On Leaning in, Opting out, and Waking up

It seems as though everyone has an opinion on what women should do. I’ve always perceived that, but I’ve noticed it so much more since I became a mom. As soon as I started showing, everyone had an opinion to offer me about how I’d be feeding my baby, whether I’d work or stay home, how much weight I was or wasn’t gaining, how soon I should have another one. When I was pregnant, I found it really annoying. More than a year after my son’s birth, I’m so used to it that I don’t even notice it, which should be handy for, you know, the next several decades.

Something that comes up in most conversations with mom friends is the whole work/life balance thing. I think we’re all looking for that happy medium, and it’s not always easy to find it. And it doesn’t help that, from the time  you announce you’re pregnant, everyone starts openly judging you. “How can you not stay home with your kids when they’re little? Day care is just not the same.” “Oh, don’t you know that women who stay at home lose all their skills and never really go back to work? Are you okay being dependent on your man?” Seriously, there is always someone who will give you crap about what you’re doing, when in all likelihood you’re doing just fine. Do you love your kid? Then you’re doing a great job, congratulations.

As a rule, I try not to engage in the whole “mom-petition” discourse, because I think it’s self-involved and obnoxious. I don’t need to put anyone down to feel better about my own choices. And, for me, there are empowering aspects of continuing to work and being at home, so I try to find that balance for myself. Just the act of working on it on a daily basis is a challenge that I enjoy. I’m singing at my church gig two days a week, working as a writer and editor for a start-up, and auditioning for and lining up individual gigs (so far, mostly one-off concerts) as often as I can. That leaves me plenty of time to spend with my favorite baby, which I love. That happens to be what’s right for me, not necessarily anyone else.

Of course, like anyone’s does, my daily routine changed. I’ve taken a step back from teaching privately, which is something I miss. I’ve also stopped pursuing opera, which is something I don’t. I don’t even sing it in the shower. I almost never think about it, except when I’m talking to one of my best girlfriends, who is pursuing it professionally, and for all the right reasons.

If you had told me two years ago that I would have a baby and give up opera, I would have been beyond offended. I was a whole person all these years before I became a mom, and I have passions and ambitions and skills and experience that I’m not just going to throw out the window. Anyway, no one would ever say that to a man. How dare you.

The thing is … my passions and ambitions haven’t changed. As a matter of fact, coming home with a little person in my arms made me remember why I started singing in the first place. The more I sang to him on the changing table, in the bathtub, snuggling on the couch, the more I realized how much of a divide there was between how I felt with him and how I felt in voice lessons and coachings and auditions and rehearsals. Those were all things I used to be really excited about, but they had come to feel like chores. I was working with absolutely wonderful people and had some great opportunities, but I am positive there was something defeated and vacant in my eyes those last few months. I was so happy with my home life and my beautiful family, but when it came to music, I just felt … lethargic. My fach, or vocal type, was light-lyric-coloratura-soubrette-ish, or, for the uninitiated, lots of chirpy, chatty, ornate stuff. How was I supposed to make my voice move when all of me felt like a pile of wet, overcooked noodles?

My son is an epiphany. He made me realize that I had become deeply unhappy singing music that just doesn’t speak to my soul. Oh, I like opera, all right. I appreciate it. I even love Lucia di Lammermoor. But I don’t love it enough in general to keep doing all the work it takes to make it. Technique, diction, acting, the art and science of auditioning (ugh), networking, the whole nine yards … it’s so much freaking work. I just couldn’t muster up the energy or enthusiasm to keep doing it in hopes of singing a Despina somewhere. The magic of a performance happens when the singer loves the music. Then the audience loves it, too. I could never in a million years get that spark to ignite in the room if I kept hammering away at the same arias.

So, very long story short, I sing what I do love now. I sing the same music in concert and recital that I do during bath time. I sing this stuff. It’s what I got started out doing, and somehow I kind of lost my way and started singing stuff that I thought would make me more successful. I’ve never been happier with what I’m doing, I’ve already had some of the best opportunities of my life thus far, and I wake up every day excited to find out what’s next, even if it’s just a half-hour of practicing. It may be true that having a baby led to me quitting opera. I’m almost positive that if I hadn’t had him, I would have quit singing entirely.

I guess all this is to say that the whole “it’s either kids or your career” thing is bull–which we already knew–and that sometimes being happy in your personal life is exactly what you need in your professional life, and vice versa. I’m opting out of and leaning into many things at the same time. No, I don’t “have it all,” whatever that means. You can’t have it all, and that’s not a sexist statement–no one can, and that includes men as well as women. If we stopped chasing that narrative, we’d all be a lot less anxious.

If you can find that balance of happiness, what you can say is, “I have more than enough.”  And I do.