Constraints & creativity; music & motherhood.

Categories:  Effectiveness, Life, Music, Parenthood

I wouldn’t recommend doing what I did. My first professional gigs as a jazz pianist/singer took place in the same year that I was raising our infant son. We were lucky and thankful that my husband’s job could support us, especially since we’d chosen to stay in cheap Baltimore as opposed to moving back the insanely prohibitive New York/New Jersey area from which we both came. At first it was a beautiful dynamic: I’d have my long, intensive, tiring, yet rewarding days at home with the baby; but twice or three times a month I’d have a nice musical escape among friends (almost all of them childless men) at a swing dance or wedding. And I’d get paid a couple hundred bucks, too, and be able to trade in cold hard cash for diapers the next morning.

After some time, though, I needed to pull back from gigging. The early childhood years are rough on parents physically, but then come more emotional, intellectual, and logistical challenges. At some point, leaving a sick toddler at home alone with an exhausted and bewildered husband all Sunday just didn’t seem worth the two hundred dollars I’d get for driving out to horse-country Virginia to play “All of Me” for some mildly appreciative audience getting loaded in the sunshine. So I pulled back, despite sadness and fear that my professional music career might be over before it had even gotten started.

Of course, if I was being honest with myself, I’d notice that in many ways, for all the lost time and energy I mourned, I had also gained many things through motherhood: deeper self-confidence, a feeling of belonging, and even some forms of creative inspiration. I’m almost certain that I would never have started writing original songs–at a prolific pace for a few years–if I hadn’t been spending so much time reading nursery rhymes and singing Itsy Bitsy Spider and The Wheels On the Bus again and again. Something about putting such basic, memorable music into my daily routine managed to shake loose my inner lyric-writer.

When you’re sleep deprived and getting accustomed to parenthood, it’s hard to believe that time will change things. My son is now nearly 9 years old. He still requires plenty of hands-on attention, still asks for homework help, still needs to be driven to soccer games and birthday parties. I’m really happy to do it, even if it means I only have the energy for a part-time music career. But I also observe him needing me less and less all the time. My time is constrained, but in those limited hours while the kid is in school or out playing football in the park with his father and some friends, I have become insanely productive and efficient. Just a few years ago, I worried that becoming a mother might kill my creative life. Instead, it has forced my creative activities to be more focused, more intentional–in a word, BETTER.

Hmm, maybe I should revise my first sentence. Maybe I WOULD recommend doing what I did….