Posted by: Marie | October 22, 2013

(882) I can only do so much – Part 1 of 2

Post #882
[Private journal entry written on Saturday, June 30, 2012]

I had a lesson with Renee a couple of days ago . . .

Last week, she had to miss her lesson because she didn’t practice. I didn’t know if missing a lesson would motivate her to practice or if it would just encourage her to quit piano lessons. But, she did practice and she did get to come to her lesson this week. I was a bit surprised – pleasantly so – by her actually showing up. Her dad dropped her off but didn’t stay for the lesson because he had an errand to run.

I always take a minute or two at the start of each lesson to check in on the overall well-being of my students . . . I ask them what’s new and how they are doing . . . if I know something is going on in their life, whether it be something encouraging or upsetting, I ask for a status on the situation . . .

When I asked Renee about her practicing and having to miss a lesson because she didn’t practice, she started telling me some details about her life . . . she really opened up and shared some pretty personal stuff . . . she acted like she really needed to talk . . . and, the more she talked, the less reserved she became . . . she started out rather shy and withdrawn and moved into being more animated and upbeat.

We ended up talking for the first 20 minutes of her 45-minute lesson. I’ve never allowed a school-aged student to use that much lesson time for general conversation . . . it feels like something I shouldn’t do . . . it seems unprofessional and undisciplined . . . I can imagine a parent would be upset if they learned they are paying for a piano lesson, half of which was spent on general conversation . . . and I kept worrying that her dad was going to come back and “catch” us . . .


Photo by Martin Chen

But, I felt that she really needed to unload . . . it seems she doesn’t have adults in her life with whom she can confide her real feelings and thoughts . . . and she seemed willing to share them with me. So, I felt it was important to allow her that time to share with me, especially since she had the freedom to speak without a parent overhearing what she had to say . . . I believed it might be one of the few opportunities she might have to speak freely with an adult and I wanted to take advantage of it.

She told me she has been severely depressed for a number of years, and that more than one family member struggles with suicidal tendencies and drug and alcohol abuse. She said her dad is very strict and she feels alienated from him . . . but that her mom is overly permissive and lets her do whatever she wants to do with no restrictions and no boundaries. In my mind, I was thinking that I could see how either of those parenting styles could affect a child negatively . . . I can imagine she thinks her dad doesn’t approve of her and her mom doesn’t care enough to bother with parenting.

She said her dad doesn’t approve of her “goth-style” dress and heavier eye make-up . . . he fights her on it all the time and he doesn’t understand that she’s just trying to express how she feels inside . . . depressed . . .

As I listened, I wondered if her dad could see the issue really is not how she is dressing, but rather how she is feeling . . . is he concerned about controlling her behavior or tending to her feelings . . . ?? I’m guessing the former . . .

It scares me that she likely is heading down a very dark path . . . she is physically well-developed for her age and looks to be maybe 13 years old . . . I can see where it would be very easy for her to fall in with kids who will introduce her to things she is not ready to handle . . . if she hasn’t been introduced already . . .

I am very, very scared for her . . .

At one point, I asked her if she had ever received counseling or psychotherapy . . . she said she had . . . the first therapist was an older man and she really didn’t connect with him and didn’t feel comfortable talking to him. She said she thought she would do better with a younger, more “hip” female therapist.

I agreed with her and asked if she would have a say in the choice of a future therapist . . . she didn’t know if she would have a say or not . . . she said the first therapist was associated with the school, so she didn’t know if more than one therapist is associated with or available to the school. I asked her if a therapist was available to her right now . . . she said not now because it is summer and counseling support is available only during the school year.

As she was telling me about her circumstances, I made a point of listening carefully without trying to fix it . . . I just listened. And, I tried to mimic Edward . . . I would put my hand on my heart, make a sympathetic face and periodically say, “Ouch!” and “That would be really painful” or “That would be very difficult to handle, of course your feelings are hurt!”

I guess I was trying to be somewhat of a therapist . . . as much as I know how to be . . . without doing or saying something that would get me in hot water . . .

I wanted her to know that I really can relate to her situation . . . so, I very, very carefully told her a tiny bit of my story in very general terms . . . I felt like I was walking a tight rope in doing so . . .


Me: I go see a therapist . . .

Renee: Why?

Me: I’ve dealt with depression and he helps me with that . . . and a lot of my depression was because my parents were not the best parents . . . they punished me by hitting me and by saying mean things to me . . . and there were some other adults who treated me badly, too . . .

Renee: What did the other adults do?

Me: Sometimes adults do things to kids that are against the law . . . they behave inappropriately . . . and that’s what they did to me.


I didn’t feel comfortable going into any more detail with her because she is only 11 years old . . . I didn’t want to use the words “sex” or “sexual” with her, although I’m sure she is very used to hearing those words . . . I don’t think it is appropriate to use them within the context of a piano lesson . . . if she happens to use those words, then I could respond carefully and appropriately . . . but, I don’t think it is okay for me to be the one who brings those words into the conversation.

In fact, I wondered if I had gone too far by saying as much as I did . . . in retrospect, I could have gotten my point across without mentioning the “other adults”. But, it’s not like I had time to think through what I was going to say . . . it was the first time I’ve had a conversation like this with someone her age . . . I was flying by the seat of my pants . . .

I did assure her that I’ve seen just about everything there is to be seen, or I’ve dealt with it in my own life, so there’s nothing she could say to me that would shock me. And, I gave her one of my business cards and suggested she tape it to the inside of her book (which she did) . . . I said, “You can call me anytime . . . one of my concerns is that things are going to fall apart with the piano lessons and then I’ll lose contact with you. I want you to know that, even if we aren’t doing piano lessons, you can still contact me . . . I will still care about you even if it is two years down the road and I haven’t talked to you in those two years . . . you will still be welcome to call me . . .”

I paused for a minute to think through what I wanted to say before continuing . . . then I said, “In fact, you are welcome to call in the middle of the night if you are in a pinch . . . I probably have some legal constraints about what I can do, but at least I can come to you and make sure you are okay . . . and if you are in a car with someone who is drunk and you need get out of that situation . . . someone to come get you . . . again, at least I can be there with you and protect you while I arrange for a guardian to come pick you up . . . ”

Then, I raised my eyebrows in a playful manner and said, “Or if you need me to beat someone up for you . . . ”

She looked sideways at me to see if I was joking . . . I grinned and said, “I’m actually joking . . . I wouldn’t really beat someone up . . . in all seriousness, in a case like that, I would call the cops . . . but at least I could be there with you and make sure you are protected.”

[Continued in the next post . . . ]

Quotes 792


  1. Teaching does involve the whole student doesn’t it?

    • I think the most effective teaching would take into consideration the whole student . . .

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: