Words and melodies have, for the most part, eluded me over the past 6 weeks. The best I could muster was an adaptation of Maggie Rogers’ “Give A Little” for bells, which I used in my livestream classes recently, but otherwise…nothing.
And then last Friday, our governor announced that all schools in Illinois are closed for the remainder of the school year. Even though I was 100% expecting this news, it hit me hard. I still haven’t told my kids, who are only 4 and 6…young enough to be content at home, but old enough to love and miss their school, teachers, and friends. Needless to say, the rollercoaster my emotions have been on plunged downward.
That night, I sat down with my guitar, and all these lyrics came pouring out, along with a melody to go with them. “It’s Okay Not To Be Okay” was the result, and I want to share it with you if you need a reminder of this message as much as I do.
This is how I spent a good portion of last weekend: in a hospital gown, with my giant 36.5-week pregnant belly strapped to monitors. It wasn’t pretty, friends.
That’s what happens when self-care goes out the window. You find yourself in the hospital due to severe dehydration, mystery fevers, and painful contractions.
I’m extremely grateful and relieved to tell you that both the baby and I are just fine now; she was never in danger, although her heart rate was elevated due to my state for much of that hospital stay. She’s still inside my giant belly, happily growing and hopefully waiting at least another week or two before making her grand entrance into the world.
I’ve spent much of the past 9 months not feeling well — in the beginning, of course, it was just good old fashioned 1st trimester morning sickness. But these past several months have been rough, too. I’ve had cold after cold with a couple sinus infections and other maladies thrown in, all topped off by the events of this past weekend.
Right in the middle of my pregnancy, we packed up our entire house, sold it, and moved into our dream house just a few blocks away.
And now, just a few weeks from my due date, I’m in the middle of even more (super exciting) business changes, running a Songwriting Challenge, producing a weekly podcast, and marketing my new songbook. These are all positive things, but stressful none the less.
Oh, and did I mention that I have a toddler under the age of 2? :)
So really, there’s no question as to how I ended up in the hospital. As careful as I’ve tried to be throughout this pregnancy, it hasn’t been enough. Self-care is a practice that will remain at the forefront from here on out, even if that just means stepping away from my work more often, going to bed earlier, and getting as much physical rest as I can.
What are some ways you take care of yourself? Ideas are welcome as I enter the final countdown.
The concept of “cleaning up” was introduced to my son Parker when he was a little over a year old. At the end of Funshop, the weekly mommy & me playgroup we attend, they play the classic “Clean Up” song (courtesy of Barney, the big purple dinosaur) and everyone tackles their assigned area.
Lucky for me, Parker loved cleaning up — mostly because he loved the song so much. I used this to my advantage at home; every time I started singing the song, he would join in and start picking up whatever mess needed to be picked up.
I decided to change things up a bit a few weeks ago, and instead of singing the same old tune, I played my “clean up” song for Parker. He immediately was on board with it, and started cleaning up the mess at hand. Success! Now he requests “Mama’s phone?” every time I ask him to clean up, meaning he wants me to play my song.
It comes in especially handy when he plays with his kitchen, because there’s a verse all about cleaning up your dishes :) When I wrote this song 6 years ago, I had no idea that one day I would be putting it into practice with my own child.
I’ve been thinking about work-life balance a lot lately. It’s a topic that I discuss on a weekly basis with guests on my new podcast, and it’s at the forefront of my mind as I start preparing for the arrival of baby #2 in three short months.
I’ve been emailing back and forth with a new friend (hi Amy!) who has followed my blog for a long time, and our conversation has been centered around — you guessed it — juggling the responsibilities of a career, owning a business, and being a mom. Amy posed some questions about how I divide my time and keep all the plates spinning at once, and since I receive these types of questions pretty often, I decided to lay out the details in a blog post.
Before I dive in, though, I want to add the disclaimer that in no way do I think I have found the perfect balance. In fact, I don’t think that exists for anyone (and if you disagree, I want to know your secrets). But after months and months of trial and error, the way I have organized my life finally works well for me and my family. Just in time for it all to go out the window with a newborn on the way…HA!
The “Categories” of My Life
I have color-coded calendars in my iCal to keep track of all the different categories in my little world, and they are my lifeline. If something is not entered into my calendar, it just doesn’t happen. Period. Going into each new week, I have a general idea of how my schedule will work and how my time will be divided, though the specifics may change based on my current project and obligations. Here is a breakdown of those categories and how they all fit into the puzzle.
Client & Student Contact Hours
The bulk of my work is direct service in the form of music therapy sessions, lessons, and early childhood music classes. I spend an average of 4 hours every day (3-7 pm) in addition to one morning per week and Sunday afternoons for several months out of the year. This schedule does not really change; it’s the one “category” I can rely on to be pretty consistent from week to week.
Business Development & Administrative Duties
As a business owner, there are things I have to do in order to keep it chugging along. These include invoicing, scheduling, returning emails, ordering supplies, planning, maintaining the website, and so on. I am super lucky to have an amazing business partner in my private practice who helps shoulder these responsibilities; joining forces with her in mid-2014 was one of the best decisions I have made thus far in my professional career.
Speaking of making good decisions, another one of those is the reason I am able to complete all of my business-related tasks and creative work (which I’ll talk more about in a minute). That decision was enrolling my son in daycare part-time, which I wrote about in detail here. In all honesty, my business and creative work suffered a little from the time he was born in June 2013 up until he began daycare this past December at 18 months old. I was trying to fit that work into the nooks and crannies in between being a mom, and it wasn’t working for anyone.
Devoting specific time only to my business and creative work has been a GAME CHANGER and has improved my life ten-fold. The 3 golden days I have each week to tackle that work are precious to me, but not as precious as the other days of the week when I can fully concentrate on being an awesome and attentive mom.
My creative work doesn’t actually feel like work at all to me. Songwriting, recording, blogging, podcasting, creating new programs and products — these are the the things that recharge me and keep me motivated. My version of self-care, if you will.
Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, the aforementioned golden days, are when I plan out and complete most business/admin responsibilities and the bulk of my creative work. After my early childhood class on Tuesday mornings, the rest of those hours until 2:30 each day (when I leave to head to the studio) are mapped out according to my priorities for that week. I try to do the things that require the most creativity and brainpower early in the day, and save other things like podcast editing and returning emails for later when I hit that afternoon slump.
Although I get the majority of my to-do list done during those hours, that is not to say I don’t spend naptimes and post-bedtime hours working. Someday I would like to get to the point where I don’t have to, but the reality is that is the nature of being a business owner right now.
Grocery shopping, cleaning, laundry, and other household responsibilities are total nook-and-cranny activities for me. I’ll go grocery shopping on the way home from daycare drop-off, or if my husband takes Parker somewhere during the weekend. I’m kind of a clean freak, so I like to clean as I go and then find pockets of time here and there to vaccum, dust, and tackle bathrooms. Laundry is a never-ending task, so there is almost always a load going if I’m home.
I like to listen to podcasts while I do these things; it makes me feel like I’m being doubly productive and turns mundane activities into sort of enjoyable experiences. (Well, except for cleaning toilets. That is never enjoyable.)
Mondays and Fridays are mom days. Parker and I go to Funshop, meet friends for playdates, relax at home, and go on walks or to the park if it’s nice out. I so cherish these days, especially as Parker’s time being an only child starts to dwindle. I leave in the afternoons for work with students and clients, but eventually I would like to reduce my “work” days to 3 instead of 5 per week.
Weekends are all about family for the most part, too. Unless I have random obligations like playing a gig, working at an event, or attending a conference, my husband and I spend our time with Parker during the day and then relaxing at home after he goes to bed. Every Sunday we have dinner at my parents’ house, which is a nice way to end the weekend.
Delegation & Outside Help
My life wouldn’t work without the help of family, friends, and other essential people! I’m extremely lucky in that my parents and in-laws all live here in town, in my neighborhood no less. My mom helps with daycare drop-off/pick-up, and she also stays with Parker on Friday afternoons when I go to work. My mother-in-law also helps with Parker on a regular basis. Parker has had the same amazing sitter, Greta, since I returned to work when he was 3 months old, and she comes over on Monday afternoons.
I don’t currently have help with household tasks, but my husband and I are planning to hire a cleaning service once the baby arrives in May. That will take one responsibility off my plate as I add a HUGE (but at the same time, tiny) one.
Professionally, I just hired a project manager to help with my online business, which for the last seven years I’ve been running completely on my own. I don’t want my business to suffer again during maternity leave the way it did when my son was born, so I knew the only way to prevent that from happening was to delegate some of that work. In addition to the tasks she has taken over, she has helped tremendously with keeping me accountable and on track with all my projects.
A Well-Oiled Machine My Life is Not
As smooth as this all sounds, it doesn’t always work that way. There are bumps in the road: illnesses, stress, pregnancy-related fatigue, scheduling conflicts; but that’s life. I’m trying to learn not to let those things affect me too much, and to just roll with the punches. The lines between work and my personal life sometimes become a little blurry, at it’s in those moments when I’m super thankful that every once in a while, it’s okay to take my child to work :)
I’m so interested in hearing how others manage to strike some sort of balance between all the roles in their lives, and would love to hear from you. Feel free to leave a comment, send me an email, or if you’re a music therapist, join me on the podcast. (And now here’s your virtual cookie for making it through this monster of a blog post!)
It feels like just yesterday, a whole summer of maternity leave stretched in of me. Parker was born one week after the end of my spring session, so I’ve had an incredible 10 weeks to do very little else than enjoy my sweet baby boy. And now — cue the sad trombone — there are only 2 weeks left.
But before you start to feel too sorry for me, I have to say that when I do go back to work, I have it pretty good. I’ll be home with Parker from the time he wakes up until 3 pm, when I’ll make the “commute” to my home studio (just a few rooms away). While I’m with students, my mom and mother-in-law will take turns coming over to stay with the baby until my husband gets home from work, and then I’ll be finished no later than 8 pm each night.
Even though I get to spend most of the day with Parker, and I don’t have to leave the house to go to work, those 5 hours away from him will still be tough at first. I’m pretty sure all moms feel this way at the end of maternity leave; I’m just glad that I have a job I love and is worth the time apart.
Overall, I’m really excited for September 3rd…but I’m not counting down the days just yet. Tomorrow we head to Florida so that Parker can meet his great-grandma. A few days of family time in the sand and sun is the perfect way to wind down what has been a beautiful summer.
Welcome! I’m Rachel Rambach, board-certified music therapist and creator of Listen & Learn Music — educational songs and musical materials for children. I love sharing my work with you, along with my behind-the-scenes creative process, adventures in business ownership, and life as a mom of two little ones.
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