My mother and father wanted the best for me, like all good parents. And part of that involved my being well-rounded. Since I was their first born, they wanted to get it right the first time, but they had no idea how challenged they’d be in accomplishing that goal. Still, I give them kudos for trying. At least they started early.
When I was only 4, my mother took me to what was then called “elocution lessons” – a very old-fashioned expression few reading this will remember. This exercise involved reciting “pieces,” usually humorous and meant to entertain at small gatherings of relatives or church functions. And I did learn to stand in front of an audience without fear.
But well-rounded meant more than this minor success, so when I was around 6, my mother took me to tap dancing lessons. Shirley Temple was the prime motivator then, a little darling who certainly was a role model. I went to perhaps two lessons when the teacher gently informed my mother I really wasn’t coordinated and it was pointless to continue. So they hung up my tap shoes.
At 8, however, still in denial about coordination and my body, my parents enrolled me in acrobatics, now called gymnastics. I became extremely good at standing on my head, and I could do it longer than anyone else in the class. But while I was upside down, everyone else was doing back flips, cartwheels and chest rolls. When it came time for the spring recital, the teacher, desperate to include me in some way, told me I should go to the side of the stage and stand on my head through the entire show. Fate intervened before this dismal event. I broke my arm in two places, falling down a rocky hill, and I never got to wear the silver-spangled costume and stand on my head.
When I was 10, I went back to elocution lessons – a sure thing – and I learned to enunciate, gesture and bow correctly. And again say “pieces.” This time I was progressing nicely but my teacher was not. Because Mrs. Crowell died.
At that point my parents decided that being well-rounded included music, and I took piano lessons. I’m not sure it was worth the once-a-week trek of taking a city bus, transferring to another bus and walking five blocks to Mrs. Johnson’s house. (Parents didn’t drive their children around in those days.) There my fingers were more coordinated than other parts of me, and I learned simple songs. But at the second recital (I hate those) I forgot the notes, because Mrs. Johnson wouldn’t let us use the music to play. Beyond the pain of that memory I can still play familiar tunes and hymns. But nobody asks me much.
Rounding out the music genre, the next step was voice/singing lessons. My parents didn’t give up easily! The music coach went through the usual exercises with me and after 15 minutes he gave up, gave my mother back her money and told her I needed to have my tonsils out. Which I did. And it hurt.
But, parents, if you’re reading this, don’t give up. Something will stick. For me, all was not lost. I did learn to speak before audiences and turned it into a career of teaching others to do the same, with students who took my public speaking classes at the local community college. The well-rounded part, though, is moot. I’m thinking there’s a chance I still might be able to stand on my head, but I’m not going to try.