A couple weeks ago, just a few days after we got the news that school would close for the foreseeable future, I was practicing with my daughter. She had practiced accented bows on open strings and on a scale for several days and it was time to try to add them to Allegretto in Suzuki book 1. She refused.
“I can’t do it. I don’t want to do it.”
This is her frequent response to anything new, so I said what I almost always do in response, “You don’t have to play it perfect. Let’s play it really bad first. How many mistakes can you make this time?”
She got a grin, played the first few notes with a silly face and ridiculous posture, then settled into it. Some of the notes had accents. Some didn’t. She finished with a smile.
“Okay, now let’s play it even better,” I told her. Instantly, the fear was back.
“Mom, do you remember when you told me to play it perfect last week? And it was terrible? And I cried. And then you cried?”
“You are so right. Let’s not play it perfect. I wonder what mistakes you’ll make.”
She played it a few more times, her accents were a little easier every time. After we were done, she sat on my lap for a little bit while I sent more emails and texts arranging lessons and adjusting our life plans. The anxiety started to build. Each decision felt so fraught. Everything felt like it had massive consequences.
I was worried that my students wouldn’t enjoy online lessons and many of them would quit. What would we do without that income?
I was worried about not getting what we needed at the grocery store, there were so many empty shelves.
I was worried about at risk loved ones, who would likely not do well if they got coronavirus.
I worried about family and friends who would likely lose their jobs.
I was worried about family members working in health care, hoping that they would have enough equipment and could stay safe.
I was worried that I would lose access to health care that I needed for non-emergent, but important help.
Then I looked down at the face of the girl on my lap.. She is my stress sponge. The more worried and anxious I am, even if I don’t tell her, the more worried and anxious she gets, and then she acts out. The last few days had been a doozy. But finally, finally, she looked at peace. She had needed an opportunity to make mistakes, to fail, to struggle and figure it out. And I realized that’s what I needed, too.
Every day I’ve asked myself, “I wonder what mistakes you’ll make today. I wonder what you’ll learn. I wonder how you’ll fail.” Each day has brought more bad news, and good news here and there, too. It feels ridiculous to ask what mistakes I will make, when the consequences feel bigger and bigger every day.
That willingness to fail makes it possible just to begin.
I wonder what mistakes YOU will make. I wonder how you will fail.
The consequences are high. Income streams may be drying up. Your children’s education is reliant on you. Every meal is on you. Your health may be fragile. You probably have too much on your plate now.
Still, you can fail.
You don’t have to react to every new challenge perfectly.
You don’t have to practice with your kids today.
You don’t have to eat healthy food today.
You don’t have to keep all the tears or curse words on the inside.
You don’t have to homeschool today.
You don’t have to shower today.
You don’t have to increase your productivity or take advantage of every opportunity for your kids right now.
You probably will fail. You will probably learn a lot from that failure. You might do a little bit better tomorrow. You might do a little worse.
Five years ago, when I wasn’t sure how I would make it through another month of the same struggles, a wise friend gave me some advice. “You can do ANYTHING for a month. And in another month, you will be different. You will have changed. And then you’ll be able to do it for another month.” She was completely right.
That advice has never felt more appropriate than it does right now.
You can do this for another month. You will be different in a month. You will have made mistakes. Lots of them. You will have learned a lot.
I wonder what mistakes you will make. I wonder how you will fail.
McKenzie Clawson is a Suzuki violin teacher in Kaysville, Utah. She is a Suzuki parent of one 5 year old violinist, a 3 year old, and an Australian shepherd.