Mom Made Me

I’m sorry this post turned out so long. My back has been out for days, so I probably am not thinking clearly. I’m taking Advil, but it isn’t touching the pain. (Hidden subtext: feel sorry for me, please).


My parents struggled financially when I was a kid, but I still got weekly lessons in one or more of the arts.

When I was about seven, my mother started me in ballet school. Mrs. B had been trained in the Royal Academy style of ballet and had been a member of Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet. I wasn’t very talented, but I tried (I really did) and managed ok. My favorite part of Royal Ballet training were the folk dances because they were a release of emotion, whereas you had to suck it all in for ballet. Not just the emotions, but also the derriere, as Mrs. B called it.

By third grade, I wanted to tap dance. Tapping seemed more outgoing and forgiving of mediocre talent than ballet. As a guest student one Saturday morning, I watched kids pull their shoes out of their little pink or black dance bags. They all had black patent-leather shoes with single ribbons across the arches and silver taps screwed on the fronts and backs of the soles. When the kids lined up in rows across the wooden floor, I tried to copy, but was several steps behind, which confused me.  I knew there was no use as Mom wouldn’t let me join the class permanently.

What I had already learned by then was that ballet was “good” for me, and tap wasn’t enriching, so there wasn’t extra money for it.

A couple years later, I fell in love with the Scottish highland dancing that Mrs. B taught in the class after mine. It’s related to Irish dancing with a stiff upper body and strong legs. Unfortunately, you need expensive kilts, knee socks, and black lace-up shoes even for class. Mom said NO.


A few years later, I was reminded again that Mom knew best about what lessons I needed. It was important that I learn to play the spinet piano that my parents had purchased.  But there was no money for voice lessons, drama class at the Civic Theatre, or riding lessons (or a horse ;)).

A few years later, Mom decided that art lessons were important, so I went to art class at the art museum.


Sometimes I cried myself to sleep on Friday nights, filled with anxiety over the ballet class to come next day. I didn’t cry because I didn’t want to dance, but because the older girls were “mean girls,” and they treated my friend and I with condescension and nasty comments.

Sometimes I fooled around on the piano between lessons, but I never practiced. Right before my lesson each week–if I had a few minutes–I would pull out last week’s assignment and read it over, maybe plunk a few keys. Then I went into class and played better than I had the week before. Not well. Just better. After all, it was my second time playing the pieces. I didn’t realize my piano teacher knew I didn’t practice until one day when tears came to her eyes as she chastised me. “You could play quite well if you would just take the time to practice.”

Ahem. That was my modus operandi for a lot of things, let me tell you. That’s probably why art lessons went well. There was no homework. We did our work in class and then didn’t think about it again until the following week.


I learned a lot from taking ballet for years. As a young adult, I even went back to ballet class on my own–and searched out Mrs. B. More recently, Mom attended a lecture on Swan Lake by my old teacher who still looks marvelous (yes, Mom sent a picture).

I loved art class and it gave me an advantage in art classes in public school.

Piano taught me about music in a general sense. It also taught me that I was a disorganized and lazy fool who threw away opportunities.

My parents found it hard to carve out money for these lessons. I felt ungrateful.

Now I’m kind of winded with guilt when I think of how many kids would have loved these lessons and they received none.

Sometimes I wonder if I would have become a more outgoing person if I’d been allowed to pursue the arts that appealed to my child sense of fun–tap dance, highland dancing, singing, acting, and riding (which I tend to think of as an art as well as a sport)–rather than pursuing the more introverted endeavors of ballet (huge focus on barre work), piano, and art.


Did I learn any parenting lessons from my experience? Hahaha. No. And yes.

When my daughter was little, she showed singing talent by age four. I thought I would ignore that and encourage her in sports, rather than the “typical” lessons for little girls. I went on and on  yadda yadda how I would put her in soccer and roller hockey and keep her away from the “expected” activities for girls.

But when she was six, she begged for shoes that make noise, and I knew I couldn’t force her in a direction I thought was correct. The way she could get shoes that made noise was to take tap lessons.  Now, after years of dance, voice, and acting lessons (that cost me buckets of money) and years of experience in those areas, my daughter is able to go after her own interests–as she says, she follows her dream. For full disclosure, by age nine, she had the makings of a talented athlete according to her PE teacher, but she had to decide between performing lessons and sports because there is only so much time and money, and she had religious classes as well. She chose performing.

If you think I’m writing this to point out that my mother was wrong to choose my lessons and that I was right to let my daughter’s interests call the shots, I’m not. Well, maybe I thought that once, but not any more. I was a lucky duck for my lessons and my teachers, and my daughter was also blessed to have the lessons and teachers she had. I’m not sure either philosophy is right. Training and experiences do help guide our paths in life. Maybe I would be more outgoing if I’d had tap and voice lessons, but then it’s less likely that I would be a writer. If my daughter had been persuaded to pursue soccer at a certain point in her life, who knows where her life would be today? She wouldn’t be the brilliant performer she is, though, that I believe.

If neither of us had had these lessons at all, our paths would have been still different. Different, not necessarily worse or better. That’s just my opinion. But I can almost hear other opinions clamoring out there. Maybe you had lessons you hated? Or lessons you couldn’t have that you wanted so bad you still feel resentful? Maybe you think kids shouldn’t have lessons at all until they prove themselves worthy of them?

What is your opinion of supplemental art and music (type) lessons for kids?

One last thing: I feel very very strongly that art and music (and dance and drama) should be offered in public school for children of all ages. This is a different subject than after-school lessons, but obviously related.


Filed under #writerlife, Art and Music, Essay, Family history, Nonfiction, Writing

36 responses to “Mom Made Me

  1. Firstly – lose that pain as quickly as you can. Secondly, our education system does quite well at including a range of the subjects you mention, which, in my case, from 1947 – 1960, was quite useful because there was absolutely no money for any extras. I you can afford supplements the difficulty for parents is in striking a balance between allowing the children to follow their own wishes and introducing something inspirational they may not have thought of.

    • Thanks, Derrick. If it doesn’t get better by tomorrow I might go to the urgent care for some drugs! Oh, you are lucky that your schools include the arts. many schools in the U.S. do, as well, but not enough. The arts have been cut from many curriculums or are just hanging on by a thread. It’s always the first thing to go here.

  2. Isn’t it hard to let go of guilt and embrace with gratitude both what was lost and gained?

    • Carole, it’s very hard. The guilt is renewed every time I learn of children not getting what I got or what my kids got. And of course we all have regrets for the paths not taken. But I finally figured out that the path taken was a pretty good one anyway, even if I didn’t know it at the time.

  3. I took (willingly) piano for 4 years. However, my instructor was focused on more classical music while I wanted contemporary pop. Even if she gave me something that wasn’t classical it was a 1940s tune (her era). I regretted that I didn’t have a different teacher although I learned a lot. I was too rural for other lessons although I really wanted to take baton lessons to be a majorette for the band. Didn’t happen. Back then it was a question of what was available. There wasn’t girls organized sports except for school. Today’s kids have great opportunities that I would have killed for. We have a local gymnastics center that I would have loved as a kid. I was good at that. As you say there is no right or wrong. Sometimes people have to try a few things to figure it out.

    • Oh, I feel your pain. I’m sure you got great training and could then play what you wanted to after getting this training, but a steady diet of what you didn’t want to play is very deadening. I used to love to play stuff like Polanaise and la Tarentela. Dramatic music ;).
      Funny about the baton lessons. My mom is the oldest of all her cousins, and she had me when I was young, so her cousins were between us and in some cases closer to me in age. Several of them were majorette stars. They were amazing with the baton. At least one taught lessons, too. When I was little all the girls had little batons, but by the time I was in high school “nobody” did that anymore.

  4. I didn’t get any lessons that weren’t in the public schools. C’est la vie. As a good singer, I really wanted piano or guitar lessons, but they were not to be. Hence I did not become a musical sensation.

    One thing I highly recommend (which I did get in public school) is acting lessons. Stanislavsky method where you have to think about what is motivating your character as well as the others. Not only did it help train me in how to fake it all my life, but it taught me to try to think through the other person’s point of view which is invaluable in life.

    It is say that these days, any type of art (including music) has been sacrificed in public schools (so I disagree completely with Derrick above).

    • Derrick is in England, so that is probably why he has a different view than we do. I have seen the arts being the first to be cut over and over again. So many school districts have cheated kids on the arts. I drove my kids out of district (got permission of course) to go to the high school I thought had the best arts in our area in California. My daughter managed to get fabulous dance, drama, and choir opportunities that way. But that was bending over backwards to do so–and we lived in an area that at least offered schools with the arts!
      I’m so sorry you weren’t able to get the music lessons you would have liked. That really sucks. But you can still put your voice to good use. In a choir, for instance.

  5. Really interesting thoughts Luanne. The only lessons I had out of school were ice skating lessons. We’d have to go to the ice rink really early in the mornings and I don’t remember learning a huge amount so I don’t think they lasted – I don’t know whether I asked for the lessons or whether my mother thought I should have them, I am glad I can skate! I always wanted to do horse riding, but we couldn’t afford it. It does make me sad when kids are put under too much pressure, but then it’s also good to be given other opportunities.

    • I agree about the pressure. Particularly when a child isn’t thrilled about something and the parents wants the child to do something that he or she couldn’t. You see it in sports a lot, but it’s in the arts, too. I’ve seen some sad cases of that. Because my daughter was always so into the arts, I’m sure people wondered sometimes if we pushed her (although I would say sometimes she pushed us heh). After one of her school teachers came to a dance recital (which was so nice of her since it wasn’t a school activity) and saw her passionate dancing, she said to me, “Well, at least now I know that this is all [daughter’s name] and not you!” haha
      That’s wonderful about the skating! And It probably gave you grace and good balance, not to mention strong ankles!

  6. I do agree that music, art, etc. should be included in school, but what is included in school varies from district to district throughout the U.S. (Derrick is in England.) I did have private lessons, and so did my kids. I sometimes wish my parents or friends had pushed me a bit to get into choirs and things in high school because I was too shy to audition on my own. We offered lessons and paid for all sorts of extras (Madrigal gowns, tap shoes, and such) for both daughters. I think their high school did try to help out the students who could not afford to pay for things.
    Well, one daughter is an “artivist” (an activist through her art); the other has used her theater background to enrich the lives and understanding of her students. Hopefully, one day she’ll go back to singing. I got to see some wonderful performances when she did perform. 🙂

    I hope your back is feeling better soon, Luanne!

    • I agree that it sounds like the experience Derrick has had/seen in England is different than in the states. Oh wow, I so agree about the slight push for kids who want to go after something but are so afraid. That is the story of my life. I wouldn’t have wanted to be pressured (as I felt about ballet for a time), but a little helpful push for SCHOOL activities that I secretly wanted: choir, newspaper, yearbook, theatre auditions, etc. I was always too scared.
      It was so much easier that both my kids were more outgoing. 🙂 Yes, the extras you have to pay for can be such a burden. And sometimes people fall into the wrong activities or the wrong outside school dance studios, etc., where they waste a lot of money. Paying a fortune for dance competitions and travel expenses, for instance.
      Thank you about my back. I’m getting close to demanding drugs.

  7. My mother grew up in poverty but dreamed of playing the piano. She scrimped so we could have lessons. My brother never made it to his because he always “forgot” so he could play football with the neighborhood kids. I dutifully went and was told if I practiced I’d be good, but like you I always found other more interesting things to do during the week.

    I forced my kids to piano but neither of them really enjoyed it though my son was considered a near prodigy by his teachers. I confess I was never the type of parent to spend my energy really pushing my kids. They knew I had high expectations but rebelled on the piano lessons. It didn’t help that the teacher often came to our house late and used his pencil to pick at his toes.

    I read somewhere that children were like elastic bands–you could stretch them all you like but they’d always go back to their original size. 🙂 After raising 5 kids I’m beginning to believe it.

    • That’s a touching story about your mother until it gets to the part about your brother heh. Kids are so ungrateful (me particularly included)! Wow, the piano teacher your kids had sounds awful. Is it because you are in a rural area that he was the only teacher available?
      I have never heard that about kids being like elastic bands. I’d hate to think that was true because otherwise none of us would ever grow. I can see that you can only stretch a child just so far. That would make sense to me, but not always going back to their original size!

      • I guess it’s more about personality types. Trying to make a kid more extroverted or courageous or contemplative only goes so far. They have to come to those things on their own (maybe). Nature vs. nurture–the whole thing is confusing.

  8. Sorry to hear about your back, Luanne. After two back surgeries, I feel your pain. As painful as it sounds, walking is often the best thing…sitting was the worst.
    As a child, I longed to play the flute and the piano. For whatever reason, my mother wanted me to play the clarinet…for eight years. I was never that good probably because I didn’t have the passion for it.

    • Oh, Jill, I’m so sorry about your back troubles and surgeries! Walking for me is ok as long as I am careful, but the problem is that if I am up for too long my whole back gets so tense and then other spasms start all over the back. I have to keep taking the time to rest periodically. Very annoying!
      That is a shame that your mom didn’t realize you would prefer flute or piano instead of clarinet. Maybe she thought she was teaching you not to quit?

  9. I hope that pain goes away soon, Luanne. I did dancing as a child (was forced to by my mom) and the one I loved was Scottish highland dancing. I also learned to play the piano. I’ve carried on with none of my childhood lessons, but I’m glad I did them (because Scottish highland dancing and piano playing are good party tricks) 😉

  10. I’ve always encouraged my kids to try new things, so I’m pretty sure we’ve run the gamut of those activities. Moo has been my most involved child — very social. Three have played sports of various types, four have done scouting, three have done choir, four have played instruments of various types, two have taken art. These days, it’s hard for a kid to be well-rounded since almost every activity takes up their entire lives. Can’t just do a thing for enrichment anymore, it’s got to be their very raison d’etre, like we’re all raising prodigies.
    I’ve grown quite fond of teachers who run afterschool activity clubs, where kids can play volleyball or learn watercolor techniques or train for a 5k or read a series of books — then they get a little something on the side. I think trying new things builds confidence, and I think groups are good at teaching teamwork and leadership skills.
    As for me, well I was involved, and when I look back on it, I realize my parents were open to my enthusiasm, and not as forthright with their wallets 😉 I was the kid in tap who only wanted to spin around and around, so into ballet I went. Played a lot of instruments, none well. Participated in all the arts, really. My parents let me try anything I wanted, and I do the same.
    My husband, he pretty much lived, ate, and slept with his trumpet.
    Looking back on my own parenting, we should have had, maybe even pushed or forced, our eldest daughter to do more. But hindsight, you know. No one can know for sure.

  11. I only had one choice — piano. I took it and kept at it for three years. After that, I continued playing for school functions, eventually playing for the high school special singing group. I then decided to try voice. I enjoyed it. My parent provided me the path, I had a choice to continue. Today, closing in on 70, I still find lots of pleasure at the piano, my voice absolutely croaks and I’m more interested in reading books, taking me to worlds unknown. I’d always read — loved it. Maybe, I should have had lessons writing, as well. Well, nothing stops me now. I do want to write, as I do, on my blog, but I’d like to sink my teeth into something more. I’m starting to read writing craft books, then I’ll have another go around on the NaNoWriMo 2013 manuscript. It’s never too late to flex your mind, it’s the body that poops out!

  12. I’m not talented at piano, but I’m glad I had lessons and wish I had practiced more. I appreciate the art lessons my parents got me. Maybe I should have had singing lessons with a reputable teacher.

  13. First off, Advil will not relieve your back pain, you silly girl. You need to go for the Big Girl pain relievers, but you’ll need a doctor for that…so go! Nothing worse than back pain.
    Secondly, my mother was the one who forced me to take piano lessons from the time I was five years old from a very strict teacher: her. She taught piano lessons to supplement her school teaching salary and believed that charity began at home…or something like that. I hated her for making me practice 30 minutes every day when my friends were running around outside doing fun things. But, as life turned out, I was thankful I could play and actually became a minister of music in Southern Baptist churches before I lost my religion, but then that’s also another story.

  14. My mom thought it was good for all of us to take piano and dance. I hated taking both – just because I hated all forms of ‘school’ when I was a kid and those classes felt like school to me. I never practiced and I am sure ‘teaching’ me piano must have been torture! Ballet I was never good at, but I would not have dreamed of telling my mom I hated it, so I took it dutifully until I was in middle school and she let me quit. Hope your back is better soon!

  15. Luanne, Get better soon. Back stuff is horrible. I know.
    I LOVED the art classes I took in school. Things didn’t go as far as I would have liked. It cost too much money to actually buy the violin or the toe slippers for ballet. And we just didn’t have it. But the choir, the drama club and all the other arts have enriched my life beyond measure. And I got to perform as an adult. Funny I should read this now. I have been thinking about my leotards. I love leotards.

  16. I came from a house of nine children. My eldest sister got to go to ballet lessons, because she had trouble with her feet and the doctors told my parents it would help. I was very shy but dreamed of such an opportunity. It never came, my parents could not afford it.

    The art lessons….well I can only imagine where my art would be today if they had, had the money for art lessons too. I think you were so lucky to have parents that stretched your imagination by giving you those opportunities. Although I let my children decide what extra skills they wish to learn it was a different world when I was growing up. I hope you are healing, rest is good for the back.

    • Where are you in the nine kids? Did ballet help your sister or did she end up loving or hating it? You know Agnes DeMille, the great choreographer? Her sister had to take ballet for her flat feet, so they let Agnes take it to keep her sister company. I suppose it helps when your uncle is Cecil B. DeMille hahaha. Such a shame you couldn’t have those art lessons, but you seem to do pretty darn well with them! I only took them for one season, but they were such fun. I realize today how lucky I was, though at the time (with ballet and piano) I didn’t always feel that way. Now I just wish all kids could choose lessons they want and, presto, they get them! My back is getting better now, thanks to learning some stretches that really help. Thanks so much for giving your input on this subject, Kath!

      • Im number four. The middle child. I think thats the problem my sister had too, flat feet. My dear sister loved the ballet lessons. I use to go along to watch, I think deep down I knew I would have been to shy to do it but remember the beautiful books from the library in black and white of the world famous ballet dancers.
        We are who we are through our life experience Luanne sounds like your life was very interesting. I enjoyed learning more about you.

  17. You have me right here: “It also taught me that I was a disorganized and lazy fool who threw away opportunities.” I didn’t have any lessons such as ballet or piano. My mom had enough with just getting by raising 4 kids pretty much on her, to afford to send me (the youngest) to lessons. But when I was pushing my teens, my oldest sister’s (now ex-) husband tried to teach me to play the guitar. Interestingly, I could pick but not play chords. As way of encouragement, John would say he wished he could pick. I remember once giving a “recital” to my family, playing some popular Glen Campbell tunes. But then they divorced and that was the end of that. (As you might guess, I didn’t have a guitar of my own. John lent me his (he had several) which I had to return after the divorce.) I was also convinced that I didn’t have an ear for music. John always had to tune the guitar for me. That said, it would have been nice if I had been able to continue. I really wish I could play the banjo 😉 Not to be a complainer, but my mom didn’t encourage me to pursue anything, and she discouraged me by not being interested. I was writing when I was in my teens and joined a literary guild at my community college for a couple of years. We had public readings but my mom would never come. She would drop me off and than go visit a relative. We had a tense relationship back then. Well, listen to me. Complain, complain. At 59, you’d think I’d be over it all by now 😉 But, to give my mother some slack and given that it was also so easy for me to “throw away opportunities,” I don’t know how much her encouragement would have made a difference. Everything looks different in hindsight. The fact remains that both you and your daughter are extremely talented people.

    • Oh, Marie, I feel bad that you didn’t get lessons that would have meant so much to you. And that you didn’t have a guitar.I wish I could go back in time and bring you lessons and a guitar :). That would be a real benefit of time travel. But you have made a good life for yourself, from the sounds of it, and have lots and lots of talent as a writer!!!!

      • Oh, you are so sweet, Luanne. Knitting compensated for a lot. I taught myself to knit when I was about 10 or so. It took several years, but eventually I started knitting up a storm. Then I went to a private college for a short while and learned to spin yarn and weave. Interestingly, making things with my hands was something my mother could appreciate. Thank you for your kind words about my writing. I really appreciate your support 🙂

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