“Mrs. Niles, I don’t know that one!” he said with concern. Different teachers put different phrases to the same rhythm, so it is likely that this little guy learned, “alligator ate the butter,” or “one-ie and a two-ie and a,” or something else altogether. It’s all the same, as I explained, but he didn’t understand.
“I don’t know it!” he insisted.
“You know what?” I said, leaning forward confidentially, “Fake it!” Gasps went up all around the room, from parents and students alike. Then everybody laughed.
And he faked it, very well.
I’ve said that to a great many parents seeking lessons for their “exceptionally gifted” toddlers. Children need some time to enjoy music, dance to it and feel it in their little souls. And I’ve found teaching toddlers slow going, difficult and sometimes near impossible. Especially little boys.
With this in mind, let me tell you about my newest student.
On Friday I took my three-year-old son, Brian, to get a “real violin.” He had been playing with a cardboard violin and wooden stick bow, but he’d progressed so far by watching my lessons with other students that he now wanted the real thing.
We walked, hand-in-hand, up the alley and down the steps into the back entrance of Pasadena’s Old Town Music.
“Mom,” Brian said with concern, “Do dey have my vi-lin?”
I assured him, they do, but we have to pay. First, though, Brian wanted to test-drive the new fiddle. He put it to his chin and played the Suzuki rhythm for the first “Twinkle variation”: Motorcycle stop-stop. Then he wanted to keep the violin under his chin. He was irrepressible! Finally, I told him that we had to pay or we couldn’t take the violin home. He seemed to understand this.
Meanwhile, an Italian couple took an interest in this unusually small person being outfitted for a violin. They were chatting in their native language, pointing at Brian and looking at me like I was some slave-driving lunatic mom.
“He two?” said the woman, a little incredulous.
“He’s three,” I said. I felt the need to explain. “I’m a violinist, and his older sister has been taking lessons. He’s actually been wanting to play since he was one.” Indeed, when he was just eighteen months, he could perform a number of the “pre-Twinkle” songs, which involve singing and holding the violin.
“Ah,” said the man, then he translated for the woman. All I heard was, “violinista…,” then the woman said, “Ah!”
Brian insisted on carrying the tiny gray case himself as we walked back to the car. Then he insisted the fiddle remain at his side. He fell asleep on the way home.
An hour later, he was up, stumbling downstairs from his bedroom with his usual post-nap bedhead and all-around grogginess. But that did not stop him from asking, “Wheya’s my vi-lin?”
I showed him to the tiny red chair where I had placed it.
“Want to play my vi-lin.” I guess lunch wasn’t high on his agenda. We spent the next 45 minutes learning about holding the violin, standing in rest position, putting the violin on his shoulder, holding the bow, clapping rhythms.
Eventually, I had to stop.
“Let’s take a bow,” I said. Then he carefully helped me pack the violin away.
Later that evening, I was getting ready to go for a run. When I came downstairs, Brian had opened his violin case, secured the little foam pad to the back of his violin with a rubber band and rosined the bow. “Teach me!” he implored.
“Later!” I said. But I didn’t wait too long. We were back at it, the minute I got home.
I still don’t take three-year-olds. But this one took me.
My daughter’s first day of first grade was last week, and her teacher sent her home that afternoon with an odd gift. It was a paper bag containing an assortment of seemingly random items: a cotton ball, chocolate kiss, sticker, rubber band, penny, star, tissue, toothpick, bandage, gold thread, eraser and Life Saver candy. Attached was a note that explained it all:
Dear First Grader,
Welcome to your new classroom The items in this bag have special meanings.
-The cotton ball is to remind you that this room is full of kind words and warm feelings.
-The chocolate kiss is to comfort you when you are feeling sad.
-The sticker is to remind you that we will all stick together and help each other.
-The rubber band is to remind you to hug someone.
-The penny is to remind you that you are valuable.
-The star is to remind you to shine and always try your best.
-The tissue is to remind you to help dry someone’s tears.
-The toothpick is to pick out the best qualities in your friends and in yourself.
-The bandage is to remind you to heal hurt feelings in your friends and in yourself.
-The gold thread is to remind you that friendship ties our hearts together.
-The eraser is to remind you that everyone makes mistakes and that is okay.
-The Life Saver is to remind you that you can come to me if you need someone to talk to.
A precious gift indeed!
Laurie Niles is from Pasadena, California. Biography
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