"My Parents' Gift"
The summer after my freshman year in high school, I traveled from my home in Vermont to NYC to buy a cello. I was 15, and my best friend and I took the bus from Brattleboro, Vermont to Penn Station. From there, we took the subway up to 610 West End Avenue where my aunt and uncle had a spacious apartment.
As a Vermonter, I had never before taken public transportation. We always drove, rode our bikes, or walked wherever we wanted to go. I started walking to school with Becky Shore when I was only 4 years old, and I rode my bike to school when I was 8. So I was very experienced in how to get places in Southern Vermont, but New York City was an entirely different landscape. I remember wondering about the subway system and the bus routes, but my mission was to find the best cello I could, so after acclimating to the Upper West Side, we set out to visit the major music shops in NYC.
This was an exciting adventure since neither of us had spent time in the city, let alone navigated the subway system. In each store, I would explain what I was looking for. The store owner would proceed to bring out cello after cello. After spending an hour or so playing scales, arpeggios and my favorite piece, I would select one to take back to my uncle's apartment. To do this, I would simply sign my name and where I was staying - I had no credit card or even a driver's license for that matter, and we would walk out of the store, hail a cab, a and take the cello back to my uncle's residence. These cellos cost thousands of dollars, and in retrospect it is amazing to me that I was allowed to do this. At the time, I did not wonder about this system since I had no intention of walking away with a cello.
This routine continued for several days. Each store had a distinct feel and charm. Some were large with hundreds of string instruments in view for the customer to see. Other shops were small and intimate – it was like walking into someone's living room.
After 3-4 days, I had assembled five cellos in my uncle's apartment, and I spent quite a lot of time playing each one before I selected my favorite instrument. I called my parents by dialing a telephone, setting down the receiver, and playing it for them over the telephone. The one I had chosen was made in Portugal by Antonio Capella. At the time that my parents purchased it for me, it cost about the same amount as a year of an independent school education, so it was a considerable investment for them.
Neither of my parents were musicians, nor did they have any significant musical training. While I had some talent, it was not at all clear that I would become a professional musician, nor was that even a goal. So why did they send me off to NYC to invest so significantly in this instrument? At the time, I certainly didn't appreciate the commitment to support my playing.
Much later, I realized that in buying me that cello they gave me two gifts. Yes, I got a cello, a cello that I have to this day, but I also received a lesson in growing up. I was allowed to travel to NYC to make a major decision on my own with the expectation that I would take responsibility for that decision.
Independence is developed over time. Choosing when and how to develop independence in children is a challenge for all parents and there is no clear prescription for success, but it has to start somewhere, and for my parents, it started by allowing this adventure.
Parents make decisions for you every day – not all of them are as significant as this example, but they are, nonetheless, examples of parents doing their best for you.
Parenting is hard. Trust me, I have been a parent for 28 years. I have three children, and I am always worried about at least one of them.So today I want to get you to think a bit about what your parents do for you, how hard they try to give you the knowledge, the experiences, and the training to know how to navigate this complex world.
We parents have no crystal ball to know for sure how our parenting choices, decisions and guidelines will shape your adult lives. One thing that I know for sure, though, is that the choices your parents make for you are always with your best interest in mind. It may not always feel that way to you. It is natural for you to push back against us, that is a process you must go through to discover who you are and what you think. It is part of what it means to become an adult, but your push back can be...wearing, and I hope you can balance the push back with moments where you acknowledge to your parents their effort to make your lives the best they can be.
So as we head into the summer I hope that you will reflect for a moment on the role that your parents play in your lives. One sign of growing up is the ability and willingness to consider a given situation from a different perspective. The next time a parent makes a decision that angers you, put yourself in their shoes for a moment. I promise you that their decision, as difficult as it may be, is made because they love you even more deeply than you can possibly imagine.
Last weekend, I visited my mom in Thompson House, a nursing home in Brattleboro. I took my cello with me and played for her. I would like to think that the music brought back memories from 1972, when I first brought home that cello and that, in some small way, I was able to return the gift that she and my dad had so generously given me 45 years ago.