We’ve been wrestling lately with whether, and how often, to make a trip to Calgary so that Erin can have a violin lesson with the teacher she’s chosen. While there are teachers 4-5 hours away who could teach at her level, Calgary is the logical choice (7-8 hours away). First, because it’s a place that people who might be able to give her rides often go, and it’s along a bus route that she’ll be able to use once she turns 15 (Greyhound rules being what they are). But most importantly because the teacher-student relationship there is a sure thing, and represents the first time Erin has really been passionate about doing as instructed by another human being. And truly, it’s passion, rather than achievement or potential that we’re trying to support here. Finally … well, there’s the person she’s chosen, someone who epitomizes the goodness and grace of spirit that music and the arts should really be about.
I say “we’ve been wrestling,” but really it’s me. To the kids, it’s a done deal. We’ll be going to Calgary, about once a month. They assumed this, and they seem fine with it. Erin and I had hatched a tentative deal: 100 hours of practicing for one Calgary trip, and it just remained for me to talk to Theresa about the possibility of intermittent intensive lessons and a bit of a shift in her role, from cheerleader to guide. Which I’ve done. But I felt I needed to think through in a serious way what I was expecting of the younger three children. Fifteen to twenty hours in the minivan over the course of 2-3 days, once a month? All to get their elder sister to something she was asking for? How could anything possibly compensate them for that?
Well, they do travel very well. We have some nice conversations in the van. They read. They nap. They watch a DVD or two on the laptop. They listen to music. They’re not high-energy kids, and what they do in the van isn’t that different from what they spend a good portion of their days at home doing. Being pretty introverted, they like time spent with family, rather than, say, going to a friend’s place for the day or for a sleepover.
They like doughnuts, and bags of chips, and motels, and especially motel pools and hot tubs, all rare treats during trips to Calgary. And of course there are other perks, like trips to Chapters, or maybe a stop at the zoo, or the Tyrrell Museum. And the wonderful opportunity for a social visit with Theresa and Jeff.
Some day before too long Noah will probably benefit from monthly lessons with Theresa too. He’s not nearly as advanced as Erin, but he’s learning viola repertoire that will pretty soon be stuff neither my mom nor I have ever taught. My mom doesn’t really play viola (it precipitates her tendonitis) and, while I could easily keep ahead of Noah in learning the repertoire, he doesn’t really want me to teach him.
Then I imagined that we lived 10 minutes from the school, and Erin was going to school, and I did the math on the drop-off and pick-up driving that would be necessary, siblings in tow, to get her there … and it worked out to 14 hours a month spent in the minivan — almost exactly the driving time to Calgary and back. And I realized that the amount of time wasn’t really at issue — many families unthinkingly subject younger siblings to this sort of time. It’s just that it’s all at once. But my kids hate transitions more than quiet time. I really think the school-and-back driving would irk them a lot more than a trip to Calgary with all its doughnut-type perks.
Would I, will I, make sacrifices of similar order for the other kids? If they have this kind of passion, yes, in a heartbeat. Of course, things will be different, because there likely won’t be a bunch of younger siblings who have to come along. If I was taking Sophie to Vancouver once a month, the other kids could stay home, since Erin’s old enough to manage. And heck, by the time Fiona’s wanting her own Calgary lessons, Chuck will be retired and Erin and Noah will be off living on their own. Our threshold for these types of sacrifices will likely be lower if anything.
If you’re a younger sibling, you win some and you lose some. You get toted along to things you’re too young to participate in, but you get exposure to the example and stimulation of family life that, in part, revolves around older children. That can be a pretty rich experience — witness, for example, how easily Fiona can sound out the violin pieces she’s been hearing for years, or what she learned about ropes and harnesses and climbing even when she couldn’t participate in the homeschoolers camp. By contrast, for much of her life, Erin’s opportunities have been limited by the abilities and tolerances of three younger siblings. She certainly did not get to go rock-climbing at 4!
So it boils down to this: we’ll try it. We’ll play it by ear, month by month and keep evaluating whether it’s all working okay for everyone.