I wrote this 11 years ago, when I was making my living touring and teaching music: “Today, I was at the Minnesota State Fair playing a show on a big stage, to a big crowd. It was a beautiful day, the crowd was full of happy kids, and from the stage I could see the throngs of families and friends enjoying the festivities, but I felt lost and very alone. Why can’t I shake off the feeling that I am living trapped inside the walls of my own life?”
Starting a family
Back then, I knew I wanted a family and some stability, but I couldn’t see how to create that in the context of my livelihood as a working musician. So, I tore the walls I’d built down and started over. I left urban life for one of the most remote places in the contiguous United States, Perkins County, South Dakota.
For those of you who are regular readers of this column, you already know what happened next: I taught school for a while and fell in love with a rancher. We got married and had two babies in two years.
The challenges and bliss of motherhood, and the day-to-day chores of ranch life, brought me joy beyond measure, but I missed the thrill of playing music under bright lights. I missed the bite of my instruments’ strings under my fingertips, and I missed singing most of all.
On the road
So, I did something a little crazy. I started taking the kiddos on tour. There have been challenges along the way. Touring often means spending each night in a different bed, and that usually means all of us in one bed together.
When the kids were tiny, it meant navigating hotels and guest rooms with a stroller and a guitar case, shouting, “Stay with Mama!!” while my son barreled ahead. It meant stitching together a quilt of childcare with help from family and trusted friends. Sometimes it even meant wearing one of my kids in a backpack while I played on stage.
There were some upsides. My years of hustling made me the performer and parent I am today, and I wouldn’t trade it. Trying to pack up gear while weird, drunk guys invade your personal space, and make incoherent conversation? Not that different from dealing with toddlers.
And, rehearsing with a child (or two) hanging off my body pretty much ensures my sets are bomb-proof. It would take a lot to get me flustered. Plus, all those late nights, and a wildly erratic sleep and work schedule, were good preparation for life with small children.
Eleven years ago, I stood on stage, with no idea how I would ever weave together all the bright strands of my longing. As I type these words, my kids are playing a raucous game outside on my mom’s patio in Minneapolis. I played a show yesterday, and I will play another tonight.
So far on this tour, we’ve seen pelicans fishing at the headwaters of the Minnesota River, toured Legoland at the Mall of America, gone swimming in Cedar Lake and gotten to visit with family members we hadn’t seen in years. The laughter, the birds in my mom’s yard, the unfamiliar traffic sounds, all sound like a serenade to me, a multitasking symphony.
It comes down to this: I never thought I would get to a place where all the many parts of myself could coexist. One of the gifts of middle age has been the discovery that while it is not possible to have it all, all the time, the possibilities for finding one’s “truth” are pretty darn expansive. There’s a lot more space than I realized.
For now, the unexpected moniker of “Mother-Shepherd-Musician-Writer” fits me to a tee. Who knows what will be added or subtracted from that title in the years to come. I’m not worried about it anymore.
When I look back on the path of my own unfurling, I’m still a little awestruck. So here’s to enjoying the journey, wherever it takes us next.
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