Remember the things you used to do before you had kids? I used to practice music for hours. Like, three hours at a time. I’d work on some complicated passage and just go at it over and over and over until my fingers would cooperate effortlessly. It was a meditative practice for me, in a sense. I would go into my little isolated room and be by myself until I was ready to come out.
As you can imagine, with three small children at home, that kind of practicing does not happen anymore. And I used to use motherhood as an excuse for just not practicing at all.
On the rare occasion when I would sit down to practice, a few scenarios would happen: 1) I would be surrounded by little helpers, two on either side and one on my lap. While that had potential for a cute teaching moment, it was pretty much impossible to work on the actual music. 2) Someone would desperately need something. A toy. A drink. Attention. You name it. 3) The most heartbreaking scenario. One of my children would forlornly say, “Mommy, could you please not play that song?”
I found this all thoroughly discouraging, and so I would go for long stretches without practicing, and that was sad. Whenever I had a gig, sure, I would find ways to practice. As the kids grew, I could practice while they were at school, or if necessary I would send them to a playdate or babysitter.
Despite its efficacy, this system bothered me. I wanted my children to see this integral part of my life. To understand that Mommy has interests and talents that extend beyond the making of grilled cheese sandwiches. To learn that it’s OK if Mommy is doing something for herself and that they can really manage for 20 minutes without me, even if I’m sitting 10 feet away.
I also had a suspicion that I was giving up this fundamental need of mine too easily. If I truly committed to practicing every day, not for three hours, but for 20 to 30 minutes, would it just become something else that Mommy did? Would they let me play?
When I was in seminary, my rabbi was adamant that I keep up my musical discipline. My attitude at the time had been more along the lines of, “What do you mean? I’m here to learn Torah, not to play music.” He shook his head and told me that just because I was becoming more observant didn’t give me an excuse to neglect my abilities. And that I was required to practice every day.
I’m pretty sure that advice applies to becoming a mother as well. He didn’t say, “Practice every day until you have children and then just give up.”
While life is certainly very busy, it’s not like I don’t have little pockets of time here and there. There’s an unpredictable amount of downtime throughout my day, and would I rather my kids see me doing something creative and productive, or witness my getting sucked into the vortex of clever .gifs?
So I’ve been doing it. A friend suggested that I just plan to practice for five minutes. You and I know that five minutes with little kids can be kind of an eternity. Have you ever noticed how many requests or questions you can field in five minutes? A lot. A whole lot. But I’ve been keeping my eyes open for moments where my kids are reasonably occupied, and then I jump at the chance.
At first, the normal reactions happened. I expected that. But a week or so into it, they barely flinch. One day I even practiced for 45 (nearly) straight minutes. And when I get an interruption, I’m able to respond with a decent amount of patience. And if I don’t get back to practicing, it’s not so stressful, since I know I’ll probably be able to do it again tomorrow.
I’m sure there will be times when playing won’t be as feasible, like after having a baby, or during the holiday season, but I’m trying to really lay the groundwork for this practice. By doing so, I hope that I can teach my children that it’s important to stay connected to your unique abilities, no matter what other changes may come about in your life.