I am inserting an email I received yesterday from a former Music Together family. This is what makes my work so worthwhile. I actually cried when I read it. It touched me in many ways, not the least because of my own struggles as a child and young adult, trying to fit into a world I didn't understand.
"You may not remember us... many years ago ... my son J. and I attended Music Together classes that you led in Delmar in a church on Kenwood Ave. When we attended J. was very physically active and wouldn't sit with me like the other babies/toddlers. His natural curiosity often made me nervous that I would be seen as the mom w/the wild child. I remember one day, just as we arrived, you said that you had tried to make the room safe for J. to wander. You also told me at some point that I shouldn't worry he was soaking in the music. You were right, and your flexible approach was greatly appreciated and all too rare.
Just before J. turned three his behavior had changed, and he was diagnosed with autism. On the upside, his case is fairly mild (although it often doesn't feel that way). He is musically gifted, has perfect pitch, plays many instruments (he basically can decode them) knows all the ranges of each instrument in the orchestra and beyond, takes many music lessons, is in three bands, volunteers in the local philharmonic and loves going to classical music concerts and classic rock concerts too. Our home is overflowing with instruments--large ones! His 82 year-old piano teacher has said many times that J. is the best sight reader he has ever taught. J. had taught himself to play music by ear when he was about three, and I feared he would never agree to read sheet music. Thank goodness that didn't happen.
So, why I am writing to you? I just wanted to let you know that we have not forgotten you. Your kind and generous treatment of J. and his mom has become even more meaningful over the years. Struggling with J.'s autism and anxiety is all too often made worse by well-meaning but inflexible adults. I spend more time than I would like to admit trying over and over again to explain J.'s quirks, how to best handle them and how to help him instead of punishing him for things he isn't fully in control of yet. (Showing them) That what is seen as being naughty behavior is actually a cry for help not punishment. ... the minor accommodations you made were a reflection of embracing his spirit rather than trying to break it. In other words, meeting him where he was."
My own childhood was very unpleasant in many ways. I turned to music as a salvation, and it worked. I was gifted in music from the beginning. It made me feel alive in a way nothing else did. Unfortunately, I did not have any teachers, friends or family who met me where I was. I spent a lifetime fighting against all of the unreasonable restrictions on me. I fought to be independent and follow my heart. Music and books were the only things I loved as a child. I was not good at any sports and usually got injured trying. :-) I'm still very clumsy.
I was also not good in school, hating the restrictions, slowing myself down to stay with my classmates and ending up being bored to tears and living in my daydreams. Although I was failing in school, I aced tests and got high grades on written reports and essays. I was a reader and writer, soaking up information as fast as it was handed to me. School seemed like a complete waste of time. It went way too slow for me. It was a miracle I graduated and was accepted into two music schools after high school due to my very high SAT scores and my musical talent and knowlege. I didn't stay in college though, because it felt like it was more of the same. In retrospect, my mother once commented that she wished she had known of a Performing Arts School or Alternative School for me. She was sure I would have excelled.
I was also painfully shy, cringing when faced with people trying to interact and doubled over with stomach cramps if I actually had to engage. Painfully shy is not just a term - it is real. That's why I understand shy children so well and let them come around on their own terms. The more I was pushed, as a child, the more introverted I became. I didn't understand social interactions. I didn't know what was expected of me. My well-meaning mom tried pushing me. When that didn't work, she tried doing all of my talking and thinking for me. She saw my lack of social ability as a sign of stubbornness and low intelligence. Meanwhile, I was reading a few grades ahead of my classmates, was immersed in music and had little in common with others. Because my mother controlled every aspect of my life that she could, I left home knowing nothing about the real world and incapable of doing even the simplest things. Thankfully, I learned how to cope, though it took longer than I would have liked.
I often refer to my music classes as an environment for organic learning. I try to make a space for every child to excel in their own way. We often don't know what our children need, and they are not always able to articulate it themselves. If we can drop our expectations and back out of the way, they will find their own way. My son recently told him that his dad was encouraging him to be a lawyer. I found that very amusing. I don't see him as a lawyer. Like me, he is shy and struggles socially. I told him that I thought it was an interesting idea considering that was what his dad wanted to be. I've often been hired to give piano lessons to children who have no interest in it. Usually I find out that it's the parent who always wanted to play the piano. If there is something you love, do it. There's never a perfect time and no time like the present. Then you can let your children find what they love and pursue that with your love and support.