They’re not good dancers, they don’t play drums

Last week, I was informed that one of Thalia’s 4 year old classmates was taking violin lessons. Because as we all know, any child not taking violin lessons in pre-k is doomed to grow up to work in the service of those who did take violin lessons in pre-k. Most likely by uttering the phrase “Would you like to super size that for 59 cents more?”

Thalia is not in fact taking violin lessons. Or ballet lessons. Or Mandarin Chinese. In fact she’s not taking any lessons right now because we can’t afford it and I’m only 85% totally bitter about it. The other 15% is sort of this proud rejection of the over-parenting syndrome that’s ubiquitous in Brooklyn.

If you twist my arm and deprive me of Real Housewives and force me to admit it, I’d blurt out that that I wish we were in the position that we could pass on the overscheduling on pure moral grounds; and not simply because we have to pay Con Ed these days on a single recession-era income. That income being mine.

So instead, we do what we can around here. We put on classical music and I teach the girls grand jetés and pirouettes. We page through the birdwatchers handbook and learn the difference between cranes and pelicans. We read One Fish Two Fish and talk about which animal we’d most like to have. (They like the wet one.) We go to Grandma’s house to pick fat peas and come up with words to describe the flavor of fresh basil.

And perhaps best of all, we put on You Tube, grab some empty paper towel rolls-cum-microphones, and sing off-tune, with all the passion we can muster.

Thalia may not be able to play Twinkle Twinkle on a 1/8 size Franz Meuller, but she does know all the words to Fish Heads. At least in this household, that counts for a lot.

(Actual music starts at 2:10. Start at the beginning if you like the creepy weird new-wave artsy stuff like my kids.)


60 thoughts on “They’re not good dancers, they don’t play drums”

  1. Just think about how unique it will make her look when on her Kindergarten application under “special skills” you can put “Sings Fish Heads song”

    Seriously, every darn 4 year old plays the violin these days. Snore.

  2. “Fish Heads”!!!!!! Takes me back to my own youth – ah!
    Calvin, come here! Mommy wants to watch youtube with you!. . . .
    Thanks! I've been wondering what to do with him this summer while I'm not working!

  3. I'm in the same boat, but even lower on the ladder…I haven't scheduled my 17 month old for swimming or gym-type classes. I'm a failure! But when I take her to the playground, she's the one who just grunts when she falls down instead of shrieking like a banshee. She hops up, dusts herself off and goes on to the next adventure. I know it's harder in the city, with all the competition, but I think kids need a chance to play and learn from mom and dad. She's already in school, so relax in the summer!

  4. a 4 year old taking violin lessons? Why don't they just neuter a cat? The sound is exactly the same. My 10 year old took violin lessons last year and it was unbearable. So this is one of those instances where the recession is working for you.

  5. Okay, so if I let myself go there, I can stress that my daughter is not going to be all she can be due to the fact that we have zero income right now. BUT I can also allow myself to go down the line of thinking that she's going to be way better for it in other ways. We're working on the not-being-entitled line of thinking. At least that's what I'm telling myself!

  6. thanks for posting on this topic. i think a lot of us can relate — both to the financial constraints and also the pushback to the overscheduled lives our kids end up living. i'm finding it harder though as more and more of my kids friends (and my friends kids) end up on teams and in lessons. who will my boys be able to play with if everyone else is at 'practice'?? ahh…gone are the days of kick the can, eh? everyone's practicing violin or at soccer practice.

  7. I've got older kids and one younger kid. Honestly? The kids who were most overscheduled as young'uns are the ones most likely to be bored/boring high schoolers. They've been there/done that on every sport and activity. Never mind that they did it at a once a week, 6 year old's level, they're convinced that most of those things are now off the table.

    Karate? Did 12 weeks back in kindergarten.
    Piano? So first and second grade.
    Soccer? Burned out or injured by 11 (or…didn't make travel team and vowed to never play again).

    I remember the olden days of my youth when my ballet teacher bluntly told parents that kids under 8 years old could be amused in a ballet class, but not taught much of lasting value.

    There's a lot to be said for developmental appropriateness, even if it's rarely in evidence. All the things you describe doing (plus playing with other little kids without total adult supervision and oversight at all times — aka nursery school, if available) is exactly what kids that age should be doing.

    So even if another income falls into your laps — save it up and have some fun with it!

  8. I never made it to a single Gymboree or Mommy & Me Music class. Something I still experience some guilt over! We have the 6yr old in karate class because it fits into our crazy schedule – so far the 3yr old hasn't been signed up for anything.

    In the long run, I think they'll be fine. And it's probably better for us to focus on keeping a roof over their heads then worrying about their lack of scheduled activities!

  9. If your kids are musical, it may pay to take them to as many musical performances geared for young people as possible.
    The YPCs at the Philharmonic are great but the hall is so huge.
    I prefer shows like LINKIDS by the fantastic LINK Ensemble. They are performing on Father's Day at the Tenri Gallery on West 13th Street.

  10. I love the violin, but hearing typical kids play it makes me want to rip my ears off my head. I think they should wait until they go off to college to take up the violin so I don't have to listen to them practice.

    Don't stress about the lesson thing—get a secondhand instrument and then say you are doing the Suzuki method. I don't know much about it but I think it involves kids starting by learning to play tunes they've heard on their own without reading music.

  11. growing up I was only allowed one activity – a year. I picked soccer and had a lot of fun on soccer days, and a lot more fun the other four days of the week. also, I still like playing pretend, something I had plenty of time to practice at as a kid.

    schedules are for adults, not kids, I feel. let them be free while they can. I wish I could go back sometime.

  12. I put the video on and my almost 4 year old walked in and started singing along by the second chorus. She also made up hand movements to eat them up. Fun!

  13. is it weird that MY 4 year old is begging for a violin? We don't know anyone who plays or takes lessons but she is fixiated!

  14. I've lived in the US for a total of 7 years, but I still I don't get this over-scheduling thing. In Europe kids are not attending all kinds of classes from the moment they start walking. And violin for a 4 year old? Wouldn't be the one going to that recital 🙂

  15. I don't really know. I think it's cool to be able to introduce tots to things early if they are interested … and it's not insanely competitive or the parents aren't white-knuckling it when their kid flubs or has tantrums or loses interest. … Then I can see where it might suck.

    Also … It's much less competitive upstate (as you might imagine) but we go to a dance class (because she wanted to do it … not so jazzed about it these days) … and of course, I'd rather to gouge my eyes out with a rusty fork every damn Saturday than sit and listen to some (not all) of the other mothers angst about whether their kids will know what they're doing on stage … or whether it might make more sense to do it a different way … or make some remark about how the teacher isn't really that good. ad infinitum.

    I wanted to go to a studio that didn't mandate the craziness – pricey costumes and photos and recitals with makeup. But it was 45 minutes away.

    Of course when I got the $100 bill for a costume and notice that tickets for the recital are $13 per person because it's being held at a professional performance space … and . and. and.

    I'm like … “But they're 5” “They're 5.”

    Should have spent that money on gas … we both might have enjoyed it more.

  16. The neighbors across the street have 3 older kids (tweens). The mom said they limit each child's activities to ONE activity at a time and yet still, they are in and out and in and out of their driveway at all hours of the day, all week long. We both were shaking our heads at it.

    If my kids show some sort of talent, perhaps we might do something before they hit kindergarten. But at this point? My kids are pretty mediocre. And for whatever reason, I still like them anyway (sorta), believe it or not. Heh.

  17. As a speech-language therapist, I feel confident saying that what you are doing is going to help them (at least, their language) much more than violin lessons in the long run. Trust me on this one.

  18. I've got a friend who's taking violin lessons with her 2 year old. Her “violin” looks like a doll accessory.

    My kids? They better play guitar by high school or daddy might disown them.

  19. Aw, thanks for being honest about the 85% bitter. I'm in your camp, and while I applaud myself for all the wonderful “free play” I'm blessing my children with, there's always that nagging insecurity.

    On a semi-related note, my artist friend (also financially challenged) has convinced herself that the key to a free ride in college is the mastering of an unusual instrument. So when you get the cash, forget the violin. Teach Thalia the french horn and sit back and watch those college orchestras fight over her! 🙂

  20. Doesn't matter that you've got to shell out to Con Ed. Your objection is still on moral grounds.

    Your girls are the kind of kids I want my kids to befriend.

  21. I'm still trying to get past your last post about shelling out five figures on preschool. I don't think I'd be able to afford vegetables, let alone violin lessons.

    Have no fear– those kids will grow up hating violin and your girls will always have fond memories of rockin' out with mom and toilet paper rolls.

    (And I've been singing this song to my kids since they were babies. That's culchah!)

  22. Oops correction Mrs Q – that's four figures.

    We have until Kindergarten to deal with five figures. By then let's pray she's in public school.

  23. I find (some) parents that do the over-scheduling thing tend to be less creative with the things they do at home. And isn't that what matters more? Your birdwatching-book-reading, classical-music-listening activities sound like much more fun than stuffy old violin lessons. No one sticks with those lessons past the age of ten anyway. Your girls will probably grow up to be more creative and passionate than the over-scheduled kids.

  24. We'll have to watch more YouTube. I wonder if “We Are the Worms” is on there, too. Feeling a little silly for having my 3yo in dance – no recital for them! They do learn right from left, which is HUGE as I don't know the difference most of the time. I do let the kids more than 5 feet from me without wigging out though. I'm NOT going to be a helicopter mom.

  25. I love YouTube for introducing my kids to old timey cartoons like Richard Scarry's Busy Town and the like. Also, Night at the Museum is like a history lesson. So woo hoo!

  26. Here in small town Oregon many of my friends had their kids taking lessons well before they were in preschool–swimming, dance, cheerleading, you name it. And there was no get-ahead mentality here. It was just about keeping kids busy.

    My attitude was “really?!?”. Now my kids will be in 1st and 2nd grade and they are just starting various activities. Can't say they are any further behind. How much is a 3 year old really going to learn anyway?

  27. Meh. I remember being subjected to listening to the class violin (prodigy? don't know) player play her violin every year on her birthday. It was excruciating. Every time I thought she was done playing the song she'd start up again. Really. It's hard on a kid.

  28. I enjoyed reading your blog today.
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    I always love making new friends..

    I am posting about Disney so hope you will stop by.
    Each comment enters you for the June giveaway.

  29. We are in the same position financially right now, and I have a budding musician and a budding ballerina. No lessons yet. And I feel the same 85/15 feelings. I keep telling myself how young they are, though. I didn't start dancing until I was 7. Ancient these days! And maybe, if we start the lessons later, they'll actually get more out of them and not burn out before puberty.
    Besides, your real-life “lessons” are brilliant and in fact not lessons at all but life.

  30. There was a time when kids were just kids and their entertainment was comprised of what they could dig up from the dirt at grandma's garden and then use to scare mom.

    We will screw our kids up in myriad unknown ways, but never by missing violin, or ballet, or finger painting lessons.

    And face it…what they all really want is more mom time anyway. So, if you're giving them that, you've got the best extracurricular plan going!

  31. I am training my child to be a world champion beatboxer via YouTube. He's got plenty of natural talent at making noise so I figure, why not build on what we've got?

    (You all think I am joking, don't you?)

  32. This is my big parenting thing right now. We live in a fairly upscale neighborhood but our financial situation is shaky, and I feel sort of awful about not being able to give my kids the same opportunities that other neighborhood kids have.

    I know LOGICALLY that it won't hurt the kids to miss out on dance lessons and gymnastics at the ages of 4, 6 and 7, but it still bothers me to know that all of the other kids are getting those opportunities to “be all they can be” when mine aren't. Because OF COURSE, mine are more naturally talented and probably gifted, dammit. You know, “if only she'd been nurtured at a young age, she'd be the next Olympic champion, but her mother was a sluggard and did not give her that chance” and all of that jazz.

  33. I once asked the mom of a girl in Bea's kindergarten class how she got her daughter to go to sleep at 6:30, and she explained that it was easy since the girl got up every morning at 5 to practice the piano and the violin. I think my mouth might have dropped open. Crazy! My older girls have some activities, but India and I just hang out. I will have to teach her the Fish Heads song so she can get into kindergarten…

  34. My husband's parents were immigrants who did not have a lot of money. They definitely could not afford fancy pants lessons of any sort. I can assure you he is doing just fine. (Class valedictorian and now pretty successful in his field.)

    You can tell by the way you and your husband care for your daughter she will be fine sans violin lessons…and flourish! She is lucky to have parents like you: a professional, smart, working mom and a wonderful, hardworking father caring for her.

  35. All that stuff is overrated. I took piano lessons from 2nd grade until the 8th grade (it wasn't that expensive in Alabama), but that's all I ever really did. No dance, no cheerleading, no learning of foreign languages, and I still managed to graduate at the top of my class in high school and college. My parents never could afford all those kinds of things, and I have no bitterness towards them, because it in, just like you've discovered, my sister and I got more time with my parents. The memories that you're creating with your little ones will be more important to them in 20 years than having had violin lessons when they were 4.

  36. I'm not in Brooklyn, but I don't overparent because I don't have TIME! A full time job will do that to you. How do people manage to get their kids to all of these activities?

  37. I think the activities you are doing with your kids will count for way more in the long run than sticking your kids in a bunch of classes and letting other people teach them.

    And I'm the daughter of a violin teacher (the Suzuki method, actually, which is about learning by what you hear, although there is more structure to it than just that)! Do I remember fondly the times I spent in music classes with other people? Eh. What I really cherish are the memories of dancing in my living room with my sister and learning to bake with my mom. 🙂

  38. Thank you so much for posting this. My husband lost his job over a year ago. I thought I wanted to try for a baby but I felt inadequate that I wouldn't be able to provide all the trip&talent prerequisites of child rearing. Of course I realize that the urge to overindulge them in activities wouldn't happen as soon as they were born, but it was reassuring to know that someone out there is improvising parenthood. You kids will love the memories they grow up with regardless of the cost.

  39. OMG, I just did a post on SVMoms called Summer Enrichment MY ASS,will send to you. She'll be better than fine as everyone knows that violin lessons suck.
    And to top it off, I thought I could not love you any more than I already do—-you bring me the Fishheads song. I thought my kids were the only ones that loved that song.

  40. Time spent with parents is better than all the lessons money can buy, in my book.

    I'm with you though…we were able to afford one thing at a time, and I was very pious about not over scheduling my child. Until she wanted to do two things…then I started wondering if I were putting her at a disadvantage in the world by not being able to afford guitar lessons AND swim lessons. I decided that one at a time was fine. And now, when we can't afford ANY lessons? That's fine, too. There's always scouts. And youtube.

  41. Who wants to listen to a 4-year-old play the violin??? OMG on stringed instruments you can hit notes that SHOULD NOT EXIST.

    Gabriel's in swim lessons.

    And I was thinking about signing him up for hip-hop dance when he's 4. Because 4-6 year olds dancing to hip-hop sounds like possibly the cutest thing EVER.

  42. Ugh! My son is going to a pretty fancy camp at our health club and it's stretching our summer budget but apparently not others. So you can imagine the shocked look on other moms faces when I proclaim I will NOT spend $60 for an hour tennis lesson for junior. I mean, seriously people? You think that's normal? We busted out our racquets in the park yesterday and had a grand ol time the old fashioned way just like you did.

  43. I was so inspired by what you wrote that you do with your kids. My husband and I are somewhere between, can afford to over enroll and activity to death our children and just don't want to be “those parents” so we don't and not too long ago, could not afford to pay attention and the kids did fine without any out of the house activities like ballet, soccer, swim, blah blah blah. My husband is the chef in our home (not professionaly trained but likes to think so) and I really identify with the things you said. I never read blogs and just got into twitter – thats where I stumbled on you and you may make a junkie of me yet. I would love to know how your kids describe the taste of basil.


  44. I used to teach swim lessons in college and focused on 3 to 4 year olds. Age 3 to 4 is the earliest I'd start a child for swim lessons, and even then, only some 3 to 4 yo had the stamina and strength to learn to swim.

  45. i understand where you're coming from. we do ONE extra curricular activity for each of our kids. And we try to instill a love of learning and culture too. You don't necessarily need to be rich to do that.

  46. I totally agree in principle, but hey, violin lessons – we're doing that. Hey, ballet – doing that too. Each is an hour a week for the lesson, and the violin practice takes 15 min. a night. (We're taking it slow – Z is 5, after all.) I'm just saying that having some scheduled activity does not necessarily equate to “overscheduling.” And yeah, the exposure for our daughter has been great. None of these things may be her cuppa tea a year or three from now, but she's learning some valuable (and fundamental) skills in the process.

    The finances are another matter entirely – we live in a small town where this stuff doesn't cost nearly as much as I'm sure it does in Brooklyn.

    We also have access to far fewer free and ad-hoc learning resources than you New Yorkers (museums, parks and moderate weather to go with them, super cool free events).

    So at the moment, violin lessons (and ballet!) make sense for us. The way we're doing violin lessons – as a family – is also sort of unusual. (We're all taking them.) Guess I'd better go ahead and write about that…

  47. My training in piano and voice helped me throughout high school, college and now in my adult life. I am teaching my 4 year old twins piano – a few minutes a day – they think they are getting a special treat to sit at the piano with mommy. I will save up Christmas money to pay for violin lessons in the spring. We are a one income family, my husband is a teacher. I have a master's degree in English and taught until my twins were born, so now I stay home with them. We read from our Bibles every day. We don't have a television but we watch old movies like Heidi, we paint and play in the rain and roll down hills. We travel as much as we can on our limited budget. My children know the cactus in Arizona and the mountains in Colorado.

    I understand money problems. I understand overscheduling. HOWEVER, what ever happened striving to give a child a well-rounded learning experience. I know that my piano practice drove my parents crazy, but now I can play anything I want for my children. It is worth the sacrifice. Your internet/cable bill would probably pay for most of the lessons.

  48. Anon, you've solved it! I just need to get rid of the internet, the essential tool of my livelihood, and we'll be able to afford…um…oh, wait.

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