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August 2006

Speaking my daughter's language

August 15, 2006 12:50

I frequently wonder out loud whether my three-year-old daughter, Kiera, is really my child. Supposedly she's a lot like my husband was at that age, but since he's changed a lot as he's aged, I can't decide for myself if this is true. Meanwhile, I sometimes feel as if I'm sharing a home with an adorable alien creature with a vivid imagination, who has an infinite source of energy and speaks a language no one else comprehends.

What does this have to do with violin? She clearly has interest in the instrument; she was the one who begged to start lessons, though I would have waited a couple more years. But supervising her practice sessions is so often a frustrating and painful experience. She has her own opinions about what constitutes good posture, how one should hold the bow, and what makes a good sound, and they're frequently different from mine. Whereas I, as a child, was always respectful of authority---if an adult told me to do something, that was reason enough---with Kiera everything requires justification. And if she doesn't feel like doing something, she ain't gonna.

My husband and I have contemplated stopping her lessons, and this month her teacher's on vacation so it gives us some time to figure out what to do. Perhaps it's because I don't feel as much pressure to prepare her for a weekly lesson, but I've slowly begun to experiment with teaching styles and come up with a few winning ideas.

Kiera has a keen sense of empathy, and she anthropomorphizes everything. Her camping flashlight is her stuffed cow's sister. Her blocks become the students in the class she "teaches". Big things are "Mommy" and "Daddy"; little things are "Kiera", and tiny things are "Kyla" (her 1-year-old sister). Indeed, she lives in a world I don't comprehend.

I can, however, try to speak its language, and this has met with reasonable success in her practice sessions. I used to scold her for playing short, scrunchy bows, asking for long, slow bows, but to no avail. Now I ask for "Mommy bows, nice long Mommy bows." She responds, "No Kyla bows?" No, I say, no Kyla bows.

The strokes get longer, but they're too fast and the bow goes flying over the fingerboard. "SLOW Mommy bows, Kiera. Slow, like a snail. We don't want cheetah bows. Do you know what a cheetah is? It's a big cat that runs very, very fast." The lesson is interrupted for a bit of zoology discussion, and we resume. "Okay, I want Mommy snail bows. No Kyla bows, no cheetah bows. Just nice, long, Mommy snail bows, ok?" Finally, I get what I'm looking for.

Now it's time to practice the first finger. Over the last few weeks, "Mommy" has taken on two meanings; "long", when referring to bow strokes, and "open A", when referring to pitch. "Daddy" is the first finger B, "Kiera" is the open E, and "Kyla" is the first finger F#. I ask her for an A-B-A-B pattern, but she just wants to play the open A. "Kiera, if you don't play any Daddy notes, he'll be lonely and sad." She may not want to struggle with her first finger, but darned if she'll be responsible for Daddy being sad. The first finger goes down. "Okay, now I want you to do Mommy snail bows, playing Kiera-Kyla-Kiera-Kyla."

The rational, sensible, adult side of me feels a little ridiculous, but how can I complain when it works? She's learning the technique, with far fewer quarrels than before. I've come to accept, if not understand, that this is the way she relates to the world. Asking her to put her toys in the bag does no good. "They're NOT toys, Mommy, they're FOOD, and I need them for my PICNIC!" Well, I say, let's put the food back in the...uh, refrigerator, so it doesn't go bad. She ponders this for a moment, then the toys go into the bag. Likewise, I need to give her a reason for playing her first-finger Bs. Daddy will be sad and lonely if she doesn't.

And somehow, via the circuitous path through her brain, the information gets through. It's not uncommon to hear her singing herself to sleep, to the Twinkle melody, "A A E E F-sharp F-sharp E!" She'll get where I want her to go. Even if she insists on taking the scenic route.

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