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Parenting Lessons, One Note at a Time

If the hills are alive, they are awfully quiet. I haven't heard a sound, let alone anything close to boulders breathing or mountainous music in way too many months.

Apparently, the surest way to get kids to quit their constant strumming, banging and spit-laden blowing of anything remotely resembling an instrument is to start paying for lessons. Suddenly, a house echoing with motion is stoic and still and the hills are as good as dead and quickly growing distant. Between the peaks are nothing but plains and valleys.

The boys swear they are having fun, that their joy alone is ample return on our investment, and, of course, they are right. However, they never practice without being forced to do so and forcing isn't fun for anyone.

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Their instructors say the kids are naturals, which I've come to fear is code for "spawn of suckers." What could possibly happen for 30 minutes every Wednesday to warrant the kind of praise usually saved for the likes of Warrant? Where are the banjos dueling? Where are the guitars that gently weep?

There is nothing but the breaking of time and the soundtrack to it. There is nothing but the melody of apathy and somewhere songbirds singing. I sit in the lobby, surrounded by a symphony of solitude and the beat of bank accounts bleeding. The time is constant, and I cannot help but tap along.

I am way too proud of my ear for music considering I have never learned to play an instrument.

"It is incredibly rare," said one teacher, "to ever have a kid practice on their own. That doesn't mean that the kids aren't enjoying it, and it doesn't imply that they aren't getting any better. It just means that they are kids. If they stick with it and things start to really click, you'll find you have to force them less and less."

It made sense. We were standing in the aforementioned lobby, humid with the perspiration of countless parents wringing countless checks. My son had his head turned completely away from the conversation, his gaze sucked into a silent TV in the corner that was all kinds of bright and shiny. The other son was down the hall fibbing through his fingers about practice and the obvious lack of it.

"They say they like it," I admitted. "That's more than I usually get."

That isn't to say they haven't loved plenty of activities, but there have been others that didn't take and they were quick to let me know. Also, anyone that cared to listen.

I am way too proud of my ear for music considering I have never learned to play an instrument. Over the years, I have become the playlist guy that people turn to and, like anything that garners an ounce of attention from another human being, I have let it go to my head. Needless to say, my wife is not nearly as impressed with this as I am.

The boys have it, too, especially the oldest—any song that comes on the radio, regardless of whether or not he has heard it before, plays out in his hums exactly as he thinks it should. It borders on amazing.

My parents tried to force me to learn the guitar and the piano—and later the French horn because all of the good brass was taken—but I fought them on every single note. I learned to fake it so well that I actually moved up a few chairs in the school band, an elective chosen due to its weekly removal from math class more than any desire to march for miles dressed like a cotton swab. I huffed and I puffed, my cheeks full of fraud and my fingers moving with a sheer madness that only a musical genius could afford. It was glorious for a minute, and then I grew tired of the charade and went back to class with the tuneless masses and an oversized calculator.

He was saying the things that I would say, giving the advice that I knew was right, but it's always harder to get than to give, especially when you're paying for it.

I regret it now, the not knowing, and I have made every excuse not to fix the problem. I am leading by example, and it's not a very good one. I don't want my boys to know a life without an instrument. They deserve the joy that playing music can bring, whether they want it or not.

"They'll figure it out," he said. I think he had been speaking the entire time. I may have blacked out for a moment.

He was saying the things that I would say, giving the advice that I knew was right, but it's always harder to get than to give, especially when you're paying for it.

We are all paying for it.

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The boys have their music, and it is theirs to play and feel and hear as they care to do. I can no more make them play a note than they can make me write one, and that is as fair as it could ever be—though a song swaying down the hallway sounds lovely in a theory.

They are a band of brothers, taut as a snare drum and tighter than strings. They are full of things to dance to. The hills have no idea what they are missing.

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