Should you Changes Lyrics for a New Audience?

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom 

I’m a pretty wholesome mom, inside and out. Except when I write songs. When I sit down with my guitar at night and start strumming, the first lyrics that come to mind aren’t about dinosaurs and eating vegetables. I drift to another place — my mind drawn to more salacious topics, like sex and politics or even gay rights and gun ownership. I’ve been known to drop more F bombs than your average mom singer (is there an “average mom singer,” though?).  

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with songs about dinosaurs — kindie-rock performers like Laurie Berkner write some killer dinosaur tunes. But it’s not the way I’m wired. For this reason, I use a stage name that’s separate from my real identity so my guitar students will have a harder time finding my music online.

Here’s the problem: Unlike my contemporaries who are famous, I don’t have the luxury of playing whatever gig at whatever venue I want whenever I want. While I believe moms should be proud to be themselves — whether they want to write about dinosaurs or sexual fantasies — club promoters and bar managers don’t aways see it that way. So unless I’m playing a dive bar or indie-rock show in Brooklyn, I feel pressured to alter my lyrics considerably. Sometimes, I’ll have to completely gut a song, lyrically — which inevitably leaves me feeling a little empty. 

This happened at First Night Delaware about 15 years ago, with my D.C. band Grandma’s Mini. We were given $400 to play a New Year’s Eve gig for four hours, only to learn last minute that we would be playing four back-to-back sets in a library. Yes, a LIBRARY! Children would be coming to see us!! If you’ve ever heard Grandma’s Mini — whose most famous song, “Learn to Love Your Sh*t Job” was featured in the indie flick Washington Interns Gone Bad — you know that most of our songs aren’t meant for the ears of innocent children. So it was a mad, 20-minute scramble for me and Ann (my music partner) to come up with alternate lyrics.

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Playing “not so innocent” music with my band Grandma’s Mini

While I don’t mind playing cute songs like “Baby Shark” or “Shiny” when I’m playing a library gig or for my sons’ preschool, I hate watering down content like this. Sometimes I wonder if it’s better to turn down gigs altogether than change in the slightest, which can feel inauthentic. When money’s involved, the decision gets a little harder. Ann and I weren’t about to let go of $400 after we’d booked hotels and arrived on site. 

There are other considerations too. I’m a super-busy mom who rocks — but also works. I barely have time to market my band, or any musical project I’m involved in. I can’t be picky. If I get asked to play at any event, it’s an honor.

On the other hand, life is short: People shouldn’t have to compromise who they are in their hearts. Cardi B doesn’t!

What would you do if you were in my shoes? Take the gigs that require a change in lyrical content, or just be grateful for what you get and adapt as needed? 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor of Rockmommy.

Rock Dad Mark Pires on Going Solo with The GigBox — and Why Timing is Everything

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Dressed in nice pants and a button-down shirt as he walks his kids to school, Mark Pires looks like your average working parent. But strip away the business frocks and hand him an acoustic guitar, and you realize Mark’s not so basic: In fact, he’s part of a rare breed of dads who can strum an axe like Dave Matthews. Listen a little longer, and he may start finger-picking a tune that will induce a state of musical bliss.

Pires Family

Mark Pires, creator of The GigBox, with his family in Fairfield, Conn.

But while learning to play guitar was easy for Mark, now a dad of 3, there was one glaring challenge that used to stymie him when he tried to start his solo gigging career: a drummer, or rather, a lack thereof. 

While he’s a whiz with looper pedals and can make his guitar sound like practically any recognizable instrument, Mark spent much of his adult life dependent on drummers and percussionists to round out his rock n’ roll tunes, which tend to capture the mood of Matthews’ music, with clear Grateful Dead influences. And while anyone can play a song with just a guitar, having drums changes the entire vibe of a set, filling it out or making it more rock n’ roll. And a fuller sound can often make the difference when transitioning from the open mic scene to bigger stages and crowds.

But as Mark would tell you himself, everything happens for a reason. And one day in 2011, when his percussionist cancelled on Mark last minute to play a higher-profile gig, the idea of building a cajón tailored to the needs of a solo guitarist came to him in a vision. 

A few years later, The GigBox ™ was born. 

GigBox

The GigBox

Fast forward to 2019, and Mark’s patented invention for solo artists has gained an impressive following. The GigBox has received media attention that would make a public relations pro swoon — like broadcast segments on Fox News and News 12, plus lots of clips in community magazines and newspapers — and is a popular diversion at conferences like NAMM. It’s available at a handful of retail locations too, although the bulk of GigBoxes are ordered online (and made to order). 

[RELATED: Inside the Loog Guitar: Not Your Typical Preschooler’s Instrument]

As expected, Mark can easily bang out tunes on The GigBox, using his heels to tap the sides of the hollow box in timed intervals to create high hat, snare, and bass drum beats. 

Of course, for the rest of us who aren’t used to playing our own percussion during solo gigs, it’s a little trickier to get a rhythm going. I also had a size issue. I’m 5’2, and in sneakers my heels didn’t touch the ground when I started kicking the box and playing a basic chord progression. But fortunately for me — and others 5’4 and under — Mark has created a smaller, more petite version of his signature model — the GigBox Junior (as well as even smaller GigBoxes for mommy-and-me or daddy-and-me jams). 

It’s a minor issue, because playing The GigBox is awesome. The first time I clicked the side of the box with my heel, I immediately wanted to start singing something new, rather than create a beat for an existing track. But if you want to play a classic tune, Mark offers tons of tutorials on The GigBox website. 

In July, we caught up with Mark to chat about his journey to The GigBox, and how he balances his business with family and other responsibilities.

Rockmommy: So, how did you get your start as a musician? 

Mark Pires: I didn’t even know I had a talent for music until I heard my friend playing ‘Warehouse’ [by Dave Matthews] and that’s the first time I realized it was possible to play someone else’s music. One of my best friends introduced me to Jethro Tull, the Grateful Dead, and then I and started listening to Pearl Jam, the Counting Crows, and other bands.

Six months into playing guitar, I got sick of playing Dave Matthews songs and started writing my own material. In college, I did a lot of theater — my first love was acting — and then when I started writing music, something clicked. Writing Songs that no one’s ever heard in the history of time, that’s unique!

I had a band in 2001 called The Reservoir— and in July 2001 won a big battle of the bands at Calf Pasture beach [in Norwalk, Connecticut] called IndieBob. We were promised two things. A college tour and distribution deal, and a recording session at Carriage House, a studio in Stamford.

So in July 2001 we recorded 11 songs in one day — 9 out of 11 songs were first takes — and then September 11th happened. So then, the record company that was giving us the distribution deal and tour went out of business. But they told us, ‘We just started a little company called CD Baby.’ We’ll give you a one-year membership for free [laughs]. We were supposed to get a college tour and a distribution deal — but instead we got a $35 membership to CD Baby.

 

 

Rockmommy: So what happened next? 

Mark Pires: So in 2004, The Reservoir broke up. We got to a point where we just weren’t going. For a year and a half, we were just a power trio — me, a drummer and a bassist. We weren’t gathering steam, so after that I started my solo tour, which I’ve done until now. I was one of the first guys in the area to use a loop sampler, a Boomerang. It’s like a looper pedal. But the one I was using, compared to the ones today, was a million times harder. If I didn’t have my timing exact, the whole song was off. So I started the process where I went on the Mark Pires Solo Tour, and to fill out my sound, I had all these pedals in front of me… and I also had a guitar synthesizer, a Roland GR-33 to play trumpets, steel drums, whatever I wanted, on the guitar. I ran everything through a PA at whatever venue I’d play. So that was the way it went. The one piece I was missing was percussion.

Rockmommy: When did it first occur to you to create The GigBox ?

Mark Pires: My first son, Oliver was 2, it was 2011… and I was playing Georgetown Saloon [in Georgetown, Conn.] and another musician was backing me up — José Feliciano’s drummer — with a cajón. I never would have thought of The GigBox if he didn’t call me up and said, ‘hey I can’t make it to the show, call someone else,’ and I thought, ‘hey, I need to build a cajón.’ But then I realized the cajón it isn’t built for [guitarists]. It sits underneath us, and I was confused. How do I kick it and play? And as soon as I realized how ridiculous that look, I saw the GigBox in my mind. I thought, ‘what about something that comes through your legs? What if it was wider in the back and more narrow in the front?’ The GigBox lets you sit and completely comfortable.

Rockmommy: So how did you have the skills to build this? 

Mark Pires: In life, we don’t know why we’re good at some things and bad at others. Some of the things I’ve had a knack for include songwriting. I just feel things. I’d say the same thing with The GigBox. I could say I have some experience because my dad is a builder so I’m used to tools. When I’d come back from the road, I’d be working for my dad, and be around carpenters and construction workers. The first GigBoxes were built in my father’s garage.

Rockmommy: How would someone get started playing The GigBox? 

Mark Pires: We have four different models you can choose from — the regular GigBox, the Mini, which is 12 inches tall, the Junior, which is 16 inches tall, and the percussion version is 10 inches wide instead of seven-and-a-half.

Rockmommy: What’s the Learning curve for The GigBox? 

Mark Pires: It’s like playing the guitar. Learning the guitar is a learning curve — when I first started playing guitar, I was having a hard time, and my fingers were killing me. It took me a lot of time to get past that. The GigBox was just the same. The best way to explain learning The GigBox is say you have to try to do it slowly. You get a bass going with your heel [taps heel on left side of GigBox], and then you get going.

Rockmommy: You’re a busy guy. How do you balance being a dad, husband, and entrepreneur? 

Mark Pires: My wife, Lara, is the greatest mom — she runs the GigBox business and its PR while taking care of the kids 24/7. This allows me to focus on both Real Estate — I’m a Realtor with Berkshire Hathaway — and allows me to build GigBox orders and broadcast live for my Real Talk show every night. Having Lara’s support allows me to have a successful work/life balance. This is important because my work schedule is not normal. I work 358 days a year — I know this because I did the math, and calculated the number of hours I spend working. And I work every single day of the year, except for vacation. Now there are some busier days than others. I tend to work long hours every day, and at night, I eat, hang out with the kids, quickly shower… and do Real Talk, my talk show, where I talk and play some songs with The GigBox. The balance can be hard. It’s about discipline, it’s about consistency. It’s very difficult, because there are times when I get home and I just want to put my feet up. And you know, The GigBox can give you better life-work balance — because our focus is too much on work, not on the positivity of life. The GigBox is an energy builder, an energy soother. My kid can have a rough day and start kicking and playing and then he has a smile on his face. 

Rockmommy: What lessons have you learned over the years? 

Mark Pires: Twelve years ago, I had a record deal on the table with a subsidiary of Jive Records. And my wife and I were going to get married six months later. I brought it to the lawyer in Darien and he laughed, and said, ‘there’s nothing here for you — it’s like the deal Billy Joel signed, when he signed away ‘Piano Man’ and didn’t get a penny for it’ and we went back and forth and I said, ‘you know what? I’m going to get married. I’ll just hang up the guitar and get a real estate license.’ And thank God I did that. Because the first thing a record label will do is put a band around you. And if that happened, I never would have invented The GigBox. It’s nice to be 41 and know you made the right move at 30.

Use “Rockmommy” in the coupon code at checkout and get 10 percent off your next GigBox.

 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

Want to Hear Songs Inspired by STEM? Download Turtle Dance Music’s Latest Album

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Does your little one love to dance with her friends? Or is he or she literally shell shocked with shyness? If you answered the latter, Turtle Dance Music wants to schedule a performance in your town.  

The New York City-based musical performance troupe recently reached out to Rockmommy with the news that its live show, which emphasizes — yes! — science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), is coming to town. And honestly, as someone who reviews kindie music all the time, I can definitely say this is the first time I’ve encountered a STEM kindie music act. It’s kinda neat! 

The group, which offers “45- to 60-minute long sensory-friendly performances” geared for Pre-K, grades K-5 and students on the Autism spectrum,” kicks of its 2019 summer tour — “Space: The Cosmos for Kids” — on July 21 in Hartford, Conn.

The group is also releasing its sixth studio album — Add to the World  — this weekend. 

I’ve listened once and already have a few favorites: “One Note,” a math song that kinda reminds me of early Daft Punk. There’s also a super-cutesy song about colds called “I only Sneeze in Threes” and the guitar-laced “Jump and Count” — which is literally a math-inspired remake of “Twist and Shout.”

Want more? 

Check out a video of the group’s performance (for viewers of all ages!) or visit their website for more info. 

If you’re in Connecticut, see them in late July or August at one of these gigs:

Space: The Cosmos for Kids
7/25: Milford library, 57 New Haven Ave.; 6:30 p.m.
8/2 Cheshire library, 104 Main Street; 10 a.m.
8/2: Meriden library, 105 Miller St.;11:30 a.m.
8/14: Weston library, 56 Norfield Road; 3:30 p.m.
8/14: Harwinton library, 80 Bentley Road, 6:30 p.m.
 
Autism Friendly Music, Bubble and Comedy Show 
8/21: New London library, 63 Huntington Street; 1 p.m.
 
Songs That Count
8/21: New Canaan library, 151 Main Street, 10 a.m.

A Summer Playlist That’ll Work for (Almost) Any Kid Under 7

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Pop quiz: What’s the last thing you played in your car? If your answer is Kidz Bop, you’re definitely a parent who wants to make sure your kids aren’t listening profanity-laced tunes while you drive. And/or your name is Nick, and you’re a dad of four who plays the drums. 🙂

To be sure, Kidz Bop puts out some amazing renditions of songs like Cardi B’s “I like it.”

But I sense that what many parents really need more of is good playlists full of adult-friendly songs that you can listen to with the little ones in tow. 

Whether you’re embarking on a family road trip, or are simply tired of hearing “Baby Shark” on repeat, here’s a summer playlist full of seasonal, (mostly) grownup tunes that your kids will love. I can say this with confidence because it’s an actual summer playlist I use for my two sons, both under 7. 

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My son Logan, listening to something on my computer

“Three Little Birds” — Bob Marley

Everything about this song makes me happy. If you’re not burned out on “Legend” from your college years, also download “No Woman No Cry.” 

“Believer” — Imagine Dragons

My littlest one loves the thundering drums and been easily singing along with the chorus. 

“Rock Party” — Kids Imagine Nation

This fun song from the Orange California kind rock trio Kids Imagine Nation calls for some serious dancing. 

[RELATED: The Most Danceable Kiddie Record for Ska- and Punk-loving Parents is Coming in September] 

“Miserlou” — Dick Dale

This surf song is one of my all-time favorites, even without “Pulp Fiction.” Kids will totally dig it too. RIP, Dick Dale.

[SEE RELATED: “How Meeting Dick Dale, My Favorite Guitarist of All Time, Changed My Life”]

“We Will Rock You” — Queen

Stomp, stomp, clap! Stomp, stomp, clap! While some might be offended by this song’s lyrics, my kids love it (and they only remember the first verse anyway). 

“ME!” — Taylor Swift

T-swift’s new one is catchy and uplifting. If you haven’t over-played “Shake it Off” like me, add that one to the list too. 

“Message in a Bottle” — The Police

Who doesn’t love this song? I mean, really? 

“We Are The Dinosaurs” — Laurie Berkner

You might think that this is a children’s song, but trust me, you won’t get the refrain out of your head: “We are the dinosaurs, marching, marching!” 

“How I Love You Sun” — Jessa Campbell & The Saplings

If you like this song, the video is even better! 

“Pony Boy” — Joanie Leeds and the Nightlights

This isn’t a grown-up song, but it’s a super cute little country ditty. And that makes me happy. 

[SEE RELATED: Singer-Songwriter Joanie Leeds on Motherhood, Her Summer Tour & ‘Brooklyn Baby’]

“No Hablo Espanol” 

Backstreet Boys singer Howie D’s first children’s record navigates his unusual upbringing. My kids are obsessed with this song. 

“Firework” — Katy Perry

This song makes me think of the Fourth of July every time.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

Got 7 Minutes? Learn to Play Moana’s ‘Shiny’ (and Make Your Kids Happy)

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom 

Moana is one of my favorite movies to watch with my kids — and, heck, even other peoples’ kids. A big part of that is the soundtrack, full of singalong tracks written the brilliant Lin-Manuel Miranda of Hamilton fame.

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The crab Tamatoa, as seen in the 2016 Disney film “Moana” (aka, the greatest Disney movie ever made).

I spent a good part of last summer playing the soundtrack in my car on repeat, and me and the little men would belt out the songs.

Our favorite, by far, was “Shiny” — the anthem sung by the scary crab Tamatoa. 

The best part about this song is that it’s not too hard to learn — the chords are simple and pretty much anyone who knows how to play basic open chords (and a few power chords) can play along. And so I’ve created a short video tutorial here for Rockmommy readers. Enjoy!

PS: Chords and lyrics below the video. Warning: Chord formatting will vary by device, so listen to the song to get the timing right.

SHINY (written by Lin-Manuel Miranda for the 2016 Disney film “Moana”)

VERSE
Em / Am / Em /
Tamatoa hasn’t always been this glam
Am / Em /
I was a drab little crab once
Am / C /
Now I know I can be happy as a clam
D / Em /
Because I’m beautiful, baby

Am / Em /
Did your granny say listen to your heart
Am / Em /
Be who you are on the inside
Am / C /
I need three words to tear her argument apart
D /
Your granny lied! I’d rather be…

CHORUS
G /
Shiny
C / G /
Like a treasure from a sunken pirate wreck
C D
Scrub the deck and make it look…

G /
Shiny
C / Am /
I will sparkle like a wealthy woman’s neck
D /
Just a sec! Don’t you know
Em / C
Fish are dumb, dumb, dumb
/ Em / C /
They chase anything that glitters (beginners!)
Em / C
And here they come, come, come
/ Am /
To the brightest thing that glitters
D
Mmm, fish dinners

/ Eb
I just love free food
Eb
And you look like seafood (seafood)

VERSE
Em /
Well, well, well
Am / Em /
Little Maui’s having trouble with his look
Am /
You little semi-demi-mini-god
Em / Am /
Ouch! What a terrible performance
C /
Get the hook (get it?)
D / Em /
You don’t swing it like you used to, man

Am / Em /
Yet I have to give you credit for my start
Am / Em /
And your tattoos on the outside
Am / C /
For just like you I made myself a work of art
D /
I’ll never hide; I can’t, I’m too…

CHORUS
G /
Shiny
C / G /
Watch me dazzle like a diamond in the rough
C D
Strut my stuff; my stuff is so…

G /
Shiny
C / Am /
Send your armies but they’ll never be enough
D /
My shell’s too tough, Maui man,

Em / C
you could try, try, try
/ Em /
But you can’t expect a demi-god
C /
To beat a decapod (look it up)

Em / C /
You will die, die, die
/ Am /
Now it’s time for me to take apart
D /
Your aching heart

BRIDGE
Eb Bb Eb Bb
Far from the ones who abandoned you Chasing
Eb Bb
the love of these humans
Eb Bb
Who made you feel wanted
C Dm
You tried to be tough
Eb F
But your armour’s just not hard enough

Bb
Maui
G#
Now it’s time to kick your hiney, ever seen someone so…

CHORUS
G /
Shiny
C / G /
Soak it in ’cause it’s the last you’ll ever see
C D
C’est la vie mon ami, I’m so…

G /
Shiny
C / Am /
Now I’ll eat you, so prepare your final plea
D
Just for me
Eb
You’ll never be quite as shiny
Eb
You wish you were nice and…
G
Shiny!!

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor of Rockmommy. 

From Backstreet Boy to Musical Dad: Howie D. on Love, Fatherhood and New Record ‘Which One Am I?

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

The Backstreet Boys are all dads in their 30s and 40s — which proves you’re never too old to be a pop star, and churn out hits infused with killer vocal harmonies and choreographed dance moves. 

And as the experience of founding member Howie D. proves, you’re never too old to try something completely different and unexpected. 

The vocalist’s first family album ‘Which One am I?’ — which draws on his sometimes-awkward adolescence as the son of a Puerto Rican mom and Irish-American Dad — drops July 12. Judging by the catchy first single, “No Hablo Español” — a Santana-meets-Sesame-Street tune — the record will show us a side of Howie we’ve only glimpsed in interviews and news stories.

Howie D

Backstreet Boys vocalist Howie D. will release first family album, Which One Am I?, on July 12.

In the video for “No Hablo Español” Howie’s real-life, 10-year-old son James plays a young boy trying to explain to kids and grown-ups in his community that he doesn’t speak Spanish, isn’t accustomed to spicy foods, and has had few cultural experiences that exemplify his presumed upbringing. It’s a powerful song that encapsulates the struggle experienced by many kids from mixed family backgrounds — especially today.

“Unfortunately, I wasn’t taught Spanish at a young age,” Howie D. — whose full name is Howie Dorough — tells Rockmommy. “My response was always ‘No Hablo Español.’”

The album is also inspired by Howie’s perspective as a father of two, who — just like the rest of us — works hard to balance creative career endeavors with the demands of parenting, like shuttling kids to and from school every day (raise your hand if you can relate!). 

So how does he do it all? 

We caught up with Howie D., who is currently on the Backstreet Boys DNA World Tour, to find out more. 

Rockmommy: I just finished watching the video for “No Hablo Español” — it’s like Sesame Street meets a Broadway musical! How did the song (and the album Which One Am I?) come about?

Howie D: Thank you, that’s such a compliment and exactly what I was looking to achieve. The idea for the song “No Hablo Español” came from my experiences as a child and people assuming I spoke Spanish by the way I look. Unfortunately, I wasn’t taught Spanish at a young age. My response was always: “No Hablo Español.” The album is based off different childhood experiences and challenges I faced.

Rockmommy: When did it occur to you that you wanted to create a family album? Was there a moment? Or did the idea sort of percolate over time?

Howie D: This idea started when my eldest was about 5 years old. I wanted to find a way to connect with him on a musical level. I had a hard time relating to music that was out there at the time. It made me wonder why there wasn’t more music that kids and parents could enjoy together. Also, as I looked into the audience at a Backstreet Boys show one day, I noticed a lot of kids coming to the shows with their BSB fan parents. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back… and I began working on what is now Which One Am I?

Rockmommy: You became a husband and then a dad after decades of musical success with the Backstreet Boys. How has parenthood changed you, personally?

Howie D.: Parenthood has taught me to be selfless. Having a family has really balanced me out in life. Now, I am able to truly understand the meaning of working hard, but also the meaning of being a family man too.

Rockmommy: How has parenthood influenced your music (or even your tour schedule)?

Howie D.: Parenthood has influenced my music by making me think about different subjects. I am inspired by different things nowadays. All 5 of us in the Backstreet Boys are now parents. We try to work together on a schedule that allows us to work hard and put in quality time with our families, even if it is on the road.

Rockmommy: Do your boys enjoy playing music or sing with you?

Howie D.: My kids LOVE singing with me. On the way to school — I am the bus driver when I am home — we are always singing along and rewriting songs we hear on the radio. James definitely has the entertainer bug! He loves singing and dancing. He even takes voice lessons from my sister, Pollyanna [Dorough].

Rockmommy: Do you go to “daddy and me” toddler music classes or anything like that? Or just jam at home?

Howie D.: When my kids were younger, I would go to Gymboree with them. This also inspired me to want to make something more entertaining for families!

Rockmommy: Having a busy work life and kids can be hard on marriage. How do you make it work?

Howie D.: I try to put in quality time for both. When me and my wife are back home, we have a date night once a week. It brings us back to a time when it was just the two of us! Marriage is something you always work on. As I mentioned, I am the bus driver when I’m at home. I love that quality time with the kids in the morning and afternoons.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor of Rockmommy. 

What to Do When Goals and Hobbies Become Stressful

When I first began playing guitar in college, no one had to nag me to practice. I played every chance I got, picking up tips from more-skilled players and romantic partners along the way.

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Me, carving out 10 minutes on a sunny day, to play guitar.

Within a few months, I was hooked. It helped, of course, that when I started playing guitar I was dating an insanely skilled player — a guy who patiently walked me through the basics (transitioning from E-minor to G) and the complex stuff (the Circle of Fifths) — but he didn’t need to convince me to practice. I just did, perhaps to the detriment of other areas of my life.

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Fast forward to 2019, and “play guitar” has frequently found itself on my “to do” list — something to accomplish, something to check off. Sure, I play for fun too — I have a new band, Trashing Violet, and we practice for two hours a week — but most days, I try to hit a minimum of 10  minutes. Some days it’s a struggle.

So what gives? I didn’t even know what a “to do” list was when I was a teenager with her first Yamaha Acoustic (12 Gauge) 6-String. 

In a word, motherhood. 

My days are busy and — between making breakfast and lunch, snuggle time, laundry, working as a freelance writer, teaching guitar, working out to stay healthy, cooking, folding laundry, and finally, hanging out with my husband — the amount of time devoted to personal recreation has dwindled. And often times, I’m too exhausted to want to do anything at the end of the day besides watch The Bachelorette (don’t judge, people) or scroll through Instagram. In this way, I’m definitely not alone. 

But it isn’t just motherhood that’s changed me, and given a new urgency to goals like running a half marathon in 1:50”. It’s also the onset of “to do” culture and #goals.

Hobbies are no longer ways to pass the time. They’re #sidegigs and essential passion projects. Like many millennials, I grew up with the mindset that I should follow my dreams only to land a mediocre job after college. I grew up being told that having ambitions didn’t just mean getting a job — it meant aiming for the stars. And never quitting. Winners never quit. 

Of course, being a professional, paid freelance writer — one who’s written for The Washington Post, The Baltimore Sun and other esteemed outlets — is fantastic. Getting paid to teach guitar is fantastic. Playing guitar and singing with a band is fantastic. But I also harbor secret dreams that one day, I’ll get paid to tour the world with whatever band I’m in while writing a New York Times best-selling novel. 

The problem is that having goals — or being totally driven by passion projects — can distract us from the here and now. 

The truth is that I can only do so much to be a better writer, guitar player, singer and person. I no longer have the lazy days of college to practice my skills, or lie in my bed thinking of nothing until a poem comes into my head. Being a great mom is the most important thing I do. And that takes time. It also takes time away from personal development or passion projects.

In order to keep my life and recreational endeavors in balance, here are a few rules I follow: 

  1. Keep goals reasonable. If I were to practice guitar 5 hours a day, 5 days a week, I wouldn’t have time for anything else — exercise, parenthood, income-earning ventures, etc. So maybe that means Nita Strauss, a professional guitarist with no kids, will always be a better guitar player than me. But by practicing maybe two to three hours a week, I can still be better than the average hack. 
  1. Set the bar low. My weekly goals are as follows: 3 hard workouts (45 minutes or more) per week; 1 to 2 hours of singing/guitar practice per week (on at least 3 separate days); 1 hour of personal, non-income-generating writing time. That’s it. When I try to raise the bar, I get stressed out because I end up dropping things I need (like meditation). Keeping the bar low-ish leaves me time for self-reflection.
  1. Practice gratitude. Cheesy as it sounds, when I am grateful for the little things — a body that can run half marathons, a spouse who supports my ambitions, two beautiful children, a nice and relaxing home, my parents — I don’t feel deprived or resentful that I’m not as famous as Gwen Stefani. 

As my wise mom friend Emily once told me (I think, quoting Michelle Obama), women can have it all — just not all as once. 

Hobbies and goals should motivate and excite us. If they’re stressing you out, it’s time to rethink why you engaged in them in the first place. And it may be time for a new hobby. 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.