Moving is always awful, and the summer of 2012 was no exception, what with soaring temperatures and a new baby. We packed up the contents of our house in North Buffalo and tried to figure out what we truly needed versus what could be stored in the attic. We’d be temporarily moving in with my mother-in-law who lives in Fairport, and her house was already fully stocked with furniture, dishes, and all sorts of other treasures, so basically we could bring our clothes, kids’ toys and books, and other necessary day-to-day items. Obviously I needed the contents of my studio, so we paid several hundred dollars to move my grand piano east. Most everything else we shuttled with our own vehicles. I brought all of our music books and manuscripts, and the contents of my desk. The remainder of our belongings would stay behind, as I planned to rent out both units in my house as an income property, not that I wanted to be a landlord, but I couldn’t deal with the hassle of selling a house on top of everything else.
We had most of July and all of August to get settled, enroll the older two kids in the Fairport School District, and figure out child care for a still-nursing infant. Adrienne was all set to enter kindergarten, and Connor would be entering fourth grade. Our first hiccup: though Adrienne had been accepted into the gifted/talented kindergarten program in Buffalo, she was too young for Fairport’s strict cutoff date for kindergarten entrance. We’d have to enroll her in a private school, less than two weeks before school was supposed to start. We did some scrambling and found a private Montessori school just up the street from our house, but that was an unexpected wrinkle in our plans.
I went to Eastman’s orientation week, giddy with excitement. I felt like my life was starting over–now that I was an adult student, I was free to take full advantage of everything my education was going to offer me. I had the maturity to handle situations with both fellow students and faculty members that I would have been clueless about before, and by god, I was going to practice, work hard, and come out of this experience an unstoppable musical force. I would show the world that I could do it all–raise a family, nurse a baby, cook, clean, and do laundry, and earn an Eastman doctorate.
I can pretty much guarantee I am the only person to walk the Eastman campus with a Medela Pump ‘n Style (nicknamed Bessie) slung over my shoulder. I made friends with the nurses in the health center, who kindly helped this crazy woman maintain her pumping schedule between coachings and classes. I packed snacks and stored them in my locker (yes, I had a LOCKER) in the basement of the main building, along with Bessie when she wasn’t in use, and textbooks. Somehow in the year 2012, we were still using textbooks, something that appealed to the old-fashioned side of me. I met with my musical partners and hammered out schedules. I attended German language and diction classes, a seminar on Romantic music, and music theory review (because strangely enough, I hadn’t been working regularly with Schenkerian analysis while teaching high school). By the end of the first week, where I think I slept maybe four hours a night at best, because remember I still had a nursing infant who woke up at least twice during the night, and who thought five a.m. was a fabulous time to wake up for the day, which is when I was trying to get my assignments done, I was exhausted.
I should also mention that Eleanor screamed bloody murder when anyone held her besides me, her dad, and her grandmother. So here I was, leaving her at various family member’s houses, feeling guilty the entire time. I told myself it was just like work; so many moms were doing the same thing, and all of these babies survive the trauma of being “abandoned” by their moms at daycare, only this wasn’t just like work. I wasn’t bringing home a paycheck; I was contributing to my own personal growth as a human being, and sucking our bank accounts dry in the process. Oh, and I was never home. Classes met in the mornings; lessons were in the afternoons, and studio classes/recitals were in the evenings. In between all of this, I was supposed to be doing homework and practicing.
I had created the perfect storm. The final straw was a Tuesday afternoon when both Adrienne and Eleanor ended up in Irondequoit at their great-aunt’s house due to some scheduling glitch or miscommunication. I left whatever lesson or class I was in, drove all the way from Eastman to Irondequoit, nursed Eleanor for maybe ten minutes (“MORE!” she screamed), loaded the girls (one still screaming, one crying because she didn’t want to leave) in the car, dropped them off at home, then I had to race back to Eastman for a 5:30 studio class, where I showed up completely unprepared to play for a student, because in the time I was driving all over greater Rochester, I’d planned to practice. I came home bawling.
“I can’t do this.”
How I actually extricated myself from my degree program and the subsequent fallout is still a delicate and sensitive matter, and I don’t want to bore anyone with the details, but I met with my teacher and the graduate dean that Friday afternoon and withdrew as a full-time student. I had the option to return the following fall once the dust settled, but one thing was made clear: this would be my last chance, so unless I knew I could make it work, I should think long and hard before I said a definitive “yes.”
As we all know, the dust never settles when there are children involved, and I had to accept defeat. I might have been able to handle the rigors of an Eastman degree program when I was in my twenties, unencumbered with familial responsibilities, but not now. It was not the same as a full-time teaching job. Sacred Heart, for the most part, allowed me to leave my work at school, and when I was home, I was home. Eastman was all-consuming; it owned me, whether I was there or not, there was always something that needed to be done.
I was so disappointed. And angry. Why the hell had all of these people gone along with my crazy plan? What was I thinking? What were they thinking? I raged, I wallowed, I grieved. I had to redefine everything I thought about myself as a musician and as a human. I had always been a working mom. Now I was “just” a stay-at-home mom, changing diapers, doing laundry all day, cooking meals, doing the dishes, driving kids places. I had gone from a professional Cloud Nine to the utter depths of postpartum despair. Worst of all, I felt like no one understood what I was going through.
There isn’t a whole lot more to share, but I want to end my series on a positive note. I continued to dabble with accompanying that year–I played for a few student solo festivals and coached some talented young musicians. I practiced occasionally, but my fingers were already out of shape. When I had the time for practicing, I felt tugged in so many different directions–I should be doing x, not playing Mozart, and Mount Laundry was continuing to grow, and…
I made the decision this past fall that I would no longer accept students for coaching, and that I was pretty much done with paid accompanying gigs until my kids were older. There have been one or two exceptions, of course, but once I made that decision, I felt much more at peace than before. I also had an important realization; one that seems painfully obvious, of course, but my kids needed me around. I hate to succumb to clichés, but kids are young only once. I missed most of Adrienne’s babyhood and toddler years because I was working and my life at the time was a tumultuous mess. I missed most of Connor’s younger years past the age of one when I started teaching. Now I had the chance to be at home with Eleanor, and as maddening as it can be sometimes, I didn’t miss her first steps, or have to hand over parenting decisions to other caregivers.
I also realized that my path had led me towards my perfect job: coaching my own children in their growth as musicians. Let me be clear: I will never insist that they become professional musicians; knowing how difficult that life can be, I might even discourage it! But I firmly believe that musical study has so many benefits for anyone, regardless of their interests and aspirations. I have had the joy of watching Adrienne blossom into a sensitive, talented violinist after just a few months of study. Connor has gained so much from studying the cello and I know it brings him more pleasure than he’d care to admit. Someday Eleanor will play an instrument, too; already she wanders around the house with Adrienne’s box violin, singing “Tinkle Tinkle” and taking her bows. Thanks to this tangled, convoluted, confusing journey I’ve been on, I feel confident that I’ll be able to help these wonderful little people become the outstanding human beings they were meant to be, and that’s far more important to me than a DMA.