PERSONAL SPACE: Raise the Child You Have

Not the One You Thought You’d Have

by Amy DuBois Barnett, April 11, 2014


Before my 8-year-old son, Max, could talk, he could sing. Until he could form words, he would hum, a weird little droning sound that scared me until I picked out a few notes of a song that had been playing on the radio. Soon after Max started talking, he began to repeat lines of songs, then verses, then all the lyrics. He would hear a song a few times and have the whole thing memorized: the words, the melody, the inflections. By the time Max was 3, it was like a party trick: We’d trot him out so he could sing the latest Alicia Keys or Michael Jackson joint word-for-word, to the delight of our dinner guests.

As the years progressed, Max became more obsessed with music. And although I thought it was cute, I did little to develop his passion. In my mind, I was raising an academic superstar, a bilingual future engineer or lawyer who plays tennis like Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. So I enrolled Max in the Kumon supplemental study program; I put him in a special dual-language Montessori school; and I signed him up for twice-weekly tennis lessons. One day, I was sitting with Max, trying in vain to get him to stop humming and finish his homework. I did everything I could think of. Then in desperation said, “Max, you need to do well in school to have a happy life.” Obviously, that was a silly statement, but before I could explain that I was referring to getting into college and finding a good job, Max got serious. “Mom, singing IS my life …,” he told me with the intensity of a precocious child who happened to identify his calling very early.

Read the remainder of this article in the May 2014 issue of EBONY Magazine.

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