A lot of good stuff can happen to you, and it can even happen all at once. My life is something of an embarrassment of riches at the moment, and I'm really trying not to take anything for granted. I'm about to have a baby -- literally, about to have him any day now. I'm at the point in my pregnancy where people don't want to take long car rides with me because they're afraid my water will break all over their leather seats. That in and of itself is one of those life moments that I have always imagined and hoped would one day come true.
I also got married earlier this year, so now I have a husband who happens to be pretty great. Check that box. After a rather poor year financially and fewer jobs than normal, my schedule for the next couple of years is looking pretty heartening and interesting. Oh, and I found out yesterday that the CD of Agrippina that I made with Rene Jacobs and Harmonia Mundi has been nominated for a Grammy, which means that I totally get an actual statue if it wins! That's certainly a bunch of stuff that other people could look at from the outside and think "She has it all! I hate her!"
I've read a lot of articles lately about women's changing roles in our society and how there is more pressure than ever for us to get to this "having it all" point in our lives. We are delaying getting married and having babies longer so we can work on getting our careers sorted, but apparently we have become so strong and self-sufficient that men are becoming intimidated and turned off by us, according to Susanne Venker on Fox News. Fabulous.
There seems to be an ongoing argument between the women who decide (because they can) to stay home with their children and raise them, sometimes with attachment parenting (which can include breastfeeding until the age of four and never putting diapers on them, but watching their cues at all times and putting them over the toilet at the right moment) and the women who either need to go back to work for financial reasons or want to go for emotional reasons. Cloth diapers versus disposable, co-sleeping vs. sleep training, natural childbirth vs. epidural -- the world of child-birth and rearing is littered with landmines that can explode if the topic accidentally comes up at a dinner with people you don't know that well. And I find that it's all too easy for me, armed with the opinions I've formed for what I will choose for myself and my child, to be just as judgemental and determined as the next guy.
At least being a musician allows me to realize that there's no way I'll ever be able to afford private school in New York City, so I don't have to worry about getting my child into the kindergarten while he's still in my womb. Phew -- being a bohemian has its perks!
But when I think about all of us striving to have it all, I realize that none of us can actually succeed. It's just not possible. For example, as much as I will strive to be the "perfect" mother and wife, I don't see myself quitting singing any time soon. Which means I will be packing up my baby a few months after he comes into this world and lugging him (and my mother) to Berlin, so I can get back on the horse and go back to work. Not only does my baby have to be flexible, but both he and his father have to find a way to survive being separated for weeks at a time when I go away. That's never how I imagined family life; dinners on Skype with a six-hour time difference and an ocean between us. I don't feel guilty for going back to work, but I do feel guilty that the work I do means being apart from my husband. He and I are used to me going away, but I have terrible guilt about taking his son away from him for weeks at a time. I already lie in bed at night and worry about it, and the baby's not even born yet. And my husband is totally supportive of my career and has never questioned that this is the way things will go for us, but I still sit around and wonder how we can possibly stand it. A lot of my singer friends are having babies these days, and we ask ourselves constantly "What the hell we're gonna do when our babies get to be of school age? Are we going to leave them at home and go away ourselves?" I can tell you that nobody talked to us about this when we were in graduate school, and nobody told us that one of the biggest challenges of having this career is finding a way to have a family.
And yet people manage. Singers have babies and continue to have careers. They work around their lives one gig at a time, and usually end up having very flexible, well-traveled children. And luckily, casting directors no longer see a pregnant woman and assume "there goes her career." In fact, I've been having a grand old time continuing to audition for companies as I've been gigantically pregnant, and expecting these prospective employers to basically ignore my basketball belly and believe me as a 15-year-old boy. And they have been. I know that only a generation ago, many women who wanted to have children in this field hid their pregnancies and were forced to give up their careers more often than not.
But this is my point -- is dragging your children around the world so superior to staying home and cooking them dinner every night? Certainly, having the option to do that is superior to not having an option at all, but is actually doing it a better reality for everyone involved? It's just a different reality, and one that comes out of this mentality that we can and must and will have it all. On the one hand, I think children can certainly be inspired by their parents (I'm speaking of women primarily, because this is where things seem to have shifted considerably in the past 20 years) when they continue to follow their own dreams and aspirations. And maybe children don't need the consistency we used to imagine with nightly family dinners in the same place and with the same people. I've met lots of children of opera singers who were wonderful, well-adjusted kids. But then sometimes I worry that following mommy all over the world isn't necessarily the best thing for my son all the time, and maybe he will just want to feel safe and consistent at the dinner table with his father and me every night, the way I felt as a child. Which one of us needs what we need more -- do I need to be a singer more or does he need his consistency more? That's what I mean by there is no all, there are only choices to be made. And all each of us can do is look at our life one choice at a time, and do our best to find a balance where we can.
That, and we can thank god for Skype.