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Monday, September 03, 2012

musings on work and motherhood

Labor Day.

I've enjoyed many a nice, relaxing Labor Day in my lifetime.

Barbecues, parties, lemonade, sunshine, badminton games.  Soaking up the last rays of summer even as the first leaves of fall begin to float to the ground, and the breezes take on the chill of September.

But I've never before felt the impending labor of the year to come so acutely as I did today.  You see, I have a baby now.  I am a wife, a mother, a violinist, a teacher.  I am a woman, like thousands of women, who suddenly finds myself pulled in many directions.

What did I used to think, that flippant girl of the past?  Some mothers choose to stay home, and some mothers choose to work, of course.  As though there's ever anything simple or straightforward about it.  Silly, unaware former self.  It would be closer to the truth, I suppose, to say that some mothers choose to stay home, some mothers want to but can't, some mothers choose to work, some mothers don't want to but must... and all mothers, I now imagine, agonize over these decisions.

I have no right to complain.  Most weeks this fall I'll be working less than 20 hours.  Some weeks, depending on orchestra schedules, there will be another 3-12 hours of evening and weekend rehearsals and concerts.  But still, hardly a 40 hour work week.  And most of my teaching I get to do from my home studio.  My students are, for the most part, a rewarding bunch of little people to work with.  My gigs involve Tchaikovsky and Beethoven and Brahms and Mahler, among others -- all quite exciting and certainly worthwhile.  It's not that I don't want to work.  I love my work.

With all these good things in my life, why do I still feel my heart breaking a little bit each time I look at my fall schedule, at the hours blocked off for lessons each weekday afternoon and every Saturday?

My work this summer was very light: maybe 15 students a week, and a few gigs here and there.  

My fall schedule is going to be much more complicated, with the added factor that Nathan's schedule is getting busier, too.

I've stared at this schedule for hours.  I've sent emails and made phone calls, trying to fit 26 current students plus four possible new ones into time slots.  I've scheduled in nursing breaks, and conversed with Nathan time and again to try to work out our respective schedules -- the ever-changing and never normal schedules of two musicians.  

Before Nell was born, we had it all figured out.  Nathan could keep most of his work at the college to the mornings and early afternoons, and then he'd be with the baby while I taught lessons in the after-school hours and played gigs from time to time in the evenings or on weekends.  

Then the ensembles Nathan accompanies changed their rehearsal times to late afternoons and evenings.  And he was asked to be music director for a theater production at the college, involving most of his evenings from September through early November.  And he got a new church job as organist at this church, too.  His change in schedule sort of pulled the proverbial rug out from under me in terms of all our plans for his help with childcare while I work.  

So here I am, with 26 violin students, a children's orchestra to conduct, and five orchestras I play with regularly, plus a wide variety of other gigs that come up from time to time.  And a three-and-a-half month old daughter.

I really, really don't want to have to get sitters for Nell all the time.  It's not just the financial aspect, although obviously losing as much as 20% of my hourly teaching income to pay for childcare (and probably more than 50% when it comes to orchestra per-service pay) wouldn't be my first choice.  It's not just the logistics of arranging childcare, either, although with my unusual work schedule it could certainly be difficult to find good babysitters for her with some degree of regularity.  

It's also that I just want her with me all the time.  She's still so little.  I'm still so new to all this.  I miss her when she's in her car seat and I'm in the front seat driving, for crying out loud.  

I've talked to a number of colleagues who actually kept their babies with them as they gave violin lessons.  So for now, Nathan and I have decided, that's what we're going to try.  This is what I want -- having her with me.   So I should feel happy that I have the kind of job where I can do this.

But I'm also worried, and stressed, and imagining the worst.  What if she's fussing while I'm trying to give a lesson?  What if she won't nap?  What if she won't nurse during the scheduled breaks in my teaching schedule, and then is hungry while I'm teaching?  What if she needs me and, in that moment, I'm torn between the need to be my students' teacher and the need to be my daughter's mother?

My students' parents are great.  They often offer to hold Nell, and never complain about having her in lessons.  In fact, I even had a student ask to switch her summer lesson time to a time when Nathan wouldn't be home to watch Nell, so Nell could be in the lesson.

So I don't know why I'm stressed about the possibilities of things going badly.  Worst case scenario: it isn't working to have her sit in her swing during lessons and she becomes a distraction.  I find some combination of babysitters to be with her during the afternoons, and she's still only a room or two away from me.  And Nathan's committed to taking care of her most Saturdays for the fall, when I teach from 10:00-4:30.

I suppose this uneasiness of mine is fear of the unknown.  No doubt things will settle into a routine, a new kind of normal, and whatever that may end up being, the reality of it will be easier to deal with than the unknown I gaze into right now.

Most boring blog post ever?  Possibly.

Just the musings of a mom whose heart is torn between all the duties and obligations of life, between the wants and the needs and the musts.

There are hundreds of other stories like mine, I think.  I'm looking at the mothers of my students in a new light now.  And I don't know how my friends who work full-time while raising kids manage it all.  And I'm pretty convinced, now that I think about it, that all these moms are the most amazing people in the world.  (I know mine was.)

I have a lot of things to juggle this fall.  

In the end, I can only do my best to be the best teacher I can be... while also being the best mother I can be.  

{Being Nell's mom: that's my most important job, after all.}


  1. Ohh, I feel for you, even though I don't have children yet. And that's pretty much the main reason of all why my husband and I haven't had them yet in our almost six years of marriage. We keep hearing the same advice from people who are eager for us to have kids, "Do it anyways and worry about the details later" and honestly...sometimes I feel like doing that. I know trusting God is what I need to do most of all, but I know my husband quite isn't in that same place and worries about details such as what you just wrote about above. I also wonder sometimes if I'd be able to bring my future baby to lessons so I could keep the best of both worlds. My mother has also offered to come live near us part-time (she's very eager for grandchildren!) as they only live 2 hrs away, which in perspective really isn't that bad.
    You'll be in my thoughts and prayers as you sort your schedule (and life!) out. God has a way of giving us only what we are able to handle!
    I enjoy your blog so much!

    1. That's pretty amazing, having your mother relatively close by and making such a generous offer! I think having family nearby would definitely make things easier at times, plus, I wish that Nell had grandparents nearby just so she could develop a close relationship with them as she gets older.

      Having Nell in our lives is the best thing ever, and we've never for a moment doubted how much having a baby would enrich our lives and just make everything so much more meaningful and worthwhile. But it does come with its scheduling difficulties and stresses, for sure. It's mostly an emotionally difficult issue for me to figure out; I feel so torn because I truly want to be with her and take care of her, but I also need to work. And as you know, being a musician, you can't take an 'extended maternity leave,' or all your students will find other teachers and your gigs will dry up. So I really just had 3 weeks off after she was born and then jumped back into things over the summer. Crazy!

  2. I just wanted you to know you are definitely not alone. This post hits home to me: So much so, that it takes all my effort not to tell you all the details of my story, my struggle in the same area. I feel like stay-at-home moms tend to have more of a network because they have time to build it. This means that, for SAH moms, there is an easier outlet for discussion and support when things get tough. A working mom can often feel like an island unto herself, believing that she is the only one who can so deeply understand this juxtaposition of feelings she is having. Well, at least that is how I felt. I think it's important to converse with other moms who have been there, who understand. In the end, it is your own conscience that you have to answer to each day.

    And my two cents: You are doing a great job. Nell will come out of this time knowing that she is loved unconditionally by both you and Nathan. She will learn, and she will grow, just like every other kid. She will love you the best over all other people, and she will look to you for everything...even in spite of your orchestra gigs, teaching, and crazy musician schedule. {This from a full-time musician mom of a wonderfully bright, independent, loving, sensitive little three year old.}

    1. Thanks for the comment, Jess! I liked what you said about how stay-at-home moms have time to build a network; that really makes sense. Like I said, I can't complain -- I have three mornings a week totally free! But I think everyone's schedule has its ups and downs; the downside to mine being not a 'normal' job schedule is that arranging for a different sort of childcare at different times each day of the week is probably a little more complicated than finding a regular nanny or day care provider, right?

      Thanks for reminding me that Nell will know she's loved, and will love us in return. I needed to hear that!

      It's hard to believe Kaitlin is 3... it seems like just last week you were pregnant with her!

  3. Sarah,

    Just a word of advice coming from someone who tried to teach piano lessons with their 3 month old at her side-- it only worked if I had one of the moms of the kid I was teaching watch him. And it always seemed that he somehow KNEW I needed him to sleep right then, and he would decide not to. I think they sense our anxiety!

    So it sorta-kinda-worked. When he got to be 6 months and crawling, however, it really didn't!

    How about you pay a teenager to play with her for $20/afternoon? That would be a dream job for someone highschooler in your church!

    And it's true-- it's not about the childcare expenses, it's about missing them so much. But is it really quality time if you're focused on teaching? I found that I wasn't having that bonding time, and instead my kid was learning that mommy was kind of ignoring him while she taught a piano lesson. And the piano student realized that I wasn't fully paying attention to them, either.

    Now that I have two (5 month old AND a toddler!) it is definitely not possible :) But I feel everything you're saying here! Just make sure the "mommy guilt" doesn't kick into over drive, because Nell would never want to be the cause of you giving up your career-- kids know it, and they can't help but feel guilty.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Kelly. I agree with you -- it's not 'quality time, per say if I'm teaching, and I've been thinking about that over the past week. On the one hand, I get to the end of a few hours of teaching and feel like I've "missed" Nell, even though she was with me. On the other hand, maybe not all the time that Nell is with me needs to be 'quality time' -- she sits in the ergobaby or in her chair while I cook and do dishes and fold laundry, after all, and maybe hearing the occasional violin lesson can become as much as part of her life as those other things. I've certainly heard from colleagues who did that. But it's looking like having her with me may not be the best solution for me for very long; this past week really ended up making me feel like I was being both a bad mother and a bad teacher, and I hate getting to the end of each day feeling that way. Sigh.

      Thanks for sharing your experience!

  4. Definitely not a boring post, Sarah! Obviously a lot of us can relate here! :)

    It sounds cliche and perhaps unhelpful, but keep praying over the issue. The solutions are not always easy or simple, but if you follow your heart I know you can figure it out! Over our four years with kids, the Lord has worked in many different ways to allow different situations to be possible. Whether it is a decision to work less, an unexpected pay raise, or providing the right person at the right time to care for our precious babies, things seem to have worked out for us in ways that I cannot claim responsibility for. I must attribute it to heavenly intervention!

    That said, I am feeling much anxiety as this school year starts about balancing it all, too. It is only in hindsight that I can see the Lord's hand in the way things with our kids have unfolded. So... I'm trying to use that hindsight as foresight, so to speak, and not worry to much about this year.

    It's hard, though, isn't it?

    Good luck... :)

  5. I hear you! It sounds like you're doing a great job figuring it all out. I'm proud of you!

  6. Fear of the unknown is one of the most powerful fears.

    Add motherhood to that and forget it!

    I've always worked outside the home, and now I work full-time. It is very difficult, but necessary right now, for me to be away from my babies all day, and they are 5 and almost 3! I'm not sure it gets easier.

  7. What great comments... I love how blogs can serve as forums for like-minded people facing similar issues to share thoughts, ideas, and experiences. Thanks for reading and sharing, friends.