Sunday, April 22, 2012

Like Peeling the Skin off an Orange

When we visit my parents, or when they visit us, all the kids get a lesson with Grandpa. He is the master teacher in the family, and we all benefit from his wisdom and insight, as well as the way he combines a gentle nature with high standards.

I love watching these lessons. It is good for me to see how my kids play for somebody else (who is not their mother.) It is good for my kids to get instruction from somebody else. It is good for me too, and either reassuring to see my dad pinpoint the same things I think need the most work, or instructive to discover things I’ve missed. Often I learn new ways to approach issues that have me stymied.

Seeing the process from a different angle is instructive in itself. My mom and I observed a fascinating lesson Youngest had last fall. We could actually see it in her body, how hard she was working to listen and cooperate. She loves violin, but she gets excited. She will start out with every intention of listening, but then an idea will strike, and she wants more than anything to run with that idea, even though at this stage she doesn’t have the tools to see it through. She will fight tooth and nail against structure (especially mom-imposed structure,) but when she gives in to it she flourishes. I suspect she is more than a little bit aware of this about herself, because I can often see the inner struggle playing out in front of me. But it was an especially visible battle trying to be good for Grandpa.

This learning thing—it can be so painful. “It’s like peeling the skin off an orange,” my mom agreed when I commented on Youngest’s struggle. I use words like polish and refine so freely when I am teaching, and yet they speak of painful things. Rubbing, wearing down, burning, loss. Does it have to be so hard? So costly?

I feel like I’ve learned a few things, but I still want the good stuff for cheap. My kids and students want that even more. And it’s a hard sell, trying to convince them that the hard-won things are the most satisfying. They need to experience it, starting with the tiniest baby steps.

They need to know what really good, sweet oranges taste like.

And maybe they won’t even have an appetite for good, sweet oranges until they see somebody else thoroughly enjoying one. Or a bowl-full.

Let them watch you peel and eat and savor, and don’t give a second thought to the juice dripping down your chin.

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  1. I love this. Challenging and encouraging and wonderful.

  2. Thought-provoking. What an interesting analogy.

  3. I am having a hard time convincing S. that the hardest things in life are the MOST worth doing. He is totally unable to remember (or is just defiant to admit?) that the repetitions in Etude had him completely mixed up before they became second nature as they are now! So there seems to be no perspective for him about this learning process. Maybe this is just part of learning and growing up?

    Wish I could get master teacher to address E's vigorously bouncing bow arm/elbow/shoulder! :)
    Love to you all.
    XO Amy

    1. I think it is part of learning and growing up, and I think it takes a lot of time and a lot of experience to have perspective about the proces or to understand that the hardest things are the most worth doing. I was in high school when I first started getting a hint at any of that with violin. Which means it took a lifetime of environment and 12+ years of lessons and practicing and encouragement to get me to that point.

  4. This is a wonderful post. "I use words like polish and refine so freely when I am teaching, and yet they speak of painful things. Rubbing, wearing down, burning, loss." So, so true. Thank you, Karen.
    - alison


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