My nine-year-old son came home super excited recently, clutching a letter from the music teacher at his school. He'd been accepted into the school band.
Kids at our school are eligible to apply to join the school band when they start Year Four, and as he nears the end of Year Three, my son went through a reasonably rigorous application process involving a fair bit of paperwork (for me), and a multi-step audition process (for him).
Having grown up watching his older brother play the bass clarinet in the band, my son had dreamed of this day since he started school. He'd flip-flopped over which instrument he'd apply for – first wanting the drums, then (inexplicably) the French horn, and finally settling on the tenor saxophone.
Which will make him mega-cool when he travels back in time to the 1980s.
We did a bit of a happy dance in the kitchen when he shared the news, and talked about how important it is to practice (but also not to practice when anyone in the house is sleeping), and what sort of music he's looking forward to learning.
But when we sat down to read the welcome letter and fill out even more paperwork, I discovered that among everything else was a contract – for my son to fill out.
The contract stated that, as the band is a hotly contested gig at our school, and many kids each year miss out on the program, each child who is offered a place in the band program is expected to commit to daily practice, weekly rehearsals, and quarterly performances – and that they were expected to commit to this right now until the end of their primary school career in three years' time.
My initial reaction was just to let the boy sign the contract – I mean, who is actually going to force him to keep going to band if he really doesn't want to go? But then, when I stopped and thought about it, I realised what a dodgy life lesson this is. This contract is the first one my son has ever signed, and either I encourage him to commit to something that spans a third of his entire lifetime to date – when he hasn't even tried to blow into a reed yet – or I teach him that a contract isn't worth the paper it's printed on.
I hate that I'm being put into this position. I mean, I understand that the school wants kids who will try hard and keep showing up, even when it gets a bit hard, but surely some kids will try it and find it's not for them. That has to be okay too.
Isn't that how we find out what we like and what we don't? What nine-year-old already knows the answer to that? Half of the adults I know don't know the answer to that.
But when all else fails, I'm a big believer in letting my kids decide, so I sat my son down and had a chat about what the school was expecting him to commit to, and asked him how he felt about making that commitment.
He shrugged and said he was keen to sign, so I let him.
Will he keep going to band for the next three years? I have no idea. I'll encourage him the best I can, but I won't force him to do it if he doesn't like it.
Any parent who has had a musical child knows there's only one thing worse than listening to your child learn an instrument, and that's listening to your child learn an instrument if they hate it and have no aptitude for music. So I'm crossing my fingers and hoping for the best, but I'm ready to teach my son about the loopholes of contract law if I have to.