My niece turned one this weekend.
If you remember in my earlier post, I am not a fan of early childhood gender stereotypes so I was a little skeptical of trying to buy her a gift being she is showered in pink girly stuff. Ok, maybe she isn’t necessarily and it only seems that way. I actually have to admit, I don’t see her nearly enough because my step-sister’s schedule and our own rarely intersect with the nearly two hour, two state travel between us. That’s a completely separate issue.
Things have been pretty hectic lately. Construction on the house. Fall prep for the property. The wife returning to her normal teaching schedule. Ramping up some big projects for my company. It being the Headless Horseman’s Holiday here in town. And, a big question mark if we were even going to travel in the first place.
Last minute shopping is never fun. Ever. Especially when you have no idea of what to get. Seriously, have you ever actually seen the “wish” list for most young kids? It’s the anthesis of useful, trust me. It’s definitely a list of stuff but it’s always tough to figure out.
Do they really want / need this or were they putting in on because it’s a nice to have, or just because they need to put something on there in that price range? Will the kid even use this? Does it need to be the exact version of what’s listed or is essentially the same going to be close enough. And, what if it doesn’t specify at all, am I really free to just pick up anything that’s 12-16 mo. or are there actual preferences I’m not privy to?
And, what if nothing on the list is available or in our price range or seems appealing as a representative of who we are as aunt and uncle, then what – we can’t go empty handed?
Anyway, armed with our ideas (and trust me, I know everyone meant well arming us with them even though we were left with many more questions than answers) we headed into Target to hunt down something from it.
Twenty-five minutes, three sections of the store and a few premature grey hairs later my wife and I looked at one another horrified. Not because we could not navigate the store. Not because we couldn’t find “stuff” on the list. Not even because we realized in a few short months we would be forcing someone else to endure the same exact insanity we were now…
No, because this, this hectic freelancing of a shopping trip was about to become our own reality and it wouldn’t just happen for a birthday… it would be everything we needed to buy, at any given time, on any given day for one reason or another.
Step back. Breathe. And, again… step back. breathe…
Our wandering finally landed us in the educational toy section. If that doesn’t say least favorite uncle and aunt then consider this followed the very utilitarian route of diapers and winter clothes and stuff for the parents … yeah, we’re those people.
To us, that’s actually kind of fine, I don’t think anyone actually expects anything else right now — our own December holiday lists include more stuff about socks and light bulbs than anything else. Even the fun stuff like cooking spices or something hobby related like power tools is more utilitarian to our grander scheme of existence at this point.
Anyway, as we combed through all the overt technology in the education section (most of which made me, as someone working in technology throw up in my mouth a little at how actually un-useful most of it actually seems) we stumbled accidentally upon some music stuff. Ask my wife, finding it was was made me most engaged to the whole process and we didn’t even find the good stuff first.
Digging around there was an “orange box” (the kind of slat box the fruit would be packaged in, not a colored cardboard box) containing a variety of percussion props. I call them props because they aren’t authentic specisms (not that you’d give a one year old the real thing). Included were half sized drum sticks set over an upside down machine-made tambourine aligned next to plastic half sized moroccas that were off-set by oversized eastern style finger cymbals and some other percussion trinkets. It was exactly the kind of “make noise” kind of thing that originally got me started when my god parents gave me my first percussion equiptment and my own mother encouraged me to play with her stainless pots and wooden spoons in the morning on the beige linoleum kitchen floor.
I really couldn’t help myself buying it for my niece.
My wife immediately said, “you know, your family is just going do this to us when it’s our turn.”
To which, I of course, retorted, “As if they will have to. Anything they could consider buying percussion wise I already probably own or will have gotten for the kid already. Even if I didn’t, us buying drums now isn’t going to instigate anything. You don’t think my mother, or father, or siblings, or my god parents, or your parents, or the rest of your family or any of our friends wouldn’t do this anyhow? It’s a ready made expectation.”
I understand her concern. She hates noise. Tapping, banging and other nervous noises. She is a teacher and deals with kids with all levels of drummeritus all the time. She lives with me.
And yet, that argument seemed enough for her to approve the purchase. I love her more than anything for it. Not because it is a tacit acceptance of my percussion but because it was something of an open understanding of the greater family dynamic and everyone will support the music, and especially the percussion, because that’s who we all are, even when it starts out as a joke. It felt like, to me, another step in the already bigger conversation about how important it is to impart music to kids early on and support it as best we can.
There are hundreds of studies providing anything from strong correlative to difficult to disprove causal relationships between early childhood music education and the success of individuals educationally, physically, psychologically and socially later in life. It is through not only my own anecdotal experience but the reams of research that made it into the fifteen foot shelf of music literature I’ve accumulated in my ongoing reading on the subject thus far that tells me one needs to experience performing music early and often.
So, we bought this little percussion box.
When my step-sister opened it for my niece I saw her eyes widen. I don’t know if it was excitement or fear. I watched her husband’s father, who is a huge music lover similar to myself, shift in his chair. I don’t know if it was excitement or fear. I watched my own mother, who was the nexus of so many of the situations that allowed me to grow in my music education early on, try to rationalize the gift for everyone. I don’t know if it was excitement or fear.
If nothing else, it reinforces my percussive influence on the conversation. But, moreso, hopefully, it gives my niece the opportunity to bang and shake and crash things together with meaning and derive some kind of happiness out of it beyond just the initial curious cacophony.
Too often girls are discouraged from that kind of action. They are told it’s unladylike to smash and smack and bash and bang and they are unable to get themselves into he percussive arts. They end up as flutists or violists or pianists because that’s what girls do. Not that those are bad instruments but one should enjoy them for their beauty not because they are somehow “feminine.” They end up in color guard or worse, as the cliche goes, cheering. Not that there’s a problem with those either as they take special talents that transect music too. But, unfortunately, as the cliche goes, they end up banging the drummer submissively rather than being the awesome that is a drummer themselves. Actually, I’m not even going to comment further…
Anyway, the point being despite the assinity of a last minute shopping trip, we felt like we found something representative of our personalities, our relationship and so on as a gift … and, I’m not worried if it comes back to us. In some ways, I almost welcome it, I would love some updates to my Pearl // Sabian // DW // Vic Firth set up actually. Anything to not have them take up a double reed or the violin too early on. Now, that, I don’t think either of our ears can handle