My mom stays with Elihu on Wednesday nights while I go in to the high school to teach a continuing ed class I call “Not Your Mother’s Piano Teacher”. It works out well; Elihu and grandma get to enjoy some time just to themselves, and I get out of the house. But after this final run of seven classes, I’m not so much in need of merely getting out of the house as I am in need of really going out. Just today I’d made impromptu plans to grab a drink with two of the only near-peer women I know in town, but then realized it was on the same night as my kid’s Spring assembly. Phooey. That was slightly disappointing. Not worried, we’ll reschedule. It’s not a big deal, but frustrating just the same. Don’t mean to sound whiney here – because I actually did go out last week, and it was an enjoyable diversion from my rather same-same life these days. But truthfully, there is nothing – that I know of yet – to take the place of the full complement of friends, music, food and places that were routine and treasured parts of my life back in Chicago. Nope. Still got nothing. Yeah, there are world-class acts coming through the equally world-class Zankel Music Hall at Skidmore College (less than 4 miles from our door!) – yeah, there’s stuff going on… There’s certainly an impressive roster of high-end restaurants to choose from up and down Broadway…(It’s all beyond my budget and past my kid’s bedtime anyway). But still. There’s no little taco joint with someone’s abuelita cooking in the kitchen, there’s no late night jazz joint with deep fried food and all the young cats lining up to sit in… there’s no Korean barbecue joint jammed to the rafters at 4 am filled with the mouth-watering scents of marinated meats grilling to blackened perfection… And there sure as hell aint no Green Mill. Mm-mm. And there aint nothin around these parts like the Diner Grill on Irving. Nope. Nothin.
I surely did live the life large, I did. Looked good, made good music, ate good food, treated my friends good, had good adventures, had good times and more good times. And I do not think that I am romanticizing those good times. I am not. I lived the shit out of my life all through my twenties and thirties. I’d planned to keep on living the shit out of my forties too. Remember being on a gig when my milk began to come in – just a few days after Elihu was born. Thought my boobs would break before the set was over. Even got kinda scared for a moment (first kid, no idea what was going on.) But it wasn’t my last gig as mommy, certainly not; soon after that came the big band dates where I’d press the poor babe’s head to my chest to try and soften the blow of the wall of horns just behind us… I learned how to hand off the babe when it was my turn on stage, I learned how to nurse while hosting a radio show, switching sides at the top of the hour…I learned how to bring the baby so that I could keep on doing my thing. My intention was to keep going in the same manner as I had for years. But no matter how one tries, nothing can truly be done in the same manner as the years ‘before baby’.
In an effort to stay active and involved in music – in some form – and not simply give in to the obvious, home-bound role of new mom, I also began to tag along on a handful of daddy’s shows too. In the beginning it was doable. But before long I was beginning to lie to myself; telling myself I enjoyed going along with my hubby on his thing, that I was ok with having fewer creative events of my own. Cuz things were changing. Pop gigs were phasing out for me; my world of musical friends and projects and shows just kind of dried up in that first year after my child’s birth. I was becoming more mommy than musician. For a time, jazz gigs still worked (those dates actually paid enough to hire babysitters and often involved my husband. Gigs were our dates). But the alt bands with all those basement hours writing and arranging… that was out now. Just not logistically possible with a baby, especially a newborn. And even if it were, how selfish! Writing, rehearsing, it was way too self-indulgent for a new mom. That sort of music, after all, did not pay the bills. No room for that in this new life.
So there I am, newly forty, newly a mom, with my husband on the road most of the time. So I do what I hadn’t thought I would: I give up and stay home because it’s ultimately less stressful. Ok, I think to myself, I may as well try to assimilate into the culture of Evanston moms who, like me, had chosen to live a bit of life first before having their kids on the closer side of forty. On paper it might have seemed we’d be a good fit; college-educated, middle class white gals who listened to NPR comparing notes on their toddler’s development and lamenting their rising property taxes… But try to assimilate as I did, I could not, and it was a very depressing time for me. I had no connections to these people – people whom I shared my life with only because we lived within walking distance of the same toddler park! And it was around this time I began to notice something that there was very different about Elihu’s vision. And with that awareness came an even greater sense of distance from everyone.
That’s when my isolation started, I guess. Not my story alone, for sure. You have a kid and you have to let go of other things. You lose some friends, some hobbies, you get fat, you get cranky. We all know that having a family changes everything. But I was completely ready for all of that. I was ready to trade it all for the adventure that promised to come next; a growing closeness of family, having another baby, the putting down of roots, the beginnings of traditions, the sharing of our love. What I wasn’t ready for was the growing distance from my husband, and the growing sense that we weren’t as closely united in our goals as I’d thought. I learned years later that he really had wanted me to simply give everything up – as in my bands, the big house (to which I say come on – we wanted that house for years!) and just go along with him, gig to gig, babe at breast. I just wasn’t comfortable living like that. And so there the divide began. He going more deeply into that hippie, jam band culture on the road, and me, waiting it out in our beautiful mid century home. Yeah, Elihu and I spent a lot of time together, waiting.
So here I am at the cusp of fifty, my son about to turn ten (we like to say we’re turning sixty!) and I wonder what the hell happened to my forties? I can account for all the decades before with great enthusiasm, vivid, landmark memories, but my forties? What the hell happened just now??? I am grasping for tidy ways in which to organize my retrospection; I can’t have wasted these past years on nothing but a wretched, heart-numbing divorce, can I have? I search for the light, the joy, the relief…. I search for that feeling… the feeling of happiness and contentment that seemed to float all around me in my younger years… Much of it came from the music I was making, much of it was my home life, my husband, my cats, my friends… And it’s this feeling – the feeling of ease, of joyful happiness I miss these days. Do we all feel thus at this age? Is it my age, or my aging process that brings me to these ruminations or is it the events of the past decade? I haven’t had the worst of it, but somehow, I feel like my forties were taken from me. They sure as hell didn’t pan out as I’d thought.
Now at the end of a ten year run, I find myself just wanting to go out and have some fun. But what form does that fun take at this time in my life? I might have to re-evaluate that simple question. I love my son, and truly my life with Elihu has been the supreme gift of this invisible decade, but still…. I’m just a bit tired of being mommy all the time. I want to go…. somewhere…do something… I struggle with this. No answers come. Ah screw it. In the end, I find myself returning to my favorite date, my most cherished partner in life. Next week I’ll have some fun – we’ll have some fun. Elihu and I will have our annual birthday dinner at the local iconic Wishing Well where he’ll thrill to a plate of frogs’ legs and I’ll thrill to a cold gin martini before supper while the piano man plays in the lounge…. Not so bad, really. While I might lament this seemingly unending role of mommyhood, I do realize that this chapter too will close one day, and I will wonder where it has gone. I am deeply aware that I have a kid I not only love, but whose company I also thoroughly enjoy. This is where my life is now, so I’ll try to dwell a little less on the life I left behind. Cuz the one I got goin right now is pretty good. It is. I may know the thrill of city life again one day, but I also realize that one can’t ever truly go back. There really is nowhere else to go – but forward. So I guess that’s all a girl can do.