In mid-August, while we were still on vacation, I made a list of all the extracurricular activities June wanted to do this fall and when they met. There were six: her school orchestra, voice lessons, acting class, gymnastics, Girls on the Run (running club), and Girl Scouts. Amazingly, none of them conflicted with each other, so it was up to me to decide how much was too much, in terms of money and running her around, and trying leaving her a least a little down time.
Have you seen this article about getting back into the swing of school and kids’ activities? I must say I identified.
I presented June with the list as we were driving home from West Virginia and asked her to cut it down to four, at least one of which had to be a physical activity. This was agonizing for her. She eliminated gymnastics first, which was a little surprising, since the summer Olympics were still in progress and I thought she might be inspired by the U.S. women’s team’s excellent performance. Not taking gymnastics meant she was definitely doing Girls on the Run, and because that activity was the only one with a looming registration deadline, we left the other decisions for later. For weeks, she was stuck between quitting Girl Scouts or quitting orchestra. She knew for sure she wanted to start two new activities: voice lessons and acting class.
Girl Scouts started the last week of August and she went to the first three meetings, as I’d already signed her up last spring, and orchestra hadn’t started yet. I told her she could decide to stop going if she wanted to switch to orchestra, as we’d only be out $15, but she was leaning toward staying in Scouts.
It made me a little sad to think of her quitting violin after playing for three years and showing some aptitude for it. Because orchestra meets at school and it’s free, it would be an almost effortless extracurricular (like chorus, which we don’t even count as an extracurricular for that reason) if it weren’t for practicing. She’s often reluctant to practice, and she’s had the summer off playing, except for orchestra camp, so I knew getting her back into the habit could involve some nagging and would also have to be squeezed into her busy afternoons and evenings.
On the one hand, I felt guilty for putting limits on her by making her choose between the many, many things that interest her. But on the other hand, when her winter basketball coach contacted us about starting practice early this year and wanted to know what evenings she was free and the answer was “almost none,” I felt bad about that, too, as it seemed to indicate I’d let her get overscheduled. There’s no winning this game. I am going to feel guilty no matter I do. But apparently she’s not the only busy fifth grade girl we know because later when the coach got back to us he said there was no night when he could get a quorum, so he scotched the idea of starting practice so far in advance of the season, and I have to admit that was a relief.
I didn’t actually get the starting and ending dates for all her activities until last week and when I did I realized that because orchestra starts late this year, not until the last week of September, that if she attended the four voice lessons we’d already purchased, and then she took a break from those lessons for about a month, the acting class would be over and there would only be one week when she’d only have five activities going at once (which really meant six meetings because GOTR meets twice a week).
I made her this offer before she’d had her first voice lesson and she said she wanted to start the lessons before she decided. I figure if she isn’t willing to swap a month of voice lessons for a whole school year of orchestra she doesn’t really want to play violin anymore and I’ll feel okay about her quitting if that’s what she chooses. We’ll see.
First Voice Lesson
June’s first voice lesson was the second week of school, on the Friday after Labor Day. She’s taking them at the music school where she took violin for two years before she started taking it at school instead and where Noah takes drum lessons in the summers and last year when he wasn’t in band. (More on Noah and band below.)
The music school is on the second floor of a narrow row house and the recital space, office, and three practice rooms, while warm and inviting, are a little cramped. (They are in the process of expanding into another building on the same block.) So I was glad to find her lesson would be in the largest studio, where there’s a window looking out on some trees and a comfy couch over by the drum kit where I could sit, while June and the teacher, Ms. A, stood and sat by the piano.
Ms. A started out by having June sing notes to determine her range. She seemed surprised and impressed by it. Next she asked June what kind of music she liked. Katy Perry and Bach, she said, a combination which gave Ms. A another surprise. Ms. A asked which kind of music she’d prefer to work on, pop or classical. Pop, June said. I added that she’s in a musical theater camp every summer, so that’s another style she enjoys. Ms. A found Katy Perry’s “Firework” and “Quiet” from Matilda on her phone and had June sing along to both.
Between them, they decided to make those her first two songs, starting with the pop tune. Ms. A instructed June to play notes on the keyboard at home and sing along with them, and to watch herself singing in the mirror, as they are going to work on aspects of performance other than purely vocal ones.
June was quite satisfied with the lesson. As we were walking home, she picked up a chunk of concrete from a crumbly place in the sidewalk. “A souvenir of my first voice lesson,” she said. Then she said if she ever became a famous pop singer someone might buy it for a lot of money. “You never know what people will buy from famous people,” she said.
I don’t know if June will ever be famous, but when Beth shared this picture of her on a dock on the Chesapeake Bay while they were on a mother-daughter overnight trip to Southern Maryland last weekend, I joked it should be her first album cover, assuming cover art still exists then. Beth’s mom says it’s “full of feeling” and that seems appropriate for June.
By the third week of school, June’s activities were nearly in full swing, with everything but orchestra having started. Girls on the Run had its first two meetings. Beth is one of the Tuesday morning coaches this year, so she’ll be going with June to the before-school practices.
Acting class started the next day. The class is at a nearby elementary school and is taught by the director of June’s musical theater camp. June met Gretchen by taking her preschool drama class, when June was three and four years old and has been summer camps with her every year since she was five, so they know each other well. June has a few friends in the class as well, which is nice.
We met Gretchen outside the school at four o’clock, five minutes before the class’s starting time, but we weren’t allowed to enter the building because bus dismissal was running late and the school was supposed to be clear of bus riders before extracurricular classes could start. Gretchen was getting nervous that the students in the class who attend this school and could have already been sent to the room by their teachers might leave when they saw she wasn’t there. Finally, she secured permission to enter before the wayward buses arrived and we found the room and a handful of kids waiting for us.
I won’t normally attend the class—in fact June may walk there herself some days—but I’d brought June to make sure she found her way to the room and so I could pay, and I was curious so I asked if I could stay.
Gretchen started off with an exercise meant to help the kids learn each other’s names. They had to come up with a word that alliterates with their names. June had done this very exercise at GOTR just the day before so she stuck with the name she gave herself there, “Jumpy June.” There were some theater games next. The kids had to describe the sensory experience of eating a sandwich (everyone chose a different kind), come up with new uses for a prop (a plastic basket) and then turn themselves into interlocking parts of a machine. (It was a time machine.)
With a half hour left, Gretchen starting describing and distributing scripts for short scenes the kids will work on in groups of two and three for the rest of the six-week class. She lay them on the carpet so kids could pick them up and browse through them. June gravitated at first to a scene from The Christmas Carol, but no one else was interested in that one. There was a boy who wanted to do a scene from Bridge to Terabithia who was in a similar position and as both of the scenes called for a boy/girl pair, I thought one of them might decide to join the other, but instead June drifted over to a pair of girls who needed one more girl for a scene from Ionesco’s Foursome. The translation (and the all-female casting) was from Gretchen’s master’s thesis. I have to say French absurdist theater was a bit of a surprise, but June says she likes the scene because it’s an argument and she gets to yell. Her group will be performing it at the end of October.
As we were leaving the class, Maggie’s mom offered to drive June home, not only that day, but on an ongoing basis, an offer I readily accepted because it will simplify my Wednesday afternoons.
Speaking of rides, that evening after we were in bed, Beth asked me how June was getting home from her Thursday afternoon GOTR practice, and I realized I hadn’t made arrangements for that. I was already fretting about the fact that Noah had a lot of homework assignments due Friday and he hadn’t used his time well while I was at June’s acting class, plus I’d be away the next evening at Back to School Night at Noah’s school, so I wouldn’t be able to supervise much Thursday night either. I was also feeling guilty that June and I hadn’t managed a whole chapter of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince that day because what time I did have between getting home, putting the finishing touches on the dinner I’d made while the kids were at school, and doing the dinner dishes, I spent reading four chapters of 1984 to Noah and quizzing him on the geography of Central America and the Caribbean.
I knew I wouldn’t sleep unless I took care of this first, so I got out of bed to email Zoë’s mom to ask if she could bring June home. This was the arrangement last spring, but I hadn’t touched base with her about it. The fact that I don’t drive often complicates June’s extracurricular schedule. Anyway, I had my answer and June had her ride by the time I woke up the next morning.
Update on Noah and band:
It took a few emails and most of the first week of school to sort out, but eventually we learned that Noah was not mistakenly put in the band that appeared on his schedule. The non-audition concert band he wanted meets during one of his required CAP classes and the advanced band teacher agreed to let him in without audition, at the request of his guidance counsellor, who remembered he couldn’t get into band last year and felt sorry for him. When Noah first learned what happened, his first instinct was to quit, because he worried he was in over his head, but after some encouraging words from the band teacher and some nudging from us, he decided to stay. I’m proud of him, because he can be self-critical about his playing and the idea of playing with advanced musicians is somewhat stressful for him.
Noah doesn’t seek the spotlight as readily as his sister—who couldn’t believe he wanted to be in a band and he was in a band and was thinking of quitting that band—but he does like to play, and it always makes me happy to hear his drums or his bells, just as I like to see June on stage. I love to watch them perform, famous or not.
Meanwhile, June will have another chance to perform this weekend. Remember when she was in a commercial for the NEA three years ago? On Saturday morning she’s going to participate in the filming of another one for the Alliance of Retired Americans, a lobbying organization for retired members of the AFL-CIO. She may or may not be in the final cut. Wish her luck!
Update (9/17): Because there were only twelve kids at the shoot, they are using footage with all of them.