Friday, March 25, 2011

The Christmas Letter Syndrome

Do you ever feel slightly inadequate after reading  those letters at Christmas? 

You know the ones, right?  The ones that detail every single thing that has happened to their family over the past year, and how many books they've read, and how many awards their kids have gotten, their gorgeous tropical vacations, and how, of course, their children have never said an angry word to each other and the only thing that's keeping them from being instantly translated is that one time on April 23rd when they had that one hair out of place.  Am I the only one that gets those?  I look at the pictures of their perfectly dressed and styled children, and read the descriptions of all their grand adventures, and usually end up spending a few minutes feeling like I need to redecorate my house and remodel my entire life.

I had a moment like that this week.

I opened up my email a few days ago to find a message from one of my closest friends from college.  We were both violin performance majors, studied with the same teacher and had dreams of conquering the world together with our violins.  We've kept in scattered touch over the years, chatting on occasion, and passing messages and milestones through mutual friends.  She's always been an over-achiever, but when I read her email my jow dropped.  Four homeschooled kids?  Check.  A violin studio?  Check.  A recently-earned Master's Degree in Music Education?  Check.  Recitals at the Assembly Hall on Temple Square?  Check. Teaching offers at BYU and the U of U?  Check.

Stacy left feeling inadequate?  Check.

Normally, I feel pretty satisfied with my life. Proud of the way I mother, grateful for my little violin studio, and feel like I'm doing a pretty good job balancing my roles.  But I couldn't help feeling a bit envious.

I graduated with a group of four other violinists.   We were all the same age, studied with the same teacher, and were close all through college.  Now, 12 years later, I'm the only one out of the five that doesn't have a master's or doctorate degree.

It's so easy for me to look at these friends, see what they've accomplished, and feel like I'm doing nothing with my life.  Especially since I know that most of them are teaching, mothering and doing all the other things that I'm doing.  At times like these I keep wondering if I'm missing something; that somehow I'm not doing enough.  I haven't performed on stage in years, (and years, and years,) and probably couldn't play anything I played on my senior recital if my life depended on it.  I spend my days teaching, mothering, practicing with my nine year old and shuttling her down the mountain for lessons and rehearsals.  I don't think I've put in serious practice time in years.

I frequently tell my students that it's not about the competition- that violin is all about being the best you can be, and not worrying about what everyone else is learning and playing.  I'm having a hard time taking my own advice to heart; believing that the path I've chosen is right for me and that I don't need to be performing, earning advanced degrees, or soloing on Temple Square in order to be a worthwhile teacher, violinist and mother. 

I've consoled myself over the past few days by telling myself that while all my friends were getting masters degrees, I was attending births and managing my son's multiple surgeries and medical crises over the first two years of his life. 

And the truth is, if I was interested in getting another degree, (which I'm not at all at this point!) I don't think it would be a music degree.  I'm just not excited about the idea of hours of practice and intense competition that it would take me to get there. So someone explain to me why I'm feeling so stinking inadequate.

Enter a typical Tuesday morning.  The baby had (yet another) nasty cold and we had been up most of the night.  I had already fought with Abby over her scale practicing, tried in vain to help Ashlynn understand the diffence between treble C and middle C, and came upstairs to find both the little boys fussy and irritable.  I was about ready to give up and go back to bed when I saw this letter on the countertop.

Tears sprung to my eyes.  I left it there all day, reminding me why I do all those seemingly insignificant things.  Helping me to know that someone appreciated it.  It might be silly, but I've kept it clipped to the fridge all week, and it's helped me through my yearly violin-related existential crisis as I've realized that my sweet Ashlynn (and all my other kids) don't care that I'm not performing on stage.  In fact, knowing them, they probably prefer that I don't.


  1. Aw! I wish I could give you a big hug! I've so been there. A few years ago I could have written your post. I had friends who, I thought, had it all and were doing it all. Friends I graduated with. I went through a lot of angst for several years about my lackings, especially in music. IMO those people who seem like they have it all really don't. I'm sorry, but there is no way one person can do that whole list of things and not have something give. It's simply not possible. I guess I'm a skeptic, but it just seems a little too good to be true to me.

    I am really happy with where my life is right now, even though I am not doing things as big and fancy as some of my friends either. I too could not even begin to play any of the music from any of my degreed recitals, and I too haven't seriously practiced since I graduated. But I've gotten to have little tender mercy experiences that let me know I have a special mission to fulfill too, like having that one incredible student. There is a time and a season. I admire everything you do!

  2. It's sad when those end up in competiion. I Try and make mine sound like our real life, because those are the cards (and the blogs) that I like to read.

  3. Oh wow. I gotta teach Henry how to write. ;) Seriously though, I think that is such a payoff! You don't need a master's degree for that! What a sweetheart. Did you write her back? Because she totally told you to. :)

  4. Lisa's right--you're great and you do amazing things! I have a great friend doing big and fancy things right now: going back to school, directing a community choir, bishop's wife, subbing at schools every day, spending 60-120 minutes at the gym every day, singing with a choir at the U of U twice a week, PTA president, etc. Sometimes I think I could/should do more and bigger things but when I give it some prayerful thought I end up realizing I'm grateful I don't have to! I'm happy I get to spend time with my kids--seeing them off to school and being here when they get home, taking care of their needs (which I often fall short on--and I imagine how difficult that would be if I were doing "more"), having time to make my house a home,.....

    It's hard to put our best efforts into being a wife, mother, and homemaker when society tells us it's not enough. But it is worth it!!

  5. I'll send you an email, my dear...

  6. I don't know why we all do this to ourselves. Like you said, you're not interested in doing the things that your friend has done; instead you've pursued your own set of interests and achieved your own set of goals. There's no reason to feel inadequate, unless we're actually not trying, which OBVIOUSLY is not the case with you.

    You're doing what you enjoy, and you're doing it the way you think is right. Good for you, and keep your mind in the right place. Your friend didn't email in order to make you feel small, so there's no reason to do that to yourself :)

  7. I'm much older than you but I can relate. I tried to figure out for 20 years when my kids were younger why I wasn't accomplishing what 'she' was doing and what 'she' was going. I'm finally realizing that I was doing exactly what I should be doing at that time and that was a very good thing. I'm in my 40's and finally playing the piano in some places that I've wanted to play. I guess what I'm saying, there is a season to everything and you are in a season of raising an awesome child who wrote you the best note you could ever have received. I'd frame it, it was very precious and one you can look back on forever. You seem like a great Mom!!

    Sorry for rambling, especially when I don't comment on your blog very often.

  8. When I first got on Facebook and started reconnecting with college friends I had a very similar moment. So many of them were doing such amazing things with their music degrees, and I didn't feel like I really was. But then I thought about how most of them weren't married, or they were divorced and forced to work. I thought about how it's important for me to be content with my life the way it is, because that's what the Lord wants me to do. It was hard there for a while though...I was supremo jealous. But it's also good to remember how much I actually DO do with my music on a daily basis, and it's more than a lot of people get to do. Anyway....rambling. But I get it. That's all.

  9. Now that kind of letter rocks! Those Christmas braggy letters... they make me gag.


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