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!

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?

On Waiting Till Your 30s to Try for a Baby

My very first Mother’s Day kicked off in the most amazing way — with an article featuring me and Nathan in The Connecticut Post. Just imagine walking into your local CVS and seeing your son’s face on the front page of multiple newspapers (in a newsstand shared by USA Today and The New York Times)!

My son Nathan rocks out.

The article’s purpose — to shed light on the trend of women conceiving their first baby in their 30s — did so many great things. It did a near perfect job of capturing the essence of my rockin’ family life. I especially loved this part:

 “It still comes as a shock to Marisa when she examines her life from the outside. After living in the New York City bubble for so many years, where she felt like she was “living in an ageless place,” she still has trouble realizing she is 37 already and that life is more baby gates and feeding time than Brooklyn bars and concerts.”

The article’s light and uplifting tone made it the perfect Mother’s Day piece.

But, in being the perfect light and fun piece, it didn’t really shed light on the challenges and heartaches many women who wait until their 30s experience. Nor did it really touch on my experiences of almost not being a mom. That’s okay, though. I will touch on both in this blog!

As many of my close friends know, I was diagnosed with “Diminished Ovarian Reserve” after I started trying to get pregnant. My then-OB/GYN referred me to a reproductive endocrinologist who, in turn, told me I had about a 3 percent chance of conceiving because I was running out of eggs. This was shocking to hear — I was only 35, after all! We got a second opinion from another RE, who put me on DHEA and Synthroid to prime my body for IVF. Then, by some miracle and lots of love, Nathan was conceived just two weeks before my IVF estrogen priming was scheduled to begin.

I’m far from alone. A recent iVillage piece touches on difficulties many other women in their mid-30s are having:

“Some 15 percent of couples in which the woman is under 35 will have trouble conceiving, but one-third of those 35-39 and half of those 40 and older will, according to Peter McGovern, M.D., medical director of University Reproductive Associates in Hasbrouck Heights, N.J.

The rate and risk of miscarriages also increase with age. While women overall have a 10 to 25 percent chance of miscarrying, those numbers rise the older you get, according to the American Pregnancy Association. Women under 35 have a 15 percent chance of miscarrying, and the risk goes up to between 20-35 percent for women ages 35 to 45. Half of pregnancies among women 45 and older will end in miscarriage, the group says.”

Unfortunately, most journalism about women waiting till they are older to have a baby doesn’t touch upon these facts. All we hear about is “Halle Berry is pregnant at 46,” giving husbands and boyfriends the impression that their wives have plenty of time to get knocked up. I wish more media outlets would deliver the message that this is not always the case.

Being an infertility patient definitely puts a strain on relationships. It often makes women deeply insecure, and deeply depressed. And while I got lucky, somewhere there is a 35-year-old who won’t. She’ll wish she started trying to conceive much earlier. She’ll wish she didn’t listen to her ignorant but well-intentioned friends who said stuff like “oh, you have plenty of time. My friend Lizzie had a baby at 40!”

From this point on, I’d like to make it my mission to educate those under-informed couples who are choosing to wait, and choosing to believe that just because they’re 33 or whatever, they have “plenty of time.” I do hope they have plenty of time. Odds are, if they’re 30-39, that they do. But if they don’t, perhaps because of the woman’s rapidly diminishing ovarian reserve, they will find themselves regretting they didn’t look more closely at the cold, hard — but not light and fun — statistics.

On a separate note, enough is enough with the “can you afford to have a baby?” brand of journalism. You really can’t afford to wait to have a baby if you consider the cost of multiple rounds of IVF, counseling for the depression that ensues after you can’t conceive, and/or donor eggs (daycare, at $25,000-30,000 per year, is usually cheaper!). Adoption is also about 30K, which is something most people don’t know until they actually start looking into it. Often because they waited too long to start trying because USA Today’s “Can You afford to Have a Baby” quiz said they were about $10,000 short.

While the economy stays lackluster, these prices will only rise.

Sorry if this isn’t positive journalism. But it is the truth. And in that, it’s a service to the public. Exactly the way journalism was intended to be.

Baby Clothes with Guitars and Gender Roles

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Nathan in his GNR onesie

Nathan in his GNR onesie

I love shopping for clothes for Nathan. And I especially love buying (or receiving) cute little boy attire emblazoned with band logos, images of rock icons, and big electric guitars. The latter, especially.

But if I hadn’t had a boy, I wouldn’t have had so many choices in attire, and chances are, many of those onesies that say “I wanna rock” would say “I wanna garden” instead.

During a trip to Carter’s in my eighth month of pregnancy, I spent several minutes on both the girls’ side and the boys’ side of the store. The sex of my baby would be a surprise, but I wanted to see what kinds of cute little outfits awaited my forthcoming arrival.

Since I teach guitar and play in a band, I was immediately drawn to the huge array of shirts on the boy side of the store with guitars on them — some with little guitars, others with big guitar prints on them. But I was a bit troubled when I went to the girls’ side of the store, and, much to my dismay, could only find one little guitar-decorated shirt. And it said, “My daddy rocks!”

I asked the sales clerk about this. Surely, there were other options besides the zillions of pink, polka-dotted floral-print dresses and PJs for my hypothetical daughter!  Daddy does rock, but, in this case, mommy does rock, too, and can even play a GNR solo — so where is the onesie for that reality?

Sadly, I was told, there weren’t any such onesies or baby tees.

Well, this made me a bit miffed. Yes, I intended to dress a girl in pink (though I realized this was adhering to the same gender stereotypes some of my college feminist friends eschewed). Yes, I intended to put her in little bows. But why, oh why, are a options for baby girl clothes limited to the likes of pink-and-yellow-dot dresses and daisy-imprinted tees? Being a boy looked SO much cooler at Carter’s — everything that didn’t have a guitar printed on it had a monster truck or a dinosaur on it!

Apparently, the market for girl clothes with dinosaurs, monster trucks, and guitars on them didn’t exist. If it did, then Carter’s, one of the biggest infant-to-children clothing chains in the country, would be selling them.

So I guess baby clothes are where it all starts. Next, there are little girl baby dolls, so a girl can practice being a mommy when she’s only two, and then there are little girl kitchens, so she can practice being a homemaker. I’ve never seen a little boy kitchen — one that is tailored to the color palate and gender assumptions that go along with boyhood (baby blue everything, cool-looking gadgets, and neutral, faux-granite countertops).

Then again, I can’t deny I am a byproduct, to a certain degree, of gender conditioning. Though I would never buy my little girl a play kitchen, I don’t have any plans to buy my little boy a play kitchen, either. Or paint his nails pink, a la Jenna Lyons of J Crew.

But until people take a stand and start asking for boy-tailored baby kitchens or boy shirts with flowers and girl onesies with guitars — Carter’s and its competitors won’t change either. It’s all about what the majority of consumers (you and me) want.