Monday, October 10, 2011

Not Quite Normal, But None the Worse for the Wear

October 10, 2011

I spend a lot of time running my kids around to soccer and drama and choir and softball and get the drill. When the kids were younger, there was T-ball, gymnastics, soccer, ballet, tap--if my kids expressed an interest, I thought I'd let them give it a try so they could see what 'spoke' to them.

When I was a kid, some of the same things my kids expressed interest in also appealed to me. My five-year-old little self was enamored of fancy tutus and the tip-tappy sounds of musically magical tap shoes. Little girl leotards were sparkly, and I wanted five or six fancy ones to wear to gymnastics class while I balanced precariously and glamorously atop the balance beam. I coveted the jaunty pink T-ball hats that the community Little League bestowed upon the little girls as they first learned the correct direction to run after hitting the ball off of the tee. I wanted all of those things desperately--things that many of my classmates had. I heard about them running off to practices and classes after school, and I wanted to join them. I saw myself, if I was able to join my classmates in their various glamorous activities, as elegant, beautiful, and graceful. Who wouldn't want to see me in all my finery out on the stage, or out on the gymnastics floor, or out on the baseball field? I know I wanted to see me there.

My mom, inexplicably, had other ideas about what I might like to try as a child. Who knows what her rationale was. Maybe she thought that having me try out an activity that was more obscure would give me an edge and help me excel in the field. Maybe the activities that she chose to sign me up for were simply less expensive lessons than the lessons my counterparts received. I really couldn't say. All I know is that when the other kids in the play group were off in their respective dance and gymnastics classes and learning about the rules of the great American sport of baseball, my mom ushered me into our 1970's Brady Bunch-style station wagon and drove me off to accordion lessons. Yes, you read that right; I learned the invaluable skill of playing a portable piano organ.

Now, lest you think I am disparaging the venerable art of the accordion musicians around the world, let me assure you I have respect for those who can play any instrument--any instrument. This many years later, this is a lost and mystical art to me. No, it's just that when I was taking lessons so many years ago, from an old man with an almost indecipherable accent in a tiny studio across town, I only knew one other person who was under the age of retirement who was learning to play the accordion, and that was my brother (also dragged unceremoniously, a fairly unwilling participant in the whole ordeal). I'm not sure if Mom thought we would eventually grow up and take the world by storm on the Lawrence Welk show with our modern renditions of polkas, or if she was grooming us for the life of a quirky street musician. Either way, our foray into this musical sub-culture was a brief one. My only real source of pride in the whole episode was that it was universally acknowledged (well, by my parents and my teacher, anyway) that even though I was two years younger than my brother, I was the better accordion player. A dubious distinction, to be sure, but I was proud of it, nonetheless. Sibling rivalry will do that to you.

You'd think after our undistinguished side-trip into the non-traditional that my mom might have learned her lesson and brought us back a little more center. You would think. But no, that's not exactly how it went. A few years passed, and Mom decided it was time to seek out a new extra-curricular activity for me. Again, I'm not sure what put this particular thing on her radar, but suddenly she was researching baton twirling. Not cheerleading. Not dance. Twirling. Don't get me wrong; in some parts of the country, twirling is, even today, fiercely competitive. And there are definitely sparkly outfits--sequins and glitter galore, automatically garnering more than a passing interest from me, especially since playing the accordion offered nothing like anything girly. But mainstream, here in California? Not even back when I was in elementary school. Once again, perhaps it was the only thing that wasn't cost-prohibitive. Or maybe she decided to stack the odds in our favor by sending her girls into lessons that most little girls didn't have. Whatever the reason, we delved into the world of twirling and parades and half-time shows.

This endeavor lasted much longer than accordion lessons--some two or three years, by my count. And unlike the accordion, I really enjoyed it. I twirled as a member of a team; I twirled solo. I got to march out in front of bands in parades, and wore my hair in fancy buns with glitter in my hair and sequins on my outfits. Eventually, I twirled myself right out of relevancy though, as twirlers eventually got benched in favor of high stakes cheerleaders on the football field and high powered dance and guard teams moving in synchronicity in band field shows.

In junior high and high school, I found my way to some of the more traditional extra-curricular activities--choir and swimming and band--and I loved them. These things were neither better nor worse than my previous affiliations, but at least I know other people who have had some of the same experiences I had in these organizations. But twirling? And even more so, accordion playing? Oh, those are secret societies, I think. Those of us who endured should have developed a secret Freemasons-type handshake to identify each other later in life, since I don't know too many who freely give up that information to just anybody.

My own kids have found themselves attracted to a wide variety of activities over the years, some of them in the realm of the mainstream, and some of them not so much. The main difference with my kids is that I have allowed them to find their own way and seek out their own interests. They got to chose. If I had a kid who wanted to pursue twirling, I would help him or her seek out opportunities to learn those skills. The kids who showed interest in Destination Imagination, in baseball, or in choir or dance--they piled in the van and off to rehearsals we went. I want them to seek out places where they can do what they love (not necessarily what I love), regardless of whether they are 'popular' activities or off-the-beaten path ones. However, I think that if one of my kids decides to get involved in, say, accordion-playing or Live Action Role Playing (hypothetically speaking) because it's what they really love and enjoy, I'm going to suggest that they try to institute a secret handshake. Later in life, they might enjoy being able to reconnect with their own people once again.

The girl playing the accordion is not me--she's just a representation. As far as I know, there is no photographic evidence of my musical prowess. The picture of the baton twirler, sadly, is me.


  1. You mom sounds like fun to me. I plan to let my kids choose, but I secretly hope my daughter wants to do something other than cheerleader.

    Love the photos.

  2. I think it's great that you were a twirler. My husband knew how to do it because he was a drum major, and I've seen how cool that looks. I think it's awesome! Now the's cool that you learned music, but that's a LOUD instrument!