Written by Karen Rile
Published: November 7, 2013 at 9:46 PM [UTC]
Some of my best friends are vampires and tiger moms.—Anonymous
Last week’s column, Hell is Other Parents, was a lighthearted Halloween spoof. Nothing more than a fright wig, a Dracula suit, and a plastic pumpkin stuffed with mini-Snickers bars…
…right? Well, here’s the thing about satire: it’s funny because it’s rooted in reality. Stage parents take up a lot of room in our collective imagination. They’re larger than life, the stuff of opera (or at least musical theater.) And we know that, like vampires, they have the power infect us and turn us into their nefarious kind. No wonder we’re all a little scared of one another.
A few years ago, when my daughter enrolled in a pre-college program in New York, I attended the director’s welcome convocation for new parents. The talk was held in a packed auditorium where the air was thick with nervous anticipation. I was expecting a boosterish spiel, like other first-day-of-school speeches I’d heard over the years, plus maybe some practical tidbits about the absence policy and snow days. Near the end of her presentation, the director paused. “Parents, look around you,” she said. “There is another thing we must discuss today. And you know what I’m about to say.” I braced myself for the inevitable subject of (dare I even mention it?) fundraising. I was certain she was going to say we were all required to join committees to sell candy bars and wrapping paper. But instead, to my surprise, she said, “Competitiveness.”
The word rang in the air. I already knew that this program had a reputation for being cut-throat, but still I couldn’t believe my ears. I glanced at the people sitting near me. They were gazing back impassively as the director went on to admonish us preemptively against the apparently widespread practice of tormenting one another and each other’s children. No one seemed caught off-guard by her forthright statement; it was as if they’d heard it all before. The problem, I realized, must be pretty out-of-control here if it needed to be addressed so openly and routinely.
So this is how it was going to be? These parents were ferocious. I’d best keep my head down and my back to the wall.
At the end of the convocation, I squeezed my way into the crowded lounge, where I was relieved to recognize a woman whose daughter had gone to chamber music camp with my girls when they were little. She was sitting in a group with some other parents—a few of whom I’d met before in music travels. Rather than claw me to pieces, they greeted me with warm hugs. They were the elders here, parents with kids in eleventh and twelfth grade. They knew the ropes; their kids had been in the program for years.
“Has anyone told you where to get ten-dollar all-day parking?” one of them asked immediately. I felt a swell of gratitude for this important information (I’d paid $36 that morning to park in the lot beside the building.) Someone told me that the cheese pizza slices were the most edible menu item in the school cafeteria; they would do in a pinch, but that there was excellent pizza a few blocks away, on Columbus Avenue. Another person told me the location of the cleanest bathrooms in the building, where to find the strongest WiFi signal, and the best spots to sneak a nap.
This group of parents became my great allies at the pre-college. In fact, if there were any vampires or tiger-parents prowling the halls, I barely noticed them. I was able to let my guard down because my new friends understood the issues facing my daughter in a way that my nonmusical friends back home could not. Over time, we confessed our anxieties and shared one another’s happiness and disappointments. We were a support group, a sounding board, a team. When college auditions rolled around, we were there for each other, pooling information and advice. As a collective, we were stronger and better informed than any of us would have been on our own. When the even-harder part came—the time of acceptances, rejections, bargaining, and decisions—we were there for each other, as well.
Keep in mind that, unless your child attends a performing arts high school, her guidance counselor won’t be able to help her much beyond simple administrative tasks, such as mailing out transcripts. Her private teacher will be able to prepare her for auditions and make recommendations as to where she should audition. Beyond that, in the challenging task of negotiating this often-opaque and unwieldy process, other parents are your greatest resource.
So, look around you. Those other parents are not the enemy. Their kids are not your child's competition. This is true even—especially—when their kids play the same instrument as yours. Sure, there are limited spots in the studio, limited seats in the orchestra, limited jobs in the world. But you need to think bigger. Competition is rarely truly one-on-one; we're all in this together. Backstabbing and hoarding won't create an advantage for your child, but it will isolate you from the most helpful community you will find in this adventure. Be open and generous with advice and information, and you'll be rewarded exponentially by openness and generosity.
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Click here for a reference page to all of Karen Rile's series: A Parents' Guide to Conservatory Auditions
We have had similar positive experiences. As of today, after 9 years of Suzuki and traditional viola and cello lessons for our 4 kids, we haven't yet met any of the parents from last week's post. A friend and I have been kicking that around and we wonder if the frequency of competitive and manipulative parents could depend on the region of the US. Did your experiences change (more positive or more negative interactions with other parents) when you changed locations (locations of lessons or by a move)?
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