, and therefore unable to comprehend what was being said to him if, indeed he could concentrate for that long.
Then in the midst of growing condemnation for the poor woman on Twitter, I started to wonder what on earth would prompt someone to write and then publish such a letter. Loneliness, stress, depression, isolation? No-one is perfect and if there is anyone who says that they have always treated their child (biological or adopted) with complete kindness and fairness all the time, well then I think that their idyllically perfect world is a lie.
In all relationships we stay things that we probably do mean but which have catastrophic consequences. We are only human. Perversely I wanted to take the debate a little further than straightforward condemnation. It would appear that the reaction has spilled over until late this evening. I have received a hectoring tweet about the effect of harsh words on a child. As if I had no idea about how to talk to children, for goodness’ sake! I thought we had finished that conversation this afternoon, but still it goes on, it would seem.
Anyway, I’m doing a digression of Ronnie Corbett proportions which, come to think of it, isn’t very large.
This is the background against which I set off this evening for my debut performance with the Bromley Musicmakers, a group of adult musicians who get together once a month and entertain themselves and each other with music. This last sentence is important, because it’s not really my primary purpose in joining. I have joined under pressure from my singing teacher, who feels, white rightly, that I should gain more experience in public performance in advance of my diploma exam in a few weeks.
I suppose I am only a natural performer in my head. I am anxious to do well and try and give a perfect performance. There is such a disconnect between what I can do and the sort of performance given by Kiri Te Kanawa or, I don’t know, Lesley Garrett and it rankles. Maybe that’s being hard on myself but I just want to do my best. I am quite hard on myself but I do think that that is a necessity.
I’ve run through my pieces with my accompanist a couple of times, and I didn’t think she was as reassuring as perhaps I need that I’m singing properly and in tune. Combined with that, I only actually learned correct breathing technique last week after my teacher finally spotted what I had been doing wrong all this time, so I’m having to reassess my breathing technique, which has always let me down in performance.
Given this, and the day’s grumpiness and the fact that everyone was locked out of the concert rooms until just before the night’s concert, so I couldn’t have a run through or warm up properly, well it was an inauspicious start.
Gosh I was so nervous, despite being reassured that no-one was there to judge me or mark me like in an exam. For me nerves manifested themselves in taking far too small breaths and singing too slowly therefore not being quite able to get to the end of my phrases without taking a breath. I’ve practised and practised that and my disappointment in myself was crushing. Looking back, I can;t even remember how it all went.
And yet my audience was receptive and quite fulsome in their praise at the interval, despite my doubts. There were some realy entertaining music culminating in a rousing performance of two Armenian songs. Which is when it struck me: my teacher would have been able to dissect the technical prowess of the singer into very small constituent parts and the pianist looked as though he was making it up at times. A far cry indeed from the discipline of my Purcell and Dring. And yet their performance went down so well because they were throwing themselves into playing and singing music and not worrying about technicalities. They weren’t judging themselves. They were having fun.
I need to do this, because having fun and losing oneself in the music is the only way to give a great performance. I need to switch off my monkey brain and stop worrying about whether I’m good enough. The only person judging me and finding me wanting is me, really. And that needs to stop right now.
It’s not quite the birthday I’d planned for her, but I’m thankful that we at least had a dining table and I could cook a proper meal and some brownies.
If you don’t like something, change it.
If you can’t change it, change the way you look at it.
MsDD has gone back to school and it’s going to be a tough year for her. Instead of being intimidated and overwhelmed, however, perhaps it would be better to see the year as a challenge, as an opportunity to start defining the person she wants to become.
More prosaically, we have been investigating options for the scratch on my unused hob top. Apparently a replacement is out of the question because no-one wants to take responsibility foe the scratch that happened before my eyes. To be fair it is moot: the frying pan has seen better days (though it did not scratch my much cheaper temporary induction plate;) the builder’s painter should not have been interfering with the kitchen; Miele tell me that this has never happened before but that the worktop will scratch with friction; there might have been some grit from the building works on the worktop. Who knows?
We might ask someone to come and do the equivalent of French polishing on the hob top or we could ask Miele to replace the glass, both of which will incur a cost.
However: here’s a different way of looking at things:
If the surface is really so delicate, it was only a matter of time until a mishap of this nature. The painter’s scratch simply alleviates this burden of stress from my shoulders.
Nothing is perfect. And perhaps this imperfection in my new kitchen is Nature’s way of telling me not to fret because everyone and everything is fallible and nothing stays the same. Perhaps it would be better to learn to fret about something else.
So endeth the lesson.
In today’s post I am linking to an article in yesterday’s Guardian, that sums up how I have felt for quite a lot of the last 20 years. It gives me an excuse to talk about it here.
I suppose it is only natural for people to place their hopes on their children’s shoulders. It is, after all, the aspiration of most parents that their children have a better life than them. Whether better means wealthier or happier or more fulfilled or with a better work/life balance is a subjective matter and believe me I’ve had several judgemental representations on the subject.
For what it’s worth no, I’m NOT all about money and standing. I’m the same as most people say they are: they just want their children to be happy. Realistically, however, it’s far easier to be happy and fulfilled when you have choices and options and a reasonably comfortable home and a reasonably stable existence.
That Guardian article, posted by a friend on Twitter, expresses exactly the sort of thing that goes on all round me. Hell, I have even engaged in this sort of competitive parenting in my time. You get so caught up in it, especially in my suburban environment and let’s face it, it’s very easy to do when your child is at the top of the class, outshining all in reading and maths and French and vocabulary and musical abilty. Yadda yadda.
This was me for a while. I even played that stupid Kindergarten, Reception class game of comparing the stages of the Oxford Reading Tree. Silently, of course, because even then I knew how undignified it was. But I used to nod and smile smugly when other mothers told me that their children were on stage 4 when my child was on stage 7 or whatever it was. You see? I can’t even remember. No-one compares reading ability in adult life. I’m not cut up about being on Stage 14,652 when you’re on stage 15,003, for example. And that is exactly how ridiculous this is. Why are people so desperate for one-upmanship?
I have never wanted my children to discuss or compare their marks in public. I have always thought it better that my children save their good news for the walk home or the quiet and safety of the car rather than making a stick for some other poor parent or child to beat themselves. If my child has received a Recommendation for an outstanding piece of work (and because my children are messy, disorganised and often don’t try that hard, also because I have never done their homework for them, this has rarely happened,) I shall not rub your nose in it.
The thing is, when you’re at the top of the tree, there’s nowhere to go but down and this happened in a big way to us. I’m not keen on going into the details for obvious reasons but it’s funny how quickly the realisation hits you that suddenly your child is not the best thing since the thing after sliced bread and, if you’re a little more balanced than me, you learn to deal with it.
If, however, you’re less balanced than me you make up stories about your child’s progress and cross your fingers that no-one will find you out:
- You might say that your 6 year old daughter has read all of the Harry Potter books by herself and understood every word;
- You might protest loudly that another child is still infectious from chickenpox to prevent that child attending prizegiving when you suspect that the other child might receive a prize that you think is your child’s entitlement. After you have spent an hour every night from the age of three doing maths, English and drawing with her;
- You might be so jealous of the singing ability of another child that you make up some story about that child exposing your child to porn websites and then acting them out on a sleepover. You might then email the children’s headmaster on Christmas Day making graphic and false accusations that sow all sorts of seeds of doubt about the other child’s character in the minds of those in authority. And the other child and their family will forever have a cloud of gossip over them;
- You might have a word with a teacher that your child is not to sit with another child because of their supposed malign influence over them, knowing full well that you have to bribe your own child not to hit you;
- You might wheedle a child’s GCSE marks out of their parent and then secretly discuss with that child what their parent thought of their grades;
- You might not contact a former friend and parent of your child’s former classmate for years and then oh so subtly, the week after the A level results are published, text them to ask how their child is “getting on”;
- You might go on Twitter and commiserate in crocodile tears when another parent is having a hard time with their child, casually slipping in that your child is marvellous and teachers have Oxbridge hopes for them.
All of the above are personal experiences. A lie can travel half way around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.
I have found it very hard to be a good enough parent when surrounded by people with superlative children. I have never wanted to be the archetypal pushy parent – goodness knows I see so many of those around me and their children never look happy – but on the other hand I do wonder whether I have failed my children by not pushing them hard enough. It’s been a slog.
At the moment it is exam results season and people are posting their children’s results on Facebook. It’s not something I would do because I know how small it makes me feel when my children aren’t self-motivated enough to push themselves to all A*s. I know you’re proud of your children, and I know they might have overcome considerable difficulties to achieve splendid results. I’m not talking about that. Well, not really.
But when I see the latest Facebook post of so-and-so’s daughter with 4As at AS level, and I know that that person posts nothing but boasts about her children, well it’s a little galling..
We were invited to my parents in law’s house for supper this evening. It marks the first of the bon voyages that we shall attend (endure) in the next ten days before the Boywonder goes off to take up his place at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.
So far we have talked about the practical details: fees; health insurance; bank accounts; courses; accommodation. It’s been quite impersonal. And yet now a bright yellow suitcase, bought long ago on a holiday in Tuscany, sits on his bedroom floor and I am wondering why he isn’t spending more time with his girlfriend before they part until Christmas.
We have started the discussion about what happens to the Boywonder’s bedroom now. (In the previous remodelling of our house, the stupid builders made a mistake and, instead of making the children’s rooms equal in size, they made one bedroom – his bedroom – much bigger.)
Apparently the rooms of his friends are all kept just so by their parents, shrines awaiting their return, but MsDD, who is about to start her GCSE year, probably needs more space. Still, it does seem like trampling on his (albeit entitled) feelings to move her in as soon as he departs. I do not want any arguments to sour the air before he goes away but I know he has been bruised by having to back down in the face of the logic. A room is not just a room, after all, it is a refuge.
Coincidentally, my friend @Casserly_Rock spotted this article all about this subject in the Huffington Post. It seems appropriate to link to it here.