Being a mom, especially a stay at home mom (for the most part), is a challenging job. Yes, I chose my words on purpose. Job. It is, in fact, a job. It isn't always perceived as such, and I get it. It's hard to see that mom with her hair in a ponytail in work out clothes walking her child into school as "doing" anything. She's not in a suit. She's not going to an office. She's not producing tangible products where you can purchase, use, or see her hard work. It's understandable. This can be frustrating at times, but, it also made me flashback to college days. The days of working towards my music degree - and similar perceptions that would take place. It's funny how things come about and what makes random memories come flooding back to all make sense at a later date.
I was a music performance major in college. I would be lying if I didn't say I had the time of my life. It was fun. It was fulfilling. And it was the chance of a lifetime to pursue my dreams. The instructors were top notch - preparing me on the technical aspects of my instrument, the historical facts of music through the years, and the theory practices necessary to understand what I was playing and how I could write it for other people. It was a great education. I was fully prepared to go forth and perform. Teach students. Share music with others in the best ways possible. What I didn't realize, is that it also prepared me in the closest way for being a mom.
Many degrees take lots of hard work. Matter of fact, all of them do. We know the demands of technical degrees, medical degrees, and the multitude of other "professional" educational paths. Even if we are not in those areas of work, we know it's hard. We know its hours and hours of studying, preparing, and studying some more. We just know this because it is told to us over and over again growing up, while in school, and also while out in the real world. When someone says they studied medicine, or accounting, or law, typically people give a response of approval and respect. "That was hard," they are thinking. When I say I was a music major, the overwhelming response tends to be "that's fun!" or the ever hesitant "ohhh".... with not much to follow. Occasionally someone will say with a chuckle, "so what's your real job?"
Ah, so now I believe you are seeing the connection. How could studying music prepare me for raising my children? How could having a music degree prepare me for the demands of motherhood? Let's count the ways....
1. Outside perception: Walking in from hours of classes and studying, others see me on the couch. Not quite dressed for the day yet and catching a show on TV. Comments about how lucky I am to be able to watch TV are said as they walk by to go study some more.
What they don't see: After classes the day before, there was a three hour rehearsal for an upcoming concert. (That's not on the class schedule). To prepare, I spend at least an hour if not more in a tiny practice room going over and over difficult passages - computing, analyzing, and interpreting musical terms, rhythms and notes until they are perfect. Then, I go to the three hour rehearsal. After the rehearsal, I realize I have to work on my music composition that is due later in the week. I know the following day I have to study for my Statistics and Modern History exams (because yes, music majors also have to take all the regular courses too), so I decide to head to the music lab. I put the code in the door and walk in. It's close to 11pm. After working several hours composing, transposing, and sorting instrumental parts, I decide to work on that theory project that is coming up. At about 330am, you finally realize you need some sort of sleep to study your other classes that day, so I head out. I realize though that the shuttles have stopped working. I don't want to walk across campus and down the road to my apartment in the dark on my own. I instead decide it's safer to go across the campus square to my friend (future sister in law)'s dorm room and just sleep on her futon until it is safe to walk home. I wake up around 7am to get my stuff together and make my way back to my apartment. At this time, others have already left for classes. I get inside, get out my sight singing book and CD and follow along for the next lessons that will be taught in class that day. I look over your stats and history notes and then finally sit for a minute before I will have time to shower and get to my midday classes. As I turn on the TV, others walk in and comment on the free time you have.
2. Outside perception: I am getting dressed for a gig. With my Irish band. At a local pub. I throw on my dancing skirt, grab my flute and whistle and head out the door around 8pm. I am going out. "Again"... while walking back at 7am to my apartment, clearly I have been out at a party all night. Must be fun.
What they don't see: In between my philosophy class and science lab, I ran down the street to meet up with the Irish band. I rehearsed for a little while putting together set lists of tunes, songs, and dance numbers. I ran back for an afternoon orchestra rehearsal. After rehearsal, the choir director sees me in the hallway and says he thinks flute would sound really great with his choral piece and asks me to play with them on their upcoming concert. I agree. What's one more obligation? He says great, grabs the music, and then I find out the concert is in two days. Two days to learn an entire piece of music and blindly perform with the choir. I run up to the music lab to work on my composition some more, but there is a class at that time, so instead I go next door to the dance studio, practice some of the steps I will do at the gig that night, and then go back to the lab. Yet another class. The instructor says it should be free after 8pm. I realize it's getting late, so I run back to the apartment, get dressed, grab my instruments and leave. I arrive at the pub by 8:30pm. I play Irish music, sing, and dance with the Irish band until well past midnight. The little money that was paid to the band will be split, and I might be able to cover gas or lunches that week. I arrive back at the apartment and realize that the music lab would be free now. I head back to the lab, work more on my composition, and because it's so late, (4am), I stay again at my friend's dorm for a few hours. I finally arrive back at the apartment around 7am as others are walking to class. I need a short nap because I have an 8am biology lab and then have to drive 45 minutes to a suburban high school to teach flute for 3 hours.
3. Outside perception: Fast forward to post college music life. I arrive to play at my symphony concert. All dressed up, pieces well prepared with practice, and a smile on my face. I give a wonderful concert. People compliment me as I leave. When asked if I have any other work obligations before the next symphony concert, I reply "no" and politely excuse myself to exit, thanking the people for attending.
What you don't see: Between the morning bus, drop offs, appointments, preparing food, cleaning the house, organizing school functions, managing private students, and setting up teaching obligations at local high schools, I squeeze in practice anywhere I can. 24 hours before the concert, my youngest daughter starts acting really sick. She has a brain condition that requires surgical intervention when her devices stop working. I take her to the Children's ER - yes, her shunt is failing. She is going to need emergency brain surgery to fix a leak in her shunt. She is admitted and prepped for the OR. The next morning, she is taken to surgery. I haven't slept most of the night because I am trying to organize things at home from afar, and tell my husband what clothes to grab for me and where my flute and music are kept. Megs comes through the surgery great but she will have to stay a few days for them to dial up her shunt as she recovers. I am dreading the concert that night because I have never left her. Ever. I have always stayed with her for every hospital stay, every appointment, every hurdle. I have to play the concert, however, because it is one of the few paying jobs I have. Music is also an outlet for me and I know it will help the stress in the situation. I begrudgingly get dressed up as Meagan is sleeping behind me in her bed with fresh stitches in her neck and head. I put on make up as the nurse is setting up her feeding bag. I talk with the nurses about the instructions while I am away that evening, and leave for the concert. My high heels make such loud noises walking the Children's hallway at that time of night and it feels awkward to be dressed up in a hospital. I drive to the concert venue. I sit in my place and get out my flute. I start playing to warm up. I greet and chat with my colleagues but my mind is on Meagan. The concert starts and I throw myself into the music because if I don't, I will burst in to tears at being away from my daughter. The concert ends and I smile. As I make my way down the aisles to leave quickly, I chat with a few people who came to see me that night. I am so glad they came, but my mind is on Meagan. I am asked if I have any other obligations before the next concert and I politely say no. I leave as soon as there is an opportunity, drive back to the hospital, get into comfortable clothes, and snuggle in the hospital bed with Meagan. I sing some of the melodies from the concert to her as she goes to sleep.
These are three VERY small examples, and there are countless other times I could cite. But the basic point is made. The mom not dressed well dropping her kids off could have been up all night sick. Or doing laundry. Or paying bills. Or working. The mom who volunteers at the school all the time isn't bored. She doesn't have a lot of free time. But she knows giving back at the very place educating her children is important. We don't see the dirty kitchen, or the doctor appointment she cancelled, or the day she took off her other job to be at the school. The hard work behind being a mother is truly rarely seen and always undervalued.
Music is beautiful, difficult, emotional and complex....just like motherhood, especially when parenting a special needs child. I have realized moms are the musicians of life. We don't write the music.......but must take the notes God gives us, no matter how disjointed or dissonant, to make life's melody for our children. I consider myself lucky to be able to play music and be mom - the two certainly go hand in hand.....particularly with Meagan. I have learned to find beauty even in times of life's worst melody......and I couldn't have asked for a better job.