I found a journal entry earlier this year that I completely forgot I kept the year after my daughter, Luciana, was born. And I wrote a poem-ish thing in it. At the time, I bet it felt really private. It doesn't anymore.
January 18th, 2008
- C. Gardner
"Sometimes I look at my spice rack and think I feel full of life like the crack of an egg in the morning.
Sometimes I look at it and feel greedy for having a spice rack.
Sometimes I can't believe I have a hole where the ground ginger should be.
Sometimes I think I should really be growing my own spices instead of importing them from another land that might have been America.
Sometimes it looks like clutter.
I shouldn't even have a spice rack when I don't even know what one spice smells like from memory; I am such a terrible cook.
I bought it while pregnant.
How could I be a mom without a spice rack?
But I'm supposed to be writing a song about my Dad retiring from his career as a pilot.
My mind keeps hiccupping.”
Reading this 'poem' six years later, I hear my 29-year-old self having a ‘who am I now?’ and ‘what kind of mother should I be?’ identity crisis.
In the first few months of parenting, the objects (and people) around me felt like foreign satellites --- watching and even judging. In one phrase of this poetic ramble, I seem to be concerned about what Martha Stewart would think of me for having an empty slot in my spice rack, and in another, I feel as though I should restrict my purchases to spare the feelings of some hypothetical foreign land that might have been were it not for the 521-year-old navigational mistake of a pioneer.
My experienced guess is that a majority of first time mothers “lose it” in the beginning. It’s the loss of free will, it’s the sleeplessness, it’s the inability to use the bathroom without someone screaming in abandonment, and frankly, for me, it was the feeling that I must give my soul over to someone else … someone with whom I couldn’t totally connect just yet.
I’m sure there are some women who feel genuinely ready and truly peaceful when their first child is born. I just wasn’t one of them. I felt like I had run out of time. Whatever my desires were before Luciana was born, I knew they might as well be placed on the spice rack --- to be used as infrequently as I use my cardomom.
Before the baby (one of the great 'before and afters' of life!), I absolutely had an ultimate dream (beyond becoming a mother), as many of us do. From the time I was six-years-old (the age my daughter is today), I can remember belting out songs on the top of my swingset, recording songs into a little tape recorder and dreaming about performing. I had always known that I wanted a life in music, but it felt like a secret; I knew I had it in me, but I had no idea how to make it a reality.
The short version of my very long, non-linear, bumpy journey to 'find myself' in music is this: In the year before I became pregnant (surprise, surprise), I had just “found my voice”, discovering that I could write music and might be good at it. Up until that point, I had classical piano training, performed in musical theater, was in two a cappella groups, played in a piano bar, sang in a band called “Dental School Swim Team” and worked as an accompanist (all the while shifting from day-job … to day-job …. to day-job) ---- searching, searching, searching. But none of it felt completely right until I started writing, singing and playing my OWN songs. Ah ha!
Fantastic! I finally figured out what my focus should be in the music world, and at the very same time I found out I was going to become a mother (on top of already being a 29-year-old dinosaur by popular music industry standards). Not the best timing. The success rate of women entering into the music industry as mothers comes in somewhere just above zero percent. I know, I know -- we all define success differently and all that matters is our own definition of success --- blah, blah, blah --- I believe that to be true. I really do. But for perspective, I want to pull back the lens to the bigger picture using the measuring stick of a traditional definition of success by a popular magazine. Time Magazine just published their Top 100 List of Best Albums of All Time (This is already annoying, I know. Who are they to say what the top 100 albums are? But just go with me here for a second.) Do you know how many female artists were on that list? Nine. And how many of them were mothers? Four. And how many of those mothers had children BEFORE they got their foot in the door in the music industry (i.e. before they had money to have help raising the children)? Two.
A gal can't help but feel like there is a wall to climb over here.
“Oh well!” says I! At 29 years-old and 7 months pregnant, I started recording my first album with money I had saved from a day-job (and with significant additional help from my father and mother). But after two days in the studio I knew I had to stop; the baby was moving up on my lungs and my voice had changed – not for the better.
“Breathe deep. Perhaps I could get right back to it after the baby comes out.” Of course, I had no idea what was about to happen to me. My gorgeous daughter was born, and it was amazing for about two days (yup, just two days), but then I started to sink into the strangeness of the poem that opens this blogpost.
Luckily I had a saving grace: my own wise mother. A few weeks into Luciana’s life, my mother said something to me that somehow rose to the surface. My husband and my father were headed out to see the Phillies play the Cubbies. I stayed home because I was nursing every couple hours. And I felt like a prisoner. Just after they left, I was rocking Luciana in our yellow chair against the deep blue backdrop of her room, not saying much, just crying; my mother knew. She just knew. She peacefully and directly said,
“Life is long. There is time yet for all of your dreams.”
Her words hit me so deeply.
And she was incredibly and completely correct. Moment by moment, hour by hour, I began to follow my own bliss again … in a more specific, focused way than ‘before the baby’. Time had shifted after having Luciana and every moment mattered. It went something like this: “In this moment it feels good to sleep … in this moment it feels good to drink coffee … in this moment it feels good to stay silent … in this moment it feels good to hold my daughter … in this moment it feels good to walk her around the neighborhood … the air feels good, the colors are vibrant, the people seem content, the world goes on … I have a good feeling … I have a poem … I have a song … in this moment it feels good to write it down …”
In climbing out of the strangeness, two things became incredibly clear to me. The first is the overwhelming love and connection I began to feel with my daughter (thank freaking goodness! those first few weeks/months scared me). The second realization was that I did not want my daughter to feel like I resented her, which would inevitably happen if I squelched something that was so much a part of who I am. I might have been “losing it” and paranoid when writing a poem about the world watching to see what I do with my spice rack (ha), but my own child, Luciana, most certainly IS watching. And when she takes the time to observe me … time away from her delightful, vibrant, hysterical, clearly entertaining world … I want her to see me … happy.
And so, I recorded my first album when Luciana was ten months old. I made a thousand mistakes, but I did it and I was happy I did. I had absolutely found my home in music. And oddly, I am so grateful that I became a mother first -- my songs (and life!) are richer and the connection I am able to have with an audience is deeper than it ever could have been before being a mother. I just keep taking steps --- for my life as a musician and my life as a mother, wife, daughter and friend. It is a tight rope walk that every mother knows all too well. But I’m doing it – always with my daughter’s well-being AND my own well-being equally present in my mind.
So now here I am with a six-year-old (who is presently sick on the couch with a croupy cough and fever) in the middle of a crowd-funding campaign to raise funds to record album number two. I am so ready to record. It is NOW, amazingly ‘AFTER the baby’(!!!!), that I have written the songs AND gathered the experience, the studio, the producer, the musicians and the incredible support from YOU to make this happen in the way in which I have always wanted.
Thank you to those of you who have shared the link to the Indiegogo page, to those of you who have made a contribution and to those of you who simply wish me well. I am creating my own path here (as we all are), and I thank you for your support and belief.
Here is the link to the indiegogo campaign which closes at midnight tonight: www.igg.me/at/chrissygardner
Oh … my husband knows how to use a spice rack, so I’m off the hook!!
(Here's a photo taken around the writing of 'Spice Racks'.)