Today, I loaned a school guitar to a middle school kid. It’s quite possible this kid will lose it, or break it, or forget he has this guitar. But it’s fine.
I’ve known this guy since he was in 1st or 2nd grade. When he first came to us, his mother had recently died and our little school community became an extended family for him. He might be classified as a “spectrum kid;” he has autism symptoms. He functions well academically, but has a tough time with normal social stuff. He’s kind of forgetful, and kind of awkward. And the whole five or six years I’ve known him, he’s never had very good motor skills when it came to playing any kind of musical instrument.
When he got to around 5th grade, I thought he might like the ukulele (because, who doesn’t), but he had a hard time with it. He couldn’t hold it right. He couldn’t get his left hand to make the chords, and he couldn’t get his right hand to play rhythms. And tuning it was out of the question. When he came to music class, if it happened to be a ukulele day, you could see him kind of check out.
But now as a 7th grader, something weird is happening – turns out this guy can play the guitar. He’s never learned from anyone before, and you’d think if he struggled with a small 4-stringed ukulele, he’d struggle more with a larger 6-stringed guitar. But, he’s doing it. For some reason, he can play the chords, and he can change chords somewhat on time, and he can even tune the thing.
We are a school with a lot of good resources, including a bunch of nice guitars and ukuleles we can loan out to kids. We’re pretty free with loaning out the ukuleles, but since the guitars are more expensive, I always have a parent sign a form saying they’ll replace it if it gets damaged. In my 7/8th grade music class, kids can choose either guitar or ukulele, and the kids who want a guitar are pretty good about getting that form back to me quickly, because they want to borrow one of our cool Baby Taylor guitars. But this kid was different with the guitars (he’s different with everything) – I couldn’t get him to take a form home to be signed. I kept saying, “Hey _____, you’re pretty good with the guitar. You should get your dad to sign this form and then you can take one home to practice on.” But he wasn’t interested at first, and then later he decided to take a form home and lost it (the form, not his home). And then he took 3-4 more forms and lost them too. One day I even told him he could take a guitar home at the same time as the form, and just bring the form back later, because I trusted him. But he didn’t want to do it that way, probably because that wasn’t the normal rule. So I finally just assumed he wouldn’t be taking home a guitar.
Until today after school, when he and his dad showed up in my room after school. His dad asked me how come his son wasn’t carrying a guitar back and forth to school, like the other kids. (Let me throw this in – his dad is a great guy, and wasn’t accusing us of leaving his son out. He just wanted to see what was up with the guitars other kids were carrying). I explained everything to the dad, while the kid wandered distracted around my room as usual. I got a guitar out of the closet – where it didn’t belong – and put it in the hands of the kid – where it did belong. The dad gladly signed the form, and they left, and I got back to my music lesson.
But as the dad and the kid were leaving the room, I said – “Oh hey, just make sure you leave it in the bag when you’re not playing it. And don’t leave it in a hot car. Be careful with it. Etc…..” But the kid had already checked out, and the tired-looking dad nodded, and they both left. And as I was giving those directions to him, I knew that unless the dad personally watched that guitar all the time, the kid was going to lose it, or break it, or forget he had it. Or leave it in a car, or just about anyplace. But hopefully, our kid will learn some more chords, and get to enjoy being good at something musical.
So we might lose that guitar, but it’s OK. It’s not doing anyone any good in our closet, but it may do a 7th grade boy a lot of good in his closet.