Because I'm scared that if I don't commit to it, in public, to you, I will spend my two hours of precious daily babysitter time fast asleep in my bed.
The first thing I promise is that this will be the longest post you will read. I just felt that you needed to know why I came to the decision to quit coaching and re-commit to my own creative work. From now on, these posts will be very short––scout’s honor.
Readers of this blog know a little about my current situation: I am recently the mother of two children (Lila, 2.9; Johnny 6 months as of last week). I am a musician who plays most weekends; a life coach who coaches weekdays between 3-5pm; a writing workshop leader who runs three workshops weekly; a co-leader of HooteNanny, a music class for parents and children aged 0-5 (this is all day Thursdays); and finally, a writer of novels and non-fiction. I have been writing a series of pieces under the working title “Time, Money, Calories, Stewardship” about my struggles trying to “Do It All,” a not unfamiliar topic for mothers in this century and the last. And, like many of my peers and the women who have gone before me, I go around with the nagging feeling that I am not only not doing it all, or certainly having it all, but instead, doing most things decidedly badly, or at least a lot worse than I used to. Most days, I spend the bulk of the pre-3pm hour at home with my kids, but I feel like I am constantly neglecting them. After all, there is laundry to do (I have until very recently cloth-diapered both children), dishes to wash, emails to answer, and then (wondering whether there’s an electronic hijack of sorts going on) digital photos and videos of the kids to upload, grandparents to Skype, FaceBook updates to maintain, bills to pay, clients to invoice, the monthly newsletter to write to our fans, music to learn for church (where I am the occasional music leader when our wonderful Penny is out of town), other church business to attend to, as well as my commitments to my spiritual fellowship, HooteNanny potentials to communicate with, the New York Times to read (although I almost never get to that anymore), clients’ work to read, clients to email, meals to cook, babies to breastfeed, puke to clean up, small blocks to retrieve from the body of my guitar, baby clothes to sort and all sorts of items to Freecycle. And it’s the winter, so we’re not even talking about the garden full of tomatoes and squash. Thank God I don’t have a pet or a houseplant.
Many days, I feel as though someone emptied out my head and then filled it again with a combination of gelatin and driveway gravel. The constant feeling I have is one of mental clutter. Thoughts shoot through my head so rapidly I went to a psychiatrist recently to be tested for ADD (he says I don’t have it––just Mommy brain). Like my attic, which is currently full of boxes of hand-me-downs for my kids and all my old performing clothes that still don’t fit me yet, my mind is so full I can’t even wade around in it. I forget words on a daily basis: words like “workshop” and “update” and “exploit.” I am like Pandareos, tormented by Harpies (I had to Google that because I completely forgot Pandareos’s name, of course).
And yes, I know I am hugely blessed, very very very fortunate. Mine is certainly the problem of an embarrassment of riches.
A few months ago, I figured out a way to get a very short daily run in: 23 minutes before Tom leaves for work. I take my iPod with me, and recently I’ve been listening to audiobooks by my mentor, Martha Beck. (It’s been my way to get some cheap coaching for myself, and often it's the only time I manage to leave the house.) I’ve been signed up since last October for her Master Coach Training, which started this February and culminates in Huntington Beach, CA the last weekend in July.
I love coaching. Martha trained me in 2005, and I was fortunate to build up a robust practice very quickly. This practice has sustained my family financially through both maternity leaves and Tom’s three years in graduate school (he has, from 2005-2008 gone from being a writer and reporter for People Magazine to being a psychotherapist and currently works at a residential program for kids with mental health issues.) I have learned so much from coaching, and I love my clients. I see a very bright future for myself as a coach that includes writing books and running workshops and retreats and teleclasses. I have lots of big ideas for my practice.
But one day in late January I heard a friend of mine preach at our church in West Cummington. (Her name is Erin White, and she writes a wonderful blog called Hatched By Two Chicks, which you can find here.) I was seized with the kind of electric-lightening insight I’ve gotten several times in my life, most memorably when I stepped out onto the streets of New Haven in August before my senior year in high school and KNEW I was meant to go to Yale. Erin is a writer and a mother, and hearing her preach, a voice inside me said, “You are supposed to be writing. Not coaching. Stop.”
I cried throughout the church service and ignored the voice, except to mention it lightly to Tom on the drive home. “You love coaching,” Tom said. “You tell me every day when I get home from work how much you love coaching.”
“Yes, and besides, I sure can’t afford to quit now,” I said.
This is true. I run our numbers constantly, and there is very little we could cut from our monthly expenses without severely compromising our values around food (wholes foods, local, organic, etc.) We do have some savings, but who in their right mind right now in this economy would give up a lucrative, thriving practice to live off savings?
Several weeks later, I woke up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat. I had dozed off while feeding Johnny. I suddenly knew that I simply could not, in good conscience, take an eleven-month old to California for five days and leave him in a hotel with a strange childcare giver. I emailed Martha Beck right away and asked to pull out of the training and save my spot for 2010.
Katryna and I started performing again quite regularly in January, which meant I no longer had even one day off per week. And as every parent knows, there is no such thing as a day off unless one is physically out of the house without the kids. After a particularly poorly attended show at which I could barely stand up, I told Katryna on our way home that I thought I needed to take a break from our adult shows. “I feel like I am physically breaking,” I told her. “I knew it would be hard. I didn’t imagine it could be this hard.” She understood, God bless her, and said kind things to me. Fortunately, I was so tired and overwhelmed that I didn’t take any action steps after this conversation, so nothing happened.
Fast forward to last week. Katryna and I were slated to fly to Florida for three shows and decided to bring the kids with us. The night before our 8am flight, Tom and I got the kids in bed by 6:30pm and spent the rest of the evening packing for all four of us: four bathing suits, complete with swim diapers (for the kids), snacks for the plane, toys and bedding for each kid, guitar strings, performing shoes, etc. Everything was packed in the Jetta, and we were poised to leap out of bed at 5am to get to the airport. We were asleep by 10pm. At 11pm, we heard a wail in the hallway. Lila was standing with her pajama bottoms hanging low, covered (COVERED!) in diarrhea. We cleaned her off and brought her into bed with us, but once up and the center of attention, naturally she wanted to play. Tom got up and hung out with her for a couple of hours, and then came back to bed around 1am while she played happily by herself. At 2am she cried again, and I went to her this time, and sang her to sleep. At 3am, Johnny woke up crying and I brought him into our bed. We all dozed for the next two hours, and then we ran to the airport.
Aside from the incident where I left my computer at security and had to exit the plane, race back, convince security that the bag with the computer (and green lion, tupperware of salad and happy sack of bunny crackers) was mine, the rest of the trip proceeded the way one would expect it would when one has two squirmy kids who have not slept well the night before.
I did not have high hopes for the Florida shows. We haven’t played in the area for five years. The last time we played Sarasota, there were about ten people in the audience. But this year, the rooms were packed and we sold out of every CD we’d brought. The St. Petersburg show was at the Craftsman House; a space that usually serves as a store for high-end crafts people and artisans. The room we used as a green room had a beautiful hardcover book called The Mud Pie Dilemma about a master ceramacist and potter, Tom Coleman. I picked up the book and read it voraciously (a full review here). Every word sang to me: it was about an artist who was trying to support his family solely through his art, and how hard that was. How long and rocky the road was.
People came up to us at the shows and told us how much our music had meant to them over the years; how our songs were the soundtrack to courtships, break-ups, new families coming together. But more importantly, I had fun on stage. I remembered why I love to perform. I was present.
I thought back to my daily coaching sessions in my running shoes listening to Martha Beck. If I were coaching myself, I would ask myself this: what is it that you want to do with your one precious life? (To paraphrase Mary Oliver). Without a doubt it’s to mother my children, be partners with Tom, sing with my sister and write my songs and stories and other communiqués like this one. I am fortunate in that I know so clearly what I want to do; many of my clients have trouble knowing. The next question I would ask a client is this: if you weren’t afraid of anything, especially financial repercussions, how would you spend your time? Again, easy: mothering; with Tom; singing; and writing.
So, says my inner life coach. You must take those 7 hours a week and write. That will leave space for your brain to be present for your family for the hours that you are with them. But show up every day for your writing, no matter what.
And so here I am. It’s now 8pm on Monday March 2, and I am finishing this gargantuan post. Thanks for sticking with me. I look forward to your own stories on the topic of parenthood, following one’s chosen path, and that horribly elusive thing called Balance. May we all find it, and barring that, figure out how to live without it.