When did my escape become another chore?

In the first months of this year, I found myself covering a lot of evening events for work, doing a little travel, and struggling to work doctor’s appointments and tests (because of the pregnancy) into already full-to-bursting days.

How I’ve been feeling lately

Because of all this, I got out of the habit of going to Monday night rehearsals for the local community band I’ve played in these past few years, wanting to make sure I spent as many evenings with Lily as I could. 

“No big deal,” I thought. “I’ll start going to rehearsals again when things get back to normal.”

When my evening schedule lightened, the band was in final preparations for two concerts, so that didn’t really seem like the right time to go back, either. I thus continued with my hiatus, telling myself that I’d simply give myself a couple of more weeks off.

Finally, a couple of weeks ago, I had a light reviewing week, and the band’s concerts had just happened.

Yet when the moment arrived for me to leave our house for rehearsal, I didn’t go.

I felt kind of guilty, and more than a bit lame, questioning why I could no longer work up the gumption to go to what had previously been an important regular escape for me.

For I’ve played trombone since I was 11, and in many ways, this ridiculous little hobby has been a boon to me. So many of my longtime friends, as well as my husband, came into my life as a direct result of my playing this bulky, awkward instrument. Plus, I’ve always enjoyed playing in groups and making music, even if it’s at a less-than-professional level.

I’d played in the local community band for a year or two before getting pregnant with Lily, attending rehearsals and playing concerts until shortly before her arrival. (I wondered then, as I do while pregnant again now, what the trombone sounds like from the inside of my body. It must be bizarre – but really, what wouldn’t be bizarre while packed into someone’s stomach?)

As I remember it, I returned to the band at about the time my maternity leave ended. In that moment, I often felt harried and overwhelmed by my new motherhood, and the adjustment back to work presented its own challenges. So playing in the band was a small gesture toward turning back toward the familiar, and the person I’d always thought of myself as being.

For those two hours every Monday night, this worked almost exactly as I had hoped. Joe had encouraged me to claim that time for myself, and I slowly began to feel like myself again – or, at least, like something other than a constantly exhausted milk machine. Which was progress.

At this same time, my parents’ much repeated mantra, spoken throughout my adolescence and young adulthood, circled my head. They’d always said, “You can’t do everything,” in hopes of getting me to establish a reasonably paced daily life, so as to not burn myself out. (And so maybe they wouldn’t have to taxi me around town every day of the week, either.)

But as teenagers are wont to do, my response wasn’t to say, “Yeah, I see what you’re saying,” but rather, “Oh, yeah? WATCH ME!!!”

So of course I was in my high school’s marching band and the wind ensemble. And on the pom squad, as well as its choreography committee. And in the German club, where I was an officer. And I performed in a couple of plays, until I became part of the thespian troupe. And I worked as a manager for the boys track team. And SADD – wouldn’t want anyone to think I was a student FOR drunk driving …

Anyway, as this list probably makes apparent, I’ve been in the habit of over-programming my life for decades now, scrambling to make everything that I want to do fit into my crowded life: running/yoga/biking/exercise; creative writing; travel; playing music; reading newspapers and books; seeing movies; etc. But of course these days, I inevitably have to figure out how to squeeze this stuff into my life, alongside the responsibilities that come with adulthood and parenthood – which is getting more and more taxing.

Partly what’s at issue, I think, is that while taking a regular, weekly break from a squalling, unpredictable baby who couldn’t communicate her wants and pains with me was a huge relief, Lily’s not that baby anymore. She’s funny and imaginative and playful and chatty, and now when she says she doesn’t want me to go to a rehearsal, I’m actually tempted to stay, because I’d like to play with her, too.

Indeed, our mornings, which used to be more difficult but also short in terms of getting Lily to daycare/preschool, have now stretched into three hour affairs. Mostly, this stems from Lily wanting to get her bearings and spend time with me before she goes each morning. But when I’m honest with myself, I recognize that a part of me wants to spend that time with her, too, or I’d try harder to rush her out the door. So although I haven’t been able to go to the yoga class I really like since November, which sucks – getting to it would require me to have Lily at pre-school, and have myself out the door, ready to go, by 9 a.m., and that’s just not happening these days – I’ve enjoyed my time with Lily on these long mornings. And because I know, in the back of my mind, that this is a luxury we won’t have in a few months, when the new baby arrives, I’m drinking it in at the moment.

So I’ve been making due with prenatal yoga DVDs, practicing them in the awkwardly narrow space of our living room after Lily goes to bed.

And regarding the band issue, just the idea of going to rehearsals right now makes me feel even more tired and weighted down than I already do. Part of this involves inertia, I’m sure – just as I never think about whether or not I “feel like” running (I just do it reflexively), when I’m in the habit of going to band, I simply go. No hemming and hawing. Yet now that I’m out of the habit, I’ve grown a bit lazy – relatively speaking, anyway – and just do warm ups and play here and there at home.

Part of me thinks I’m being incredibly stupid by letting my current tendency toward laziness call the shots. A seismic change comes with this baby, I remind myself. You’ll be wishing you’d taken advantage of these extracurriculars when you had the chance, and ruing the nights you chose to stay at home for no real reason.

But the fact is, although people talk about a “second shift” for women who work outside the home – meaning, they come home from their jobs only to face another set of tasks – I’ve lately felt like my typical day has, on average, four or five different shifts. There’s the long, albeit often enjoyable, morning shift with Lily; there’s my job; there’s the evening shift with Lily (I pick her up, get her home, play with her while Joe makes dinner, help to feed her, and give her a bath or do other activities with her); and there’s the shift after Lily’s bedtime, when I do the dishes, try to exercise and/or play my horn, prepare our tax info for an accountant, pay bills, fold laundry – any number of things that just need to be done. 

Indeed, when I had the chance to go to band rehearsal recently, I immediately thought about how I’d be putting off my last “shift” until nearly 10 p.m., when I would arrive back home. And the thought nearly crushed me.

So yes, I feel a bit boring, like I’m letting some interesting pieces of myself go for the time being. And I have the typical Type A’s guilt and feelings of inadequacy regarding these choices – for I always thought I’d be a highly active mom with her own life, independent of her children.

I still aspire to be that. And in the near future, when there’s again a baby in the house demanding the resources of my body and my full attention every minute I’m with him/her, perhaps I’ll claim a larger stake in the outside world once again, in hopes of maintaining my sanity and my sense of self.

But I confess that these days, I simply feel drawn to give myself a bit of a break.

Why is it so confoundingly difficult to grant myself permission to do just that? Because it ultimately feels like I’m betraying myself.

So the question becomes: is motherhood making me a different person, despite my best efforts to keep my identity at least partly intact? Or is this just the next phase of my evolution, since none of us ever really stop changing?

One thought on “When did my escape become another chore?

  1. Sophie says:

    I don’t know, Jen. As soon as anything in your life, and I mean ANYthing, becomes a “half to,” then you’re lost. I’ve gone through it with a lot of things. I’m crossing my fingers that the bike never becomes this for me, but I also am open to the possibility that it might. You are an extremely different person now than when Lily was first born. The Trombone probably has different meanings for you now. And that’s ok. That’s completely normal. I no longer sing, and sometimes I feel like joining a choir or a local thing because I feel “guilty” that I’m letting it go, but really? Recreation born from guilt? When we’re all already so stretched thin as it is? That’s insane. If you get the “recharge” you need from being with Lily, then that’s fantastic. Awesome. Don’t judge it (hahaha!). Don’t try to discern it’s “meaning.” In other words, try to stop thinking like a thoughtful memoirist and just BE! 🙂

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