A five-year-old strikes out on a path his parents didn’t take
By Ann Schimke
My son Connor was only 3 when he started asking when he could get a real guitar. He’d seen a beautiful indigo blue one at the music store in downtown Loveland and it captured his imagination in a way my husband and I never expected.
We owned no toy guitars and neither of us played guitar or any other instrument. What inspired him? Was it his guitar-playing preschool teacher? A neighbor he’d seen strumming at a block party? We weren’t sure. We decided Connor was too young to take care of a $50 guitar, but he didn’t stop asking for it.
Fast-forward two years. It’s December 2011 and, on a whim, Mike tells Connor he’ll give him $50 for a guitar if he can memorize “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost. The deal energized Connor, and he memorized the first few lines the same day. We were impressed but figured he’d lose interest after a couple days. An abstract poem with words like “trodden” and “hence”? No, not likely. It didn’t play to the strengths of a little boy whose first love was construction vehicles.
But every night, Mike and Connor would make it a little farther through the 20-line poem. In just over a week, Connor had memorized the whole thing. To make sure it wasn’t a fluke, we had him recite the poem for my parents at their house. Then he did it on a video phone call with Mike’s parents, who live in Michigan. He did it standing on our coffee table, lounging on the living room floor and at the dinner table.
On New Year’s Day, Connor officially earned his $50, and Mike took him to buy the half-size guitar that he’d been eyeing for almost as long as he could remember. He was thrilled with his new instrument even though it was awkward for him to hold and he could only strum by raking his whole hand over the strings.
We quickly signed him up for lessons, starting with a four-week trial period. Again, I doubted his persistence. I couldn’t help thinking the novelty would wear off in a week or two and he’d ask to quit. And frankly, I was fully prepared to let him. The whole thing was foreign to me. I didn’t start playing an instrument until fourth grade when the whole class was offered in-school lessons. Although I picked up the trumpet and played for the next six years, I was never an inspired musician. I didn’t expect more of Connor. Still, the four-week trial passed, and he wanted to stick with it.
Saturday after Saturday, I marveled at Connor’s commitment as he walked out the door to go to his lesson. He didn’t complain. He didn’t procrastinate. He trotted out like he wanted to go. I finally figured out why it surprised me so much. Somewhere deep down, I assumed that Connor would be a like me. I couldn’t imagine wanting a guitar. I couldn’t imagine memorizing a long poem so I could buy a guitar. I couldn’t imagine weekly lessons to learn how to play the guitar.
I didn’t say it out loud, but none of it made any sense to me. Sure, theoretically I knew Connor would develop his own interests as he got older, but I assumed they’d echo Mike’s and mine. I figured they’d feel familiar.
Over the months since the poem challenge and the new guitar, I’ve realized how confusing it can be to watch your children grow into their own people and make their own way in the world. At the same time, it’s exciting to witness your offspring do things you didn’t. Given my own not-very-musical past, I’m downright impressed that my 5-year-old had the drive to earn his guitar and the determination to take months of lessons. I have no idea what the future holds for Connor musically speaking or otherwise, but whatever happens, I hope he continues to take the road less traveled.