More Than Mom

Recently, I played a set of concerts with the vocal ensemble, Cantus. There were rehearsals, call times, and genuine ticket buying audiences. I did not plan on bringing my children to any of the performances. They are 8,6, and 4. Hot Swede would have to bring them by himself and he does not enjoy courting disaster.

After one concert, a friend of mine told me that I needed to bring my kids. I told her that they had come to a rehearsal and she said, “No, not good enough.” They needed to see their mom as a professional- in concert dress, under lights, making music in front of an attentive audience. I was immediately struck by the wisdom of her insight and grateful for it because it had not crossed my mind.

I take the raising of my children more seriously than I do anything else. I chose a career as a freelance musician and violin teacher knowing that I would want the flexibility when I had children. And when I got pregnant, Hot Swede’s job was the one with the health insurance so, duh, I stayed home.

As a woman of my generation and particular formal education, I have deeply engrained ideas about what it means to be a successful person; becoming a mother is a fine choice, as long as I don’t sacrifice my career. Being just a parent and spouse is not a valid option and is a waste of everything I’ve worked for and am capable of.

betty-draper

Another woman who would have benefited from a diversified identity

Well, guess what? That’s what I chose. I think it is the right choice for me and my family, but I still struggle with feelings of inadequacy and little nagging voices that tell me that what I do isn’t valued or respected and that I should have nurtured my nascent career. But I know myself and I know that if I tried to build both career and family with equal priority, I would do neither to satisfaction and I would carry crippling guilt about the state of both. Still, I hate being in social situations where everyone is asked what they do and some polite follow up questions about their work. If I say that I am a stay at home parent, that is the end of the conversation.

So I don’t say that, because I do try to hang onto the person I was before children. I say that I am a violinist, but am mostly a mom now.  Up until last year, I taught lessons out of my home. (The reasons why I gave it up are for another post.) I play gigs for pay and chamber music whenever I get the chance and sometimes, I even practice. The hardest part is carving out the time and finding babysitters. But it is vital to remain true to who I am without kids, because, if I do my job well, they will grow up and leave me some day. And then what will I do?

The beauty of my friend’s counsel was that it considered the benefit to me as well as my children. Knowing that I struggle with balancing my identities as parent and freestanding person, it is important that my children become aware that I am more than their mother. I want them to know that I’ve made the choice to spend my years on them and that it is an action I take, not a consequence of their birth. As adults, they should know, if they or their partners choose a stay-at-home role, that doing so does not diminish the other facets of who they are or of what they are capable. And they should not readily sacrifice those aspects of self.

So, they attended the performance, because of the kind words of a friend and Hot Swede’s willingness to take the wheel of our family ship, Chaos. He told the children that they would have a surprise and they needed to be ready to go. I texted him when intermission started. The kids threw on their coats and shoes and got in the car. Their father drove the 3-minute drive to the hall and parked up on a snow bank, right in front of a hydrant. He unlocked the doors, pointed to the hall and said, “Run!” AJ got about 10 feet and stopped because her feet hurt. With no time to put her shoes on the right feet, Hot Swede scooped her up and ran to the hall, arriving just in time to usher them in quietly as the second half began. They stood in the back in their coats. I could see their huge smiles from the stage. Q gave me an enthusiastic double thumbs up. They were thrilled. Hot Swede backed them out of the hall after my piece, still carrying the misshod AJ, returning to his illegally parked car. I ran from the greenroom to meet them and thank their father for making it happen. I think Q sees me in a slightly different light- one with a touch of awe. That is just fine.

What a handsome blend of talent, skill, and imagination is Cantus. If you don't know them, here is their NPR Tiny Desk Concert. Enjoy.

What a handsome blend of talent, skill, and imagination is Cantus. If you don’t know them, here is their NPR Tiny Desk Concert. Enjoy.

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6 comments on “More Than Mom

  1. Carrie K. says:

    Thank you for this. This my exact internal dialog as a mom of three and a singing-sahm. I know I’m not alone but, seriously, it’s nice to have someone write my inner most thoughts.

  2. jenny says:

    I don’t have children (yet), but like Carrie K., I would like to say “thank you” as well, not so much for writing to my thoughts, but for writing to my fears. I’m not sure what the future holds for me, but I know that I long to give 100% to anything I do, so when the time comes to finding balance between being a parent, and my career, my hobbies/interests, and everything else I’m passionate about (which is pretty much everything I currently choose to do with my time), I’m totally freaked out and wondering, if I expand my family, when will I sleep? What am I going to have to give up in order to take this next step? It totally excites me and freaks me out at the same time!

    I’ve worked through most of my fears now, and am getting to a place of anticipation around trying to become a parent in the near future, but I still have my moments. Of doubt.

    And so, Cara, I would just like to say, that in addition to being an incredible mom, and musician, you should know that you are also the creator of a body of inspiring, funny, passionate, and relevant material here on this blog. And while I have no idea the scope/size of your audience, I don’t think it really matters. You write for yourself, and along the way, your work inspires and matters to others, including me!

    Once again, thank you. You can count me as one of your biggest fans. 🙂

    jenny

    • Sometimes, you’ll sleep. Other times, you’ll pretend you did;)
      Yes, having kids will change you down to your deepest core, and you will be pressed for time. It will likely bring into focus which of those activities best feed your soul. You will learn to accomplish and live more in less time. And having a child connects you to the continuum of humanity in a solid way that you can’t imagine beforehand.
      I do think it may have been easier back when women had their first child at a younger age. They didn’t have years to get used to a solo adult life of relative leisure:) They didn’t know any better. It’s a little harder to adjust when you lived child free for 10-15 years.
      I think you are wise to get freaked out. If you didn’t, I’d suspect that you didn’t have a good idea of what parenting is like. ha ha. But you know, having one aspect of your life try to swallow the rest of it can happen with or without children, and it is something of which to be mindful.
      Thank you so much for all your support of the blog. I am humbled by your kind words and I kind of treasure them. Yes, I started this primarily for myself and my family, but having readers is the only reason I will be motivated to keep it up.

  3. t h i n g s + f l e s h says:

    i love your inspiring post.

    the best art i believe comes from making choices, especially the tough ones.

    – tony

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