Right around the third or fourth grade – or both, if you’re especially *cough* lucky – kids hit a milestone. No, it isn’t turning double-digits in age, or going from being the little fish in the school hallways to officially being in “upper elementary.” This is a different rite of passage, one that involves a plastic instrument and a sudden gleeful dedication to playing it. Loudly. Relentlessly.
It’s recorder season, parents.
Your kid could be a total novice, never having picked up an instrument before, or some sort of musically gifted virtuoso – it doesn’t matter. Every recorder sounds the same, no matter the skill level of the person playing them. They squawk and squeak and tootle-loo at an earsplitting frequency, and for every correct note, there’s at least one that goes horribly wrong. If your eardrums were people, they’d be getting punched in the taint.
What’s worse, it’s a novelty – their first time with their very own instrument, how thrilling haha – so they whip it out at every chance they get. For the first few days, anyway, your home is filled with warbling renditions of “Hot Cross Buns” and “Annie Gave Me Apples” and “Mary Had a Little Lamb” or sometimes just random blowing through the thing to see what sounds come out because kids are jerks (I mean … curious. Kids are curious). They tootle that recorder on a loop, man.
I’m practicing, they say. My teacher told me I should, they say.
And how can any conscientious parent argue with that? It is literally a school assignment. They brought it home under instruction to “practice” until they master the songs or until their parents’ sanity has eroded to shreds, whichever comes first. It’s not like we can say, “Stop obediently completing your lessons and put that crap away!” Because while it may be torturous and grating and bothersome, it’s still homework. And as much time as we spend droning on in our parental way about the importance of doing homework, we can’t very well backpedal on this one. (Unfortunately.)
Of course, when only one of your children has a recorder, it’s automatically the coolest thing on the face of the planet and the other children want to play it. Badly. As though it’s some magical flute whose notes will produce a sparkling horde of candy-farting unicorns. This results in huge fights about whose turn it is to play, and who’s getting spit all over it, and endless explanations about how this is a special school thing and that it needs to be kept in a safe place, and the realization that they failed to listen to said explanations because they keep sneaking the damn thing out of their sibling’s backpack to play it. (Apparently small children don’t get that you can’t exactly play a screechy recorder unnoticed.) This almost always happens at the crack of dawn, because doesn’t every unpleasant parenting surprise?
The day your child mentions that the recorder needs to go back to school is the day you weep tears of joy. You check the backpack fifty times to make sure the infernal thing is still in there, ready to be delivered back to the toneless hell from whence it came. You fantasize wildly about the sweet, sweet silence – or, at least, the absence of “Hot Cross Buns” floating squeakily through the air and slapping you right upside your Zen.
And then your kid elaborates that the reason the recorder needs to go back to school is that they’ll be learning a new song, and I can’t wait to show you tonight, Mom! Your excitement is replaced with an internal echo of uggghhhh, and you wonder if you have enough ibuprofen on hand and maybe some earplugs somewhere. Or, you know, some Jack Daniels.
But then you think about how exciting it was when you were that age, bringing home your first instrument (… of torture), and how you wouldn’t begrudge your kids that same thrilling feeling. Because you love them enough to endure every squeaky, squawky note. So you muster up your brightest smile, and you chirp, through gritted teeth, “I can’t wait either!”
This article was originally published on