This topic will be one that I revisit from time to time to check in with how things are going with Me, Jen, and Ben (PB&J if you will). It has been a team effort raising Ben so there will be quite a bit of input from my wonderful wife Jen on the article so I want to first say a big thank you to Jen for everything you do. You are such a wonderful mother, wife, and friend and I am looking forward to raising our perfect son together. I will also be sharing some things that we have learned along that way that have helped us maintain our playing and career aspirations while still taking care of our little dude.
Let me just start off by saying that if you think playing your instrument at the highest level is very difficult than you are in for a rude awakening when/if you have children. Raising an infant has been the single most difficult thing that Jen or I have ever done. I will also say that it has been the most rewarding and that I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world. When we say that Ben is our everything and that we couldn't love something more than him, know that it is the absolute truth. As two musicians that aspire to have successful careers in music we both have had to make a few changes to our everyday routine. Like not having a routine for a bit. The first few weeks of Ben being home were solely dependent on what he was doing and what he needed. We were very lucky to have teachers and colleagues that were very understanding and accommodating to our needs so if you are one of those people, THANK YOU! It has meant the world to us having such wonderful people in our lives.
Here are some general tips that we picked up in the first two months.
Ask for help: Both Jen and I are two very independent and proud people. We rarely like to ask for help on anything but when it comes to Ben we had to very quickly get used to asking for help with normal everyday things. This is totally fine!
Communicate: We knew going into it that we would have to learn to communicate our schedules and needs in a much more efficient and affective way. This couldn't have been more true. In fact, we underestimated how much we would have to be on the ball about communicating everything. Talk to your significant other about everything you are thinking about. Don't let emotions or thoughts build up. That can lead to unneeded frustration and arguments, TALK TO EACH OTHER!
You will have no more time, but you will have plenty of moments: I borrowed that phrase from one of my favorite comedians Tom Segura. You will no longer have the luxury of time. Instead you will have lots of little moments (with and without your child) that you will remember and cherish.
It truly takes a village to raise a child: We had heard that phrase but we didn't really understand how true it was going to be. This is not to say that if you don't have an extremely stable support system that you are going to fail. It just means it may be a little more difficult.
Naps are your friend: This was told to us numerous times and we didn't heed the advice at first. SLEEP WHEN YOUR BABY SLEEPS! Once we did this we were much happier and were able to deal with most anything little man could throw at us. Almost anything...
Mental Health: I knew having a baby would be very mentally stressful but I didn't realize just how mentally fatiguing taking care of a newborn would be. If you find yourself getting frustrated, angry, or upset it is ok to just put the baby down (in a safe area) and take 5-10 minutes to mentally regroup. This was something I had to do in the first few weeks a couple of times.
Now for some more musician specific things that both Jen and I are experiencing. We are both still learning how to perform this balancing act so these are just things that we have observed and are experiencing so others might have a different story to tell.
Schedule out practice time: Have a specific time every day (or whenever you can) where you and your spouse can rely on each other to take care of your child so that you can each accomplish your daily practice goals. Jen and I have worked out a system where we each have some time set aside each day where we can get 30 min- 1 hour of uninterrupted practice. Which leads to a bigger topic.
Keep a shared calendar - I know that most of you keep a schedule but you don't know how important a calendar is until you have a child. Specifically one that your significant other has access to. You need a place where you both can see your gigs, lessons, classes, and other commitments that you have so you can figure out who is taking care of the little one. Jen and I are unique because I keep a digital calendar and hers is written down but we have a giant white board in our room where she writes down her entire monthly schedule and I print mine out and pin it to the board, This has been going very well with some minor hiccups here and there (mostly mix ups on my part).
*Brass Specific* Practice mutes rule: When Ben is napping we don't want to wake him so we tend to practice with a mute in. The mute that we use and recommend is the Sshh Mute by Bremner. It is wicked quiet, doesn't have a lot of resistance, and won't break the bank. If you don't already have a practice mute, GET ONE!
Practice with your kid in the room: You should, during the day, practice your instrument with them in the room. Obviously not too loud and not aimed at them but enough to where they get use to the sound of your instrument and can sleep through you practice session eventually. We have been practicing in front of Ben for over a month and he now can sit quietly in his rocker or in his crib while we practice. He occasionally will fall asleep during our practice as well.
Take your baby to concerts: Jen and I took Ben to see our professor's trumpet recital when he was only 2 weeks old and while we were very hesitant at first we were very happy that we did. This gave us an opportunity to get out into the world with him and to see how he would react when hearing fairly loud trumpet playing. As long as you are close to a door as to not disturb the recital we highly recommend it.
Learn to say NO! This is one that is quite difficult for Jen and I. We are usually the "Yes" people and since having Ben we have had to start learning to say no to some things. This will NOT be the end of your career. Just because you say no to one gig doesn't mean that they will never ask you again. If you are still a great musician and a great person to work with they will ask again. I promise!
If you do say yes, BE THERE and BE PREPARED: Nothing will get you black listed faster than either not showing up to a gig or coming to a gig unprepared. Contractors or conductors will not accept "I have a baby" or "I only got 3 hours of sleep last night" as an excuse. The audience doesn't care. If you accept a gig be overly prepared and make sure to be there early and ready to go.
Lesson Students: If you teach a number of high school or middle school students like Jen ad I do its is good to take a few weeks off from teaching them to give yourself time to adjust to your new routine. You may think "teaching isn't that big of a deal. I can easily teach a few lessons the week after our kid is born". No you can't. I tried that and I found myself either too exhausted to effectively teach or cancelling the lessons due to sleep deprivation. It is better to just take some time off and come back fresh after 2-3 weeks. As talk to your lessons students parents about the possibility of bringing baby to lessons. Some parents would love to meet and play with the little one which is a huge help to you!
One of the reasons that I decided to write this is because Jen and I had a lot of anxiety about having a a baby. Not just the normal "We're having a baby!" stressers but the "Is this the end of our career?" kind. Having spoken to a lot of people about this I know we are not alone in these feelings. I wanted a way to catalog our experience of raising a child while balancing the sporadic and unpredictable nature of both being entrepreneurial musicians. So far both Jen and I have found ways to navigate it but that doesn't mean we are experts. We're just two people wanting to help other people balance advancing their careers while raising families and to be happier doing so.
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Benjamin Thomas Oliverio
August 26th, 2019