Tuesday, November 01, 2005

X-treme Babysitting

Okay. So I’ve been teaching guitar lessons for a while now. It is good money and it keeps me doing music so I count myself blessed. I have multiple students that are a joy to teach and I look forward to teaching them every week.

One girl is 9 and ½ (not just 9…as she is quick to let you know). She’s like a 30 year old in a tiny body. She comes in with her Baby Taylor (a miniature guitar) and sits down each week as if she just came in from a long day at work. Her feet barely reach the floor. When I ask how she is doing, she expresses that she is tired, I say “I know what you mean” and we proceed with lessons. She is always eloquently dressed and has superlative manners. She is bright, pays attention, practices, and honestly makes me somewhat comfortable with the notion that I might one day have a child like this.

I am also teaching a pair of brothers. They haven’t been playing long, but are making great progress. They immediately jumped into a couple of AC/DC tunes (Highway to Hell and Hell’s Bell’s), and I must say that I’m proud to have them as my students. They differ in age by about three years, the oldest being 14. They might be the next Malcolm and Angus Young.
Now, it would be so nice if all of my students were like this…but that would be too easy. For at least 30 minutes each week I find myself not teaching, but instead being immersed in the white-knuckle world of extreme babysitting. Here’s how it went today:

At a time that I will not disclose to protect the more or less innocent (not to mention myself), Student X entered my studio at the music school where I teach. I knew he was approaching because I could hear his voice echoing down the hall as he addressed every person he came within visual contact of. I shuddered.
Seconds later the cutest 7 year old you have ever seen enters my room. He has sandy blond hair, light freckles, a fair complexion, and an innocent smile full of teeth that he will grow into in about 20 years. His cheeks are full and round and rest atop a big grin at least 70 percent of the time. Today he is wearing a long sleeve orange and blue-stripped shirt along with freshly grass-stained jeans. He could be a model for Gap Kids. If I had a dollar for every time an old lady pinched those dimpled cheeks then I’d be rich…and wouldn’t have to deal with what happened in the next 30 minutes.

For the record, it’s hard to keep a straight face with a 7-year-old that has just body-slammed his guitar and asked me if I have a gun. “Why a gun?” I asked. His reply included a lengthy plot for how I was to kill him and tell his dad that he had fainted so that I could secretly bury him three days later (I’m not making this up...although I will confess that his plan was tempting). You see the problem with student X is not that I’m not entertained, or that I don’t like being around him. If we were playing in the schoolyard, life would be grand. The problem is that he makes it nearly impossible for me to do my job, that is, to teach.

For instance, today we began work on the “C chord.” He has seen this chord in a previous lesson and so he played it with ease. He then proceeded to passionately kiss his guitar. (He looks like a little Matt Damon…and he’ll be a great actor one day because nowhere is there a more over-dramatic 7 year-old). After pulling him away from his guitar we began work on a strumming pattern in 4. When I told him to count as he played, he immediately leapt into lengthy discussion about how high he can count. Five minutes later he is beating and yelling at his guitar for not playing correctly, certain that it is the guitar’s fault that he overlooked the half rest in measure two. He exclaims, “Oh my god!” and then promptly apologizes for swearing, just in case I didn’t notice that he had just done something he wasn’t supposed to do. Upon getting no response from me he continues with a triple “oh my god.”

One would expect to be angry with any kid at this point. However, due to the fact that not once has Kid X really been angry and never has a smile left his face, all spectators are held at bay just this side of the line between frustration and anger. By the time the lesson is over we have made musical noise for a total of maybe 4 minutes. The rest of the noise has been from a drama that may soon be a part of the X-games (look for X-treme Babysitting in 2006).

As I help him pack up his guitar, he explains to me that it used to be his brother’s guitar, but he traded it for a baseball card. Student X then compares himself to Jacob who “traded lentils for all of his dad’s stuff…a little for a lot.” As he marched off I smiled, partly because our lesson was over, but mostly from the thought of hearing the word “lentils” come out of that 7 year-old mouth, that mouth full of teeth that he’ll grow into…in about 20 years…


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