Hiring a tutor, a piano teacher or a chess coach isn't a sign of parental failure. In fact, it's just the opposite.
Every Wednesday after school for most of my formative years, I walked to the house behind ours for piano lessons with Mrs. Brandon. When I got my first real job, I couldn't afford to move my parents' piano cross-country, but upon arrival found a great used one for $50.
Now, I have the honor of playing on one of my most precious gifts: my great-grandmother's piano—a stunner that was situated in her bay window overlooking a lake. I'm certainly not Beethoven. But I can play a few of his songs.
Unfortunately, none of that seems to matter when trying to teach my son to play. (Neither of us was blessed with much patience. We'll just leave it there.)
Thankfully, we've got Mr. Jacob.
Jacob Campbell is in his early 20s—a recent college grad, jazz performer all over the city and brilliant musician. He's got a friendly smile, cool beard and plays with the Whirlybirds at Natalie's Coal-Fired Pizza and Live Music, where he walked off the stage to acknowledge Coop when we went to a show. Basically, he's a god.
And he further proved it recently as I sat and watched him teach.
Coop had requested a Beatles song, because he wanted to play his Papaw something by his favorite band. Jacob's response was not, “That's not in your book.” That would have been an easy response because, well, it's not in his book. And sheet music for Beatles songs at Coop's level isn't readily available. (By which I mean, I Googled it. And it's not available.)
Instead of dismissing him, Mr. Jacob smiled. “Yes!” he said, “Which is your favorite?” And then, on his personal time over the next week, he wrote a rendition of “Yesterday” that Coop could play.
We were sitting in Coop's lesson, and of course, he wanted to get it right right now. He wasn't anywhere close. He was frustrated. Mr. Jacob was not.
“Cooper, I have a song I've been working on for two months, and I'm still learning it,” he said empathetically. His modesty is authentic and shared, and he often assures Coop that he, too, still takes lessons. He looked at the music sheet and pointed. “Let's try just these two notes.”
Coop took a breath and spent a somewhat painful amount of time getting those two notes right. “Do you think we can try the next two?” Mr. Jacob asked.
Now, Coop's halfway through the song—playing it for the 845th time this week as I type—and cannot wait to show Mr. Jacob his progress. I never could have taught him this. And I couldn't be more grateful to have found someone who can.
I used to think I needed to teach Coop everything—that if I couldn't, I was somehow failing. Or that by enlisting help, I was phoning in parenting.
Then, we hit a significantly irritating stretch when getting him to read with me suddenly became a nightly drag. How was I—passionate reader, English major, former journalist, lifelong storyteller—unable to get my own kid excited about reading? Did I just suck as a teacher? Or as a parent, too?
I decided that his learning was more important than my ego. So I hired a tutor. And suddenly, reading together became fun again. Rather than forcing him to carefully sound out each word, we could read together just for pleasure—me in my silly voices, him giggling in bed. Hallelujah.
Now, I'm not just over the idea that I need to teach him everything—I relish it. From learning to play chess (thank you, Mr. Park) to mastering the sole roll in soccer (thank you, Coach), it's taking a village.
Thank you, Mr. Jacob—and all the other teachers of piano, reading, chess, soccer and everything yet to come—for being part of ours.
Kristy Eckert is a Powell mom and founder of Kristy Eckert Communications. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.