About rockmommyct

I am a mother, writer, rock and roll musician, and guitar teacher.

Going Freelance Again … with Two Kids in Tow!

When I first moved to New York in 2005, I became a freelance writer and (later) a guitar teacher by default. There weren’t any magazine jobs, but I had a lot of b-to-b writing skills — so friends of mine who knew I needed money just started sending my name to editors. I got assignments. And more assignments. And soon, I had so many assignments that I didn’t have time to look for a job. Sometimes I didn’t even have time to take a shower.

I did manage to find time to volunteer for the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls as a vocal/guitar teacher. So when an opportunity to teach guitar to kids came up on the Rock Camp listserv, I applied on a whim. The job — teaching students with the Brooklyn Guitar School — was mine a week later. A part-time freelancer’s position.

So the e-mail tagline changed with my identity: I became Marisa, a freelance writer and guitar teacher.

Then, the economy tanked in 2009, taking most of my high-paying media outlets with it. After months of trying to get new contract work, I humbly applied for a full-time job, tail between my legs. When I was hired, I felt like such a huge sellout, going corporate after years of being free. But numbers, like hips, don’t lie: I could barely afford more than rent, subway fare, and groceries. At the time, my then-fiance was a student teacher. We decided to move to Stamford, Conn., from Brooklyn, and I would need a car. And more money for things like gas and car insurance. There was no way around it: I had to get a job.

It’s been five years since I moved to Connecticut and returned to the corporate-job world. And now, I am leaving it again, only this time around, the circumstances are VERY different. Unlike before, I am not just working for myself. So I can’t just get up at 7 a.m. and plow through an assignment until noon. Rather, I can get up at 6 a.m., and plow through some work until 7, but then I’ll need to take a break to eat waffles with my toddler, and nurse my infant. I’ll need to make sure that bottles are washed and both little men are dressed and changed. In other words, there is only so much I will be able to work. Instead of working up to 80 hours a week, I’ll have to make sure my workload ends up being no more than 40 hours a week. I’ll have to have hard limits.

Of course, there’s the usual sadness about not having paid sick days (when you’re a freelancer, you don’t get paid when you’re sick!). And I’ll miss having colleagues — one of the nicest things about working in the corporate world. I’ll also miss the income that comes with working 50-60 hours per week. The idea of giving up money to put toward little luxuries like weekend getaways or new clothes is crazy scary.

But in return I’m getting something better: More time with my sons, big dude and baby dude. At the end of the day, I didn’t want to give up having waffles with my older boy, or nursing my little one because I’m on a business trip. I want to be there at the beginning of the day, instead of in a car on the way to a job. I want to be there for them at the end of the day. I want to cook dinner for them — and learn to use a food processor.

As much as I love work, family comes first. So here’s to “living the dream” as my friend Miriam called it. I truly am a lucky girl.

 

 

Practicing Guitar During Maternity Leave: 6 Tips

Maternity leave is a time to heal and bond with your baby. But for first-time moms it can be just as hectic as it is blissful, with baby crying at unpredictable times (like 3 a.m.) or waking up in the middle of the night several times. Still, that’s no reason you have to let your guitar playing go!

Like working out or investing time in anything you love, keeping “in shape” with your music skills is essential for guitar-playing moms.

Here are some tips on how to make time for music — or how to not let life as a mom of young ones to get in the way of playing guitar.

1. Set easy goals. When you have a child, time — the amount you have, how you use it, and how you value it — changes. Before my first son, Nathan, was born, I used to play guitar in the mornings, from 9 to 10 a.m., when I was most relaxed. In addition to teaching guitar, I played several hours every week — often times with a band in tow. Now, with two under two, I barely have time in the morning for myself other than make coffee! So I set a simple goal: play 1.5 hours a week for myself (not including time spent working on lesson plans). Sometimes a wailing (and hungry!) infant interrupts a song, but for the most part, having the goal has kept me motivated to stay in shape.

2. Keep Your guitar out of its case: When you become a mom, life is hectic even if you have help. And sometimes, even the thought of taking your guitar out of its case can be overwhelming. Do yourself a favor and keep it out in full display. If you have a toddler, like I do, install guitar hooks on your wall (we just bought several and intend to put them up any day now with my husband’s new drill).

3. Practice in chunks of time. I totally get it — you’re not going to play for two hours straight, only getting up for bathroom breaks. I’m not, either, save for the two times I had a gig last year and I lined up a babysitter so I could rehearse for two hours straight. Unless you’re a professional musician, you don’t have that kind of time anymore. What I recommend instead is practicing for 15- to 30-minute increments throughout the day. You can either time yourself or just play a few songs until baby wakes up for his or her nap.

4. Play five minutes every day. Some people wake up and meditate. Others stretch into gorgeous yoga poses. Most days, I wake up and reach for my acoustic — or at least I try to. The advice “play at least five minutes a day”— which I heard from another guitarist when I first started playing — has served me since college. And for moms, it’s especially important: Playing for just five minutes is better than not playing at all.

5. Play even when you don’t feel like playing. Do you always feel like working out at the gym? I certainly don’t! But I love the benefit of having a great figure, and feeling mentally and physically fantastic. The same goes for playing guitar: You need to practice regularly to stay in shape, or else your fingers will get sore and you will slowly forget how much you loved playing.

6. Play to your baby (even when he/she cries). This is, perhaps, the most important tip of all! Music is magic. I played guitar several times a week when both kids were in utero, and as a result, they love listening to me play. Nathan actually dances now when I play “Old McDonald Had a Farm” (although I just play E major over and over again!). Music is linked with all kinds of health benefits, such as improving mood and brain function. And when music comes from mommy, it’s even better!

When Two Under Two Get Sick

Caring for two under two at the same time is like any other challenge. It’s hard at first, and seems overwhelming. But then, you get used to a routine: Make food for toddler while baby is sleeping (or toddler is at daycare), turn on Berenstain Bears for toddler so he doesn’t freak out while you nurse the baby, etc. Got it.

Or so I thought.

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Just when I thought I had this “two under two” lifestyle down, Nathan threw a wrench in it. Last Tuesday, poor dude was cranky when I brought him home. He didn’t take to me having a guest, and he fussed as I put him in his high chair. Typical toddler, I thought. Two seconds later I picked up baby Logan to nurse him. Dinner for all!

About a minute after I attached Logan to my breast, what looked like a scene in “Alien” transpired: Nathan projectile puked creamy chunks of milky stuff speckled with bits of grape (sorry to get so graphic, foodies!). The high chair was a mess, Nathan was a mess. And as he stared at his puke-covered clothes and chair in disbelief, I knew I had to act quickly! I yanked the baby off the boob, put him in the car seat, ran to the linen closet to grab a towel, and then yanked Nathan out of his high chair. I stripped him down, dried him off, and shuttled him upstairs for a bath.

The timing couldn’t be worse: We had a plumber coming an hour later to fix our shower. I had a baby I left downstairs. Nathan was inconsolable. I said a quick prayer and took him downstairs. Gave him a sippy cup of milk and a veggie pouch (a mistake), and thought the night would only get better.

If only.

Ten minutes later in the living room, a diaper clad Nathan puked again on our rug (thank god it’s not an expensive one), and declared “uh-oh” as he continued to spit up. I called Zack to come home so he could help. There was no way I could care for a sick little dude and properly tend to my baby.

Logan is less than two months old, so while I got up every two hours to nurse him, Zack and I also had to periodically get up to change Nathan’s sheets and toss them in the laundry (either from puke or diarrhea), comfort Nathan, and try to get him to go back to sleep. The next day we were whipped.

I don’t have any tips on how to make dealing with such a scenario easier in the future. What I can say is that I never knew I was capable of handling two sick under-twos until I had to. It’s amazing what we’re capable of when we have no other choice.

The Growing Differences Between How my Child-free Friends and Friends with Kids Think

Last May, about a month before I got knocked up with baby #2, I tried on the most stunning, black-and-floral-print, jaw-dropping Parker dress at Apricot Lane, a super-cute boutique in Fairfield, Conn., where I live. It was a lovely, sunny Sunday, and my dear husband had taken our baby son, Nathan, to his grandparents’ house, so I could have a few hours to myself.

When I saw my reflection in the mirror, I was stunned at how great I still looked, at 37, in a designer dress. It was a real confidence boost to a mom, let me tell you. Then I saw the price tag: $235!!!

Now, it’s not that I don’t have enough money to afford a $235 designer dress. I do. But with Nathan in daycare, and plans to buy a home on the horizon, I knew it had to be a truly special dress to drop that kind of cash spontaneously.

So I called my fashion-forward friend A. to ask her what I should do: Should I fork over the money and splurge on the dress? Should I pass?

“I’d wait, look around a bit, see what else you can find,” said A.

Fair enough. After all, A. always gives me great advice. Unfortunately, I forgot to take into account that she is child-free, and therefore, by default, experiences the world a bit differently than I do.

Long story short, I took her advice because it seemed like the “smart” thing to do — I figured later that week I’d find another great dress when I stopped by the mall during my downtime. But two hours of downtime and a trip to the mall never came. And then it was mid June. I desperately trolled the Internet, but the dress was sold out online. The one I had put on hold at Apricot Lane was long gone, too.

Almost a year later, and I’m still thinking about that dress — the Parker Lily dress.

When I recalled the experience, months later, to my friend Karina, who has a son, her response made me seethe even more for listening to my child-free friend: “Oh my god, you should have bought the dress,” she said. “Who has time to go shopping? You have a kid!”

The experience did, however, enlighten me to the reality that there’s a growing gap between how my friends with kids and my friends without kids think about everything.

Take sleep.

Shortly after the dress incident, I headed south for a planned girls getaway with two of my besties and another girl pal. The night before, me and bestie #1 got about four hours of sleep each — me because of the anxiety and insomnia over leaving my then-11-month-old for a beach jaunt, and her because of my uncomfortable air mattress.

En route to Dewey Beach, Bestie #1 marveled at my ability to pump breast milk while driving, and when we arrived at the beach, it was rainy so we decided to get pedicures. That’s when she hit a wall. “I have to take a nap!” she lamented. The mood had changed so quickly, and she was cranky. I pondered this in disbelief: Was she really that exhausted over four hours of sleep for one night? Did people between the ages of 16 and 50 get exhausted over one bad night?

The answer, apparently, is yes.

But as any parent knows, when you have a kid you learn to bank sleep: a good night is four straight hours, interrupted once, followed by two hours, which gives you about six total. A bad night is two hours, or half-hour sleep segments spaced out by infant grunting. Parents learn to survive at 50 percent sleep capacity — or four hours a night total (including interruptions) — for weeks on end.

Child-free friends of mine don’t understand these bootcamp-like conditions, so they convince themselves they “need” sleep because they are used to a high level of sleep (it’s similar to how those of us who grew up in the middle-class suburbs “needed” new clothes every few months).

It’s not that I fault my bestie for needing so much sleep, or for taking care of herself. I did the same thing before I got pregnant with my first son. But when you have a baby, your views on sleep change from that point forward: Sleep is a beautiful thing; it’s great when you can get it but if you can’t, you won’t die.

Here is how those of us with kids “think” in various situations (versus those of us without them):

#1: 10 p.m. on a Tuesday

Friends with Children: Bedtime!

Child-free friends: “Just finished dinner after a grueling spin session at the gym. Time to catch up on missed shows. Where’s the remote?”

#2: 10 p.m. on a Friday

Friends with Children: “Where’s the remote? Honey, can you pour me some wine?”

Child-free friends: “I’ll meet you at the bar after dinner. The band goes on at 11 — let’s try to get a spot up front.”

#3: Working out at 6 a.m. 

Friends with Children: “Not happening until he sleeps through the night.”

Child-free friends: (Posts to Facebook): “So proud of myself for waking up at the crack of dawn to get in a spin class. Yay to me!”

#4: Trip from D.C. to New York/NY to D.C.

Friends with Children: “Did I pump enough milk for Saturday and Sunday morning if the train gets stuck?”

Child-free friends: “Maybe I will go shopping when I get to the city. Or have brunch.”

#5: Going out with the girls

Friends with Children: “Holy moly, this night better be awesome now that I forked over $150 for a babysitter, bought new makeup/got my hair done because I won’t have another night like this for six months!”

Child-free friends: “I wonder what club we should go to when Marisa gets to town? Do we have to go out at all? I go out all the time. I kind of want a night in.”

Other thoughts?

Week One, Son Two

As I start to type this, little Logan Alexander is in my arms. I’ve long since mastered the art of nursing and using the Internet (and holding baby and typing). I’m exhausted and waiting for a roofing contractor to wipe a buttload of snow off our roof, and he’s 20 minutes late.

I’m not gonna lie: Caring for a newborn baby is much easier this time, but the experience of being home has been much harder.

As most of you who read this know, I started Rockmommy shortly after I gave birth to my first son, Nathan Mariano, in July 2012. I was just learning the ropes of mommyhood and how to balance being a mom with being Marisa, the rocker/writer/exercise lover.

When Nathan came home, my husband was so sweet and considerate; everyone I knew was oh, so helpful, and when hubs went to work at 7, Nathan and I slept peacefully till 10 or so, when we’d start our day (which, since it was summertime, consisted of a nice walk, nursing, and various errands). This time, I returned home on Sunday to a clingy but cute toddler who couldn’t deal with me nursing our infant, a husband who seemed to find fault with everything from how I spoke to child #1 to how I handled dinner (and since I’m hormonal, I’m extra sensitive). That, and a ground full of snow. So much for nice walks. And so much for the love fest!

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me and baby Logan on his birthday

Yet, I must be grateful for the plusses: I know what I’m doing. I don’t think nursing and not sleeping is the hardest thing in the world (which is what all new moms, myself included, think). I have a lovely, spacious-but-not-too-big house (albeit with a leaky roof, but a house, nonetheless). I have this blog and a wonderful career as a writer and a guitar teacher. Most importantly, I have two little dudes and  one big dude who love me. It’s going to be life in a frathouse for the next 18 years, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Some initial things I’m noticing about little Logan:

1.) He’s VERY alert. Loves to look from side to side when I nurse him.

2.) He does the grunting/headbutting thing when he’s hungry (and he is just as hungry as Nathan was, every hour, so perhaps my milk isn’t creamy enough).

3.) He seems to be okay with being fully swaddled. Last night he got up every two hours (as opposed to every hour). And my husband didn’t have to promise to buy him a BMW to get him to go back to sleep.

Life is full of so many unexpected things. I certainly didn’t expect to get pregnant twice or have TWO boys (I figured I’d have a daughter). I didn’t expect to marry the person I did, or to spend my parenting years in Connecticut (which, so far, is how I’m spending them).

Today, I’m so thankful for all I’ve been given.