I’ve been a mother-in-training my whole life.
Of course much of what I’ve learned about motherhood comes from my own mother. (that’s her, pictured above, at my baby shower) She is the angelic type – self-sacrificing, gentle, humble (almost to a fault) – wise and always seeking wisdom from higher sources. (She is a prayer-warrior and like me, she’s a self-professed “self-help junkie”) She’s hacked her way through a pretty straight and upright path, which I find my own feet wanting to follow, however more clumsily and meandering.
Over the last 9 months I’ve gotten so much parenting advice from friends, family, in-laws, strangers. Pets are like “parenting 101” and nieces/nephews are like “dress rehearsal”. But I believe we are often taught our most important lessons in the most unexpected places – like the Karate Kid learning to wax cars. I was talking with a friend recently about motherhood and I kept going back to this thought – there are so many things I’ve learned on tour with my band that I believe were actually disguised lessons in motherhood.
Here’s a list of some of them:
-The show must go on. (The great cliché of a performer’s life.) This one may be obvious, but I have truly had to power through some ridiculously difficult situations over the years– and not just get through – but put on a show regardless. I’ve had to smile and perform through physical ailments (bronchitis, strep-throat, many sinus infections, a killer hangover or two, PMS, and most recently: pregnancy), practical distractions (major sound problems, bug-swallowing, inclement weather), and the deepest kinds of challenges (emotional train-wrecks, worrisome news, and even the death of a loved-one). Each experience gave me a glimpse into my own well to see just how deep it goes. I have no doubt that I will have to draw deeply from this well many times as a mother and trust that I will have the resources I need to get through any trials that will inevitably come.
-Never fight in front of the audience. Believe it or not, relationships are not always easy to manage when you’re sharing a tiny space with lots of people for long, uncomfortable periods of time, often with less then ideal sleep and nutrition. (That actually sounds like it might have been practice for the first few weeks with a newborn!) But whatever comes up, the rule is that arguments have to stay in the green room. Once you hit the stage, the switches must flip to “show” mode. I am grateful that my parents did not fight in front of my brothers and I, so I am determined to keep any grown-up disagreements back-stage as well.
–Make a set list, but feel out the crowd. When stepping onto the stage you have to have a plan, but you can’t hold too tightly too it. A live performance is full of living, shifting energy; the dynamic of the night is unpredictable. A performer has to be ready to add or cut songs with a swift decision and change gears based on the crowd’s reaction (or lack of reaction). It seems that planning my daily life with a babe in arms will require a similar willingness and ability to turn on a dime. Learning to read and respond to the mood and needs of my baby will require these same skills: keen observation and quick decisions.
-Be prepared to improvise. In general, this may be the most important lesson I’ve learned: how to be flexible. Growing up I was painfully shy – a Type-A planner; a classically trained, eyes-glued-to-the-music performer. I liked rules and schedules. While I’m no free-jazz artist now, my very nature has changed to become more liquid because of the life I have chosen. Improvisation requires you to be caught up completely in the moment, responding to the chord changes and beat, ever shifting, creating, and listening. In the bridge of the song I wrote for my mother (Tomorrow River) I wrote: “There is a way a mother bends to take any necessary shape” – This is the flexibility that is required for motherhood. The music itself has taught me both how to trust and how to surrender.
-A smile and a dance can distract from many a mistake. I’m talking about putting on a show – creating memories, having fun. When you stand at the microphone you have the power to set the tone of the night. A mother can set the mood of the whole house – good or bad. A smile is contagious. I always have to remind myself that this is not about perfection – no one is counting the wrong notes, the missed cues, the questionable decisions. Kids and audiences alike want to be distracted. They want to believe in the magic of the show, the healing power of a kiss to their “boo boo” – they want to know that they are in good hands and everything will be ok.
-It takes a team. I’ve learned to truly count on my band mates, manager, booking agency, interns, merch attendants and street teamers – not because they don’t ever let me down, but because I need them. We need each other. Putting together a traveling show, running a pop-up marketplace and marketing a small business is a lot of work. I don’t know why it took me so long to learn to delegate, but I’m glad I’ve finally figured it out. I’m glad that I am getting better at asking for help and also better at trusting people to do their jobs so I can just focus on my own. Sometimes that means letting those tasks get accomplished with less of the finer details. I think of parents letting their kids “help” with chores around the house, mothers letting their husbands do the laundry (at the risk of a few shrunken sweaters) The key to this whole system working is letting go.
All of this is not to say that I feel prepared to be a mother exactly. Though my childless days are numbered (likely down to the single-digits), I can’t help but feel that my training isn’t going to end the moment I hear my baby’s cry. Instead, I’m certain that I have much yet to learn, and I welcome those lessons wherever they come from.