There are stories of what kids did in order to achieve incredibly unlikely goals. Taylor Swift had her whole family relocate to Nashville. Gymnast Gabby Douglas left her Virginia family to go live with her Iowa coach. The pianist Conrad Tao‘s family moved from southern Illinois to northern Illinois for a piano teacher and then they relocated to New York City, where the grand piano took up the second bedroom in the apartment.
The problem with listening to these stories is that the kids had huge success. So it’s plausible to consider that the sacrifices were worth it. But what about all the families that made huge sacrifices and did not have huge success? I fear I might be documenting one of those families as I tell you what life is like with my son and his cello.
I am scared that maybe I’m delusional about my son’s talent or my son’s wishes.
In almost all cases these wildly successful kids are homeschooled, but it’s a part of the homeschooling community we rarely read about. The irony is that my son’s nursery school teacher knew. He had potty trained himself before age two. No one was sure how he did it. He was faster at everything. The preschool teacher told me, “You will have your hands full. A regular school will not work for him.”
I ignored her. I thought to myself, “Does she know I have a son with autism? There is no way that the kid who does not have autism is going to be my problem kid. Because problem is relative.”
In fact, the kid without austim has been more difficult. Prodigy is just as disruptive to a family as any other type of drastic difference.
So, here’s the email I wrote to his cello teacher yesterday:
He’s cried every night before bed four nights in a row because he’s so stressed from the travel. I tell him that we don’t need to go to all the lessons. I tell him he can skip any lesson he wants. He does not want to skip lessons. Last night he was crying in bed and I said “We don’t even see Gilda on Saturdays. Let’s just not go to music lessons tomorrow. Let’s take a day off.” And he said, “But musicianship is my favorite class. I don’t want to miss it.”
I feel like I’m doing something wrong. It feels crazy that I have a son who loves music classes so much that he will cry every night and still go to them. It feels crazy that we are driving so much so that a seven-year-old can take cello lessons. I have very little understanding of how good he is. I see that you are a great teacher and no one has been like you. But I start to feel crazy that we are doing this. Then I think I should live in Winnetka with him for half the week. But mostly he cries about missing being at home.
I read about families that moved to be closer to the music lessons. My husband will never move. He’s a farmer and he’s lived on this farm his whole life. And my son who is autistic is very good on the farm. It would not be good for him to move.
I guess I am just scared that I’m making decisions that are not good for him. I am scared that he’s crying at night. I am scared that I have no sense of how good he is, and even if I did know how good he is, I have read enough to know that it doesn’t matter—you can never really know what will happen as a musician grows up. Can you help me think about this better? You always have so much clarity about what he should be doing.
I’m not going to print her response. But she basically told me to talk with him about skipping some lessons, and that skipping is okay. And that he’s very gifted, and we should keep going.
There is no simple resolution to this post. I don’t know if people will say, “The mother was so devoted, she drove sixteen hours a week.” Or if they will say, “The mother was so delusional, and she even had to start homeschooling him.” So I don’t know if I’m an idiot for letting cello take over so much of our family life.
It’s similar to homeschooling in that way, though: You do your best for your kids. No one can tell you if it’s the right decision. They can just tell you it’s very nonstandard, usually in a judgmental way. And then you go with your gut.