When I was working on my doctorate, I had this sweet friend Allison, who could always, guaranteed, bring everyone back into reality. Academia can get a little stuffy you see. So every Friday, without fail, we would have our bags packed. After our last class, we would get into one of our cars, roll down the windows, crank up the music, sing at the top of our lungs (usually U2) and head to the Veloway in Austin. ”It’s a beautiful day….” For those of you who don’t know, the Veloway in Austin is this awesome all wheel paved trail. Meaning, you cannot walk on it. It winds for a couple of miles around lush landscape, and has some thrilling steep turns and thigh wrenching uphill climbs. Our mode of transportation were our rollerblades. We rocked it–chatting and letting out all of the steam of the week as we skated a couple of laps around the park. ”Balance” Allison always called it. You gotta have balance or your life is a mess. Not the balance you need for rollerblades (though amazingly we never fell), but the balance we at that time needed between a crazy intensive grad degree and life. On the last leg of our last lap we usually went from talking and laughing to chanting the name of the drink we were going to have at our next hangout. And so went our week, and our years of our doctoral degree. We balanced statistics and research and Debussy and Chopin with our Friday ritual of rollerblading. And you know what? We survived. In fact, we thrived in a situation that often makes people give up. (Waving hi to Allison who now lives in Colorado with her equally sweet husband and 3 children).
Balance often comes in the form of friendship. These “10 little blessings” as one of the families aptly captioned this photo, are from 5 families that provide us balance from time to time. The kind of families you can rely on for transportation to events when you just can’t squeeze another second out of your day, for caring texts, and for kind words. We had a family camp-out a couple of weeks ago (interrupted by a crazy stomach bug from my little girl, but that’s another story entirely), that was just great for balancing and recharging. Not a lot of resting getting accomplished between the kids and adults all sleeping in tents, but a lot of laughs, and stories, and empathy, and dreams. Crazy good times with these 4 other families, and I have a feeling these 10 kids will grow up with strong friendships, and hopefully strong parents to look up to.
Finding balance in my day to day life is a challenge. And because of that, I appreciate the challenges of the families that I teach. For us as a family, balance means chores and responsibilities (including practicing) are mingled with backyard water play and just silliness. Jam packed days are sometimes met with Sundays in which everyone understands that the couch is an acceptable place to spend the afternoon. Home cooked, well planned meals are sometimes substituted with a take-out pizza, and that’s OK. Asking for weekly extra curricular activities are sometimes met with a no, both for monetary reasons and the reason of balance. Our children, at this age, cannot decipher what is best for them, so we do the best we can. As I mentioned in my last post, balancing music lessons and everything else in life is just plain difficult. Sure, I teach many many hours of piano a week, but it is often the most challenging when I sit down with my own children. Not because they themselves are challenging per se, but because I am just exhausted, and sometimes (like the gym!) it seems just easier to skip that. Even myself as a piano teacher, often think “homework first because that’s required, but practicing can wait.” But for us, we made a commitment to introducing music to our children, so we try to balance it in. And you know what, just like everything else in our life, it’s the balance that makes everything sweeter. And I tell myself as a parent, it’s OK to have some days where I am energetic and involved in my children’s practicing, and some days where I am yelling out “no, that’s a C sharp!” from the washing machine, and other days where I say—”let’s facetime grandma and you can perform for her”. The children actually did this tonight and it was a great success–they beamed in their endless praise from grandma (clapping and oooing and aahing from the ipad on the piano music rack) and I sank into the couch for a much needed rest. And yes, we counted that as practice–oh yes we did.
It’s about balance, at least for me. And I hope for the parents of students of mine who are reading this post, who often share their frustrations with me on their own children’s practice, can gain a little insight into this crazy game of parenthood and music. I’m by no means an expert on parenting, since I’ve only been doing this 8 years, but I can speak with authority on practicing and music learning. It takes consistency, and supervision (unfortunately the children will not magically learn to practice on their own), and yes—balance. So here’s to Friday rituals and family campouts all mingled in with hunkering down to work.