I interrupt this four-part poop series to talk about that oh-so-elusive, holy grail of all that we desire in work and home and life… BALANCE… It’s not that I have mastered it because oh my goodness… my to-do list is ridiculously out of hand and I never can remember anything. BUT, I do believe I am working toward balance and wanted to share a bit about my journey.
For years and years, my husband has accused me of being a workaholic (not meanly, just kind of pointing it out as if it was a fact). And while part of me was secretly proud that he noticed my stellar work ethic and my dedication to all things music education, as well as my abhorrence of “wasted” time and energy, another part of me was somewhat disturbed. As you are reading this, you yourself might be thinking something along the lines of “Am I a workaholic?” or “Is that really a bad thing?” or perhaps even “Aren’t the most successful people workaholics?” For a long time, I thought these same things. And I do believe that our culture (particularly the teaching profession) very much reveres the overworked and obsessed. In fact, I have sat on multiple adjudication panels for teaching awards and in every single case, the teachers who DO THE MOST are the ones who receive the awards. I’m not saying this is wrong. I actually get it.
It’s nearly impossible to evaluate teaching artistry without being in the room with the teacher to see how she interacts with her students or how he seamlessly connects two seemingly opposing points of view into one mind-blowing realization or how they know so much about every single one of their 278 students that there couldn’t possibly be room in their brains for content. So… in order to distinguish one educator’s excellence from another’s, we take a look at all of the events they have designed and how many programs they have started and how much money they have raised. This leaves our young educators, desperate to achieve greatness, with the incredibly warped mindset that they can either “just do their job,” and be what our culture tells us is a mediocre teacher… OR, they can work themselves into the ground for a $500 teaching award that, let’s be completely honest, they are going to end up spending on replacing broken instruments anyways.
And for the majority of my life, I did just this. But because I truly loved what I did so much, it has always been my calling (and still is), I didn’t ever even feel like what I was doing was too much. It seemed just right. I received so much joy from working with my students, from all of the camps and concerts and fundraisers that I never minded at all. Yet, year after year, when I couldn’t handle sitting down to watch a 20 minute television show with my husband without also grading assignments or writing simplified arrangements or doing laundry, my husband would state rather matter-of-factly: “Well, you can’t help yourself. You’re a workaholic.”
As the teaching awards and accolades rolled in, I felt justified and I was even honored for my actions. And perhaps, for this time of my life, this really was okay. I loved what I did, I was truly happy, my students loved it, I saw the culture of my program and even the area where I taught begin to shift to be more musical, more accepting, more loving. Eventually, I went on to get a doctorate (while teaching full time… I was seriously out of control…), and then at last to accept a college teaching position in a completely different state from my husband.
To spare you two years’ worth of details, we eventually decided that our marriage was more important than our careers and that no matter what, we needed to find a way to be back in the same area. Right around the same time, we also decided that it was time for us to try to start a family. This realization led me to leave a full time, tenure-track professorship to move into the same state as my husband and to actually seek out adjunct (part-time and super flexible) work while we waited for our little love to arrive.
I had always felt passionate about staying at home with any children that we had. And perhaps this was my workaholism kicking in again, because I wanted to be the best mom anyone ever knew. I wanted to be part of every single moment, to provide every single opportunity for my child, and to raise him in the best possible way I could imagine.
***I’m not saying that this is the right decision for everyone, I just felt this strongly for me personally***
Part of me, however, knew, deep down inside that if I completely gave up my career, my calling, I wouldn’t truly be happy. Thus began my searching for the right balance. How much teaching could I do while still staying home AND being fully present with my son? How many guest conducting gigs could I take on? How many presentations could I give at conferences across the country? When in the world would I get this *other* work done???
***WARP-SPEED FAST-FORWARD TO TODAY***
My son is now 18 months and I finally feel that I am just beginning to approach some kind of balance. I have actually worked hard to sit down and watch television with my husband. Not because I enjoy it so much, but because I finally understood that this was something he loved. Relaxing in front of a tv show where we could share our thoughts about the characters and the story and the chaos was something that mattered to him. And so, just as I would with my own students, I found ways to make his interests matter to me as well. I am *mostly* staying at home with my son and I am LOVING it… I have watched nearly every single first, I counted every word that came out of his mouth, I have made nearly all of his meals in my own kitchen, chock-full of veggies and wholesome goodness. And yes, I am still teaching people how to teach and guest conducting and presenting, just on a smaller scale.
Here is what my new SOMEWHAT BALANCED life looks like:
Together with my husband and my parents and my in-laws, we have crafted a kind of schedule where I teach virtually three days a week for just one hour each day. During this time, my husband has one-on-one time with David so that they too can build a strong bond.
On Fridays, my husband stays home and takes care of David while I travel to campus to teach people how to teach. Once I get back from my custom-tailored job, I return to stay-at-home-mama status with David Michael and my husband finishes his work.
Now that the world has opened up again, I have returned to the podium to conduct regional orchestra events and all county orchestras.
During these gigs, we bring family out to help with David so that he continues to have the kind of care that we both trust and value. They all join me for these events and David even gets to watch his Mama rehearse and conduct, and he LOVES it…
We have settled on two events a month for me to take on so that I am not out of town constantly, and this seems to be a good balance for me at the moment.
While I hate to turn down so many opportunities, many of the inviting directors have agreed to schedule me for one or even two years out so that I can continue to maintain some semblance of family-life balance.
This past weekend, my mom and husband and son joined me for an All County Orchestra event. And it was AMAZING… I began the rehearsal not with an introduction, not with a conversation on the literature we were performing, but with sound. I played one long note, increasing my bow speed as I progressed through the whole note so that the sound burst out of my instrument at the very end of the measure. I gestured to the students to do the same. And they did. The rest of my time with my students went like this. Communicating more with sound than with words and crafting together a beautiful program of music in which there was a role for every single musician on stage and a special moment for each one of the students.
During the dress rehearsal, my son, husband, and mom sat watching as we played. David Michael was tapping his toes and practically jumping out of his seat, right in time to the music. He pretended to conduct and at one point, I even brought him up with me to help rehearse the group. The entire concert went phenomenally smoothly and the students were overjoyed by their performance. I knew that this event would be something special and incredibly memorable for all of the young musicians involved. At the end of the event, I left feeling incredibly grateful for my family, for my musical upbringing, and for these teachers who entrusted their students to me for two days of music-making.
As we drove back home to Fredericksburg, I found myself feeling more content than I had in months. This weekend had been so special. For my mom, she was able to spend quality and special time with David Michael. My husband was able to watch me rehearse and even commented on how he might take some of what he saw me do and try to apply it in his own job. David Michael was exposed to some wonderful music and even had a chance to conduct a live orchestra.
We have so many different parts of ourselves that we often ignore out of necessity as mothers. But for the first time in a while, I felt that every little piece of me had been fed. Just as we, as educators, must always find a meaningful connection to each and every one of our students, we as mothers must also find meaning in all aspects of our lives.
Moment of Truth… I may still be a workaholic.. but this time, my family has taken the front seat. Balance looks different for every single person at any given point in their life. THIS life that I live right here, right now, is my definition of balanced and I am pretty happy with that.