Happily Divorced – Nurturing the Musician

From before the time when Ian entered this world, I fully expected to give birth to a musician, or at least a person that had a keen appreciation and aptitude for music. When I was four years old, I realized that I had a strong singing voice and was able to match pitch with great precision.  I dabbled in music over the years never setting aside my fear enough to really go after a career as a musician.

This dabbling persisted after Bob and I met when, one night out early in our relationship, we found ourselves at a Japanese karaoke bar.  Yeah, I know.  Very stereotypical.  Yet, nonetheless true.  After enduring renditions of various American pop standards crooned by old Japanese men, I decided to infuse something different.  So I asked the person running the karaoke to queue up Hopelessly Devoted to You, an Olivia Newton John song from the Grease movie soundtrack.

Until this point, Bob had only heard me sing a little in the car.  But when I hit the chorus and belted out the melody with all the power that came so easily to me, I leaned right over Bob’s shoulder to emphasis the shock he was about to get.  Belting the words “But now…” I glanced at Bob, who was both shocked and delighted to hear what had just emitted from my soul out into the room.  Bob and his friends were very impressed and I once again was reminded I had something special to share with this world in the way of music.  Over the next five years, with Bob’s encouragement, or one might even say insistence, I hopped up with friends’ bands and eventually became the lead singer in a couple local cover bands.  Still, the reward of anywhere from free drinks to $50 didn’t seem to meet with the expectations of my potential.

Meanwhile, I toiled away in corporate America building a stable career so that we could enjoy a comfortable life while my soul languished dreaming of something greater.  At this point, Bob and I had turned our thoughts and efforts toward starting a family.  So after two long years, and nearly giving up on our fertility, I proceeded to do two nights of shows at a dump in the north end of Columbus called Whiskey Dicks – a bar I wouldn’t dream of going to had we not been playing.  It was my birthday that Saturday.  But I was in my mid-twenties and still had a relatively strong ability to recover quickly from over indulgence.

Completely exasperated by my inability to get pregnant, I conceded that it was probably never going to happen.  I was due to start my period and go through the disappointment yet again for a 25th straight month.  So instead of facing that, I got hammered Friday and then proceeded to take it up a notch on Saturday with several shots of Tequila, an episode of climbing up on a table and ripping off a drunken and very appropriate-to-the-moment rendition of Shelly West’s country music tune Jose Quervo, and doing who knows what else on stage after that in what could only be described as a blackout.

That Sunday, I lost a day of my life, so hung over that I don’t think I ever left the bed.  But this wasn’t my first rodeo.  I knew I’d feel better as soon as enough time had passed and my body had purged all the toxins and healed itself from the incredible pollution which I had inflicted.  Then Monday came and oddly, I was still hung over.  I thought this was really weird.  Sure I had drank too much but a two day hangover?  Come on!  I didn’t think it rose to that level of bodily destruction.  Then it dawned on me.  I was about 3 days late for my period.  I became both instantly panicked and cautiously excited as it occurred to me that I might have really done it this time.  I might be pregnant and I might have just poisoned my unborn child with a deluge of shitty tequila as well.

By about noon, I decided to do a home pregnancy test just to see if it was possible that I was carrying a hungover embryo.  The test was positive. Oh my God!  None of them had ever come back positive.  Better make a doctor’s appointment to see if this is for real.  I phoned my doctor, went in that afternoon and they confirmed my pregnancy.  I went home and unable to contain myself, decided I better detox anything alcoholic left in my system and cleanse my bloodstream as fast as possible.  So I went for a two-mile run and drank about a gallon of water.  Then when Bob got home, I shared the news with him that he was going to be a dad and from that moment on really, I always expected I would give birth to a son and probably a musician.

About 19 weeks later, the son was confirmed on ultrasound.  At that point, we began to contemplate names.  Bob requested that the first name be Robert as he and his father before him.  I was fine with this but proclaimed, “Ok, but I’d like to pick the middle name.  I’d like it to be Ian, and also, we have enough Bobs and Bobbies in this family.  So I’d like him to go by his middle name.  It is the name of a really attractive and cool guy I knew during high school.  Plus it’s a great rock and roll name, right?”  Bob, not convinced by my first argument was totally on board with the latter proceeding to rip off the names Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull), Ian Gillan (Deep Purple), and Ian Astbury (the Cult & The Doors) as supporting examples.  And so Ian’s musician fate was sealed with an appropriate name.

Bob and I went to five concerts together in that nine months during my pregnancy; more than I had in any other similar period of time in my life.  Nurturing my little musician had already begun.  Steely Dan, Dream Theater, and Lenny Kravitz were among Ian’s prenatal inspirations.

Ian’s earliest exposure to music of course came in the form of mommy’s serenades.  As it turned out, after I returned to work and Ian was about three months old, I had to sing the song Material Girl live at a work function.  So as I practiced singing the song, Ian heard it a lot as he lay on the changing table.  He really liked that Madonna tune back in the day.  Flash-forward to when Ian was about 9 months old, in the back of my Honda civic with him in the car seat and a new style of rock had taken America by storm – Grunge – the Seattle sound.  Stone Temple Pilots’ Interstate Love Song came over the radio and I glanced in the rear view mirror to catch Ian “air-drumming” in perfect time to the rhythm of the music.  Wait.  What?  Is he going to be drummer?  No way.  My most challenging relationships had always been those with my drummers.  I couldn’t have possibly given birth to one.  Of all band members, they were always the ones I had conflicts with.  So yeah, of course he would be a drummer because getting along with a drummer was apparently a life lesson for me.

And so it began.  First with a plastic baby drum kit from Grandma and Papaw on his first birthday, then upgraded to a metal kit with paper heads on birthday #2, proceeded by a junior size full drum kit with real hardware and heads at age 4.  Apparently Grandma and Papaw thought they were getting some kind of revenge on their son.  Little did they know that it was just was daddy wanted.  It didn’t bother mommy either since I had remained in local cover bands until about six months into my pregnancy and took it up more aggressively once Ian turned a year old.  At that point, I became the lead singer in a local band we called Random Order.  We always liked to snicker about the oxymoronic quality of the name.  Anyway, Ian had been subjected to listening to my band practices from the age of one.  So when he showed interest, it thrilled me.

I continued singing in local cover bands for several years past the point of our divorce.  And while this was a passion, it was a hard choice because there were many weekends where it was my weekend with Ian but I had a show and ended up asking Bob and Brandi to keep him, had Ian stay with a friend, or got a babysitter.  Now I wasn’t only missing out on half of his life. I was missing out on the other half too.

During this phase, Bob and Brandi were what I would call apprehensively supportive.  Honestly, I totally understood where they were coming from.  As I neared my 40th birthday, things began to wind down for me.  I was finally feeling more and more frequently like I’d rather not spend my weekend in a bar I wouldn’t choose to be in otherwise.  And it wasn’t like we were writing original material.  So we weren’t on the brink of a record deal.  My son on the other hand, was in fifth grade by this time and decided to start a rock band.  I suspended my band membership for the foreseeable future preferring instead to put my energy to helping Ian to grow his dream.

There were five band members in Flame Brain as Ian’s band was called in those days.  And their instruments were quite literally bigger than they were.  But they had it all figured out.  I remember Ian telling me one day that he wanted to be in a band when he grew up but he added, “No offense mom, but we’re going to write original music.”  I told him sweetly that I wasn’t offended by his statement.  Let’s face it.  Besides Weird Al Yankovic, there are very spotty examples of unknowns making it solely on the basis of covering someone else’s material.

So at the tender age of ten, Ian set out on his journey as a musician.  He organized regular band practices.  And since I had some experience and owned a PA, I offered to mentor the boys and let them practice at my house.  The truth is nothing could have been more thrilling for me.   Of course their first cover was the favorite first song of many a cover band, Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water.  I’m sure many of my musician friends can relate to this early experience.  The boys proceeded to put together a full set of cover material.  In sixth grade they gained agreement from both their middle school and the teacher who was also a part-time DJ, the opportunity to play five songs at the middle school dance.

I asked one of my former guitarists to assist with some equipment needed for the show and to help the boys get properly tuned.  As this newly formed possibly future phenomenon took the stage, I witnessed what can only be described as a Beatles-style audience response complete with swooning screaming tween girls.  I was standing with all the band parents who were simultaneously overjoyed and laughing our asses off.  It was, after all, not an airport, concert hall, or stadium.  It was the middle-school cafeteria.  But as lead singer Joe, egged on by his older eighth-grade brother, staged-dived into the crowd, the boys experienced that rush of acceptance and positive energy that so many musicians become invariably addicted to.

Flame Brain continued to play throughout middle school at dances, benefits, band battles, and local restaurants.  They wrote their first original song for a band battle in eighth-grade and took second place amongst a very crowded much older roster of players.  Soon after that, they concluded that they had outgrown their band name and changed it to Evadale Drive, a name taken from a street in our neighborhood.  How sweet?

Amazingly this band stayed together through the end of high school, going through good times and bad, often fighting like brothers, and sometimes facing challenges with bad choices that many teens encountered.  I always reminded them to look out for each other and keep each other safe.  I couldn’t help but imagine that if they continued, it was inevitable at some band battle, someone would offer them something backstage while the parents weren’t watching.  So I had to instill in the boys some responsibility for each other’s safety that I could only hope would ward off the worst of these dangers.

As band gigs continued, all of us band-parents were very supportive, each bringing something to the table.  Not only was this our children’s journey, it was ours as parents.  Let’s face it.  It was the closest any of us was going to get to being rock stars.  During these years, Bob provided a lot of opportunities for the band to play, bought sound equipment and ran sound frequently for the band. He also brought consistent crowds of friends and family with him to the shows.  Mike videotaped every show, editing and distributing copies to all band members and parents.  Anita created countless posters, flyers, business cards, and press packs.  She and Mike even created a second practice location in their house complete with another drum kit for Ian to use in their home.  Nikki offered her photography skills and worked hard to keep her son on the straight and narrow.  Mike and Melissa booked shows and helped as “roadies” striving to learn the proper technique for wrapping up miles of speaker, PA, and instrument cables.  I was the consummate stage mom and assisted with everything from vocal coaching, to advice on stage presence, and even attitude counseling.  My motto for them was “check your ego at the door.”  Oh and did I mention we all served as “roadies”, a cool term assigned to those who are charged with carting hundreds of pounds of gear up and down stairs, in and out of vehicles and setting up and all the shows.  It was so great when the boys were finally big enough to carry their own stuff.

There were many aspects of raising our young musician that required a great deal of shared parenting coordination including financing music gear purchases, paying for instrument lessons, managing schedules, riding together to shows, and sometimes discussing at great length the many little dramas that inevitably afflict all bands.  I’m so glad Bob and I remained friends throughout these years so that we could offer the best version of support to our son and, rather than add stress to his events, work together to enhance his early musical experiences.

I guess I could write a whole book on my son the aspiring musician and maybe someday I will.  I so look forward to the unfolding of his talent for the world to experience.  May your rock name serve you well on your journey, Ian Harlow.

Soccer Mom (and Dad)

To Go or Not to Go – That is not a question!

Like the parents of most elementary-age kids, we wanted to give our son the opportunity to try lots of different things to let him figure out what he is good at and what he likes.  Of course, every time one of these activities is added, it’s another situation the divorced parents must face where they will inevitably be in the same place together lest they miss out on the whole experience that their child has.  So what do you do?  Do you figure out an alternating schedule?  Do you just not go and disappoint your child by not being there?  And don’t forget, it’s not just the ex you’ll have to face but probably other family members, and maybe a girlfriend or new spouse.  Sounds like another trip down Misery Lane, doesn’t it?

ian-soccer-2006Well it doesn’t have to be!  How about you just go and enjoy watching your child do his or her thing?  I personally never considered any other option and I don’t think Bob did either.  We both went.  Of course, we did more than this to enhance the overall experience for ourselves, our son, and all those around us.  We usually sat together and marveled in our son’s greatness.  Oh stop it!  We all do that!  But look, in this case, it’s a valuable bridge between your child’s other parent and you.  It’s something you are likely to have in common – maybe the only thing.  So consider this an advantage you can use to enhance the situation.  You will actually enjoy the experience more by exchanging thoughts about your shared admiration as you revel in your child’s efforts.

What do you mean by “he should try another sport”?

Okay, I have to admit, you will also be faced with some other possibilities.  Like maybe your child won’t be great at something.  Maybe he will struggle.  Maybe he will not enjoy a particular activity.  Ian wasn’t particularly fond of playing Lacrosse.  Maybe there will be nothing marvelous about what the two of you witness together.  Guess what?  This too is a positive.  What do I mean by that?  Well you will both witness it for yourself and not have to rely on the opinion of another.  You may also talk about it together to form a unified strategy for addressing the situation whether that is to provide opportunities for improvement, allowing your child to bow out of a given activity, or consoling her when she faces disappointment.  It is always better to be fully armed with the truth and it is usually better to put two heads together to address a problem.  Again, you have common ground.  You want your child to be happy.

The gangs all here!

Ian played baseball for a few years and then focused his attention on soccer through the end of middle school.  During that time, Bob and I went to the games and usually sat together.  When he remarried, Brandi went to most games and we’d all sit together.  When I became serious with Brian, he attended the games and we all sat together.  On many occasions, Bob’s mom and step dad, sister and her husband, Ian’s cousins, and Bob’s dad and step-mom attended games.  Each time, without hesitation or trepidation, we sat together and drank in the moments of my son’s childhood together.  Who knew this is what they really meant by “for better or worse”.

I believe this experience served not only our purpose but also provided a great example to others of a choice they too could make.  On several occasions throughout the years, I was told by other parents that they thought it was great how Bob and I got along and sat at the games together and enjoyed each other’s company.  Not only did they appreciate the fact they weren’t dealt an awkward situation, but they weren’t forced to choose between us either.  They could freely communicate with both of us without some weird aura.

Communication – Still required for a happy divorce and happy child

Now we did a really good job but we weren’t perfect.  There was a year – I think it might have been 4th grade spring season when Ian complained incessantly about going to practice.  Every time we’d get ready to head to practice, it was a battle.  “I like playing games.  I don’t like practice,” He would say.  I told him time and again, “This is part of the deal.  You made a commitment and if you want to play the games, you have to go to practice.”  Finally, exasperated after having this fight repeatedly over the course of almost an entire season, I told Ian he wouldn’t be playing the next year if he continued to complain.  He dug in his heels and complained anyway and I announced to him as the season was coming to a close that I had every intention of following through on my threat.  There was no way I was going to sacrifice precious time dragging him unwillingly to practice for a game he enjoyed playing.  So I had made up my mind that I wasn’t going to sign him up next season.  He didn’t complain.  He seemed to accept his plight.

Flash forward a few months until fall sign ups rolled around and Bob informed me that he had signed Ian up for soccer.  I told him that I had not intended to have Ian signed up this season.  He said well it’s already done and paid for now.  I guess I had failed to communicate my plan to Bob. At first I was angry that I wasn’t going to be able to follow through as I am careful to always do so with Ian.  Whether it is what I will reward him for good behavior, penalize him for bad behavior, or just commitments I make to him in general.  I think people accept outcomes and consequences even if they don’t like them if they have been given fair notice in advance.  Too many kids are threatened that they will lose a privilege if they do a particular thing only to have the parent chicken out and give in.  What this teaches the child in my opinion is that they are no consequences for the choices they make.  And this is just not real life.  So they better learn that while they’re young or face a lot of disappointment that they feel was thrust upon them by someone else rather than by their own actions.

I am such a meanie!

In spite of my concerns about not following through with consequences, I decided to make sure Ian understood that he was getting one final reprieve on this but that I would not stand for his continued behavior which led to the earlier decision to not sign him up for the next season. I told him in no uncertain terms, “Your dad signed you up for soccer this season because he was not aware of our deal. So here’s how this is going to work.  Complain one time about going to practice and you will be done with soccer immediately.  I will take you home and neither your father nor I will take you again. You’ll be done with soccer.  So make your choice.  If you want to play, go to the practices and don’t complain about it. It’s that simple.”  Ian never complained about going to soccer practice again and enjoyed another 4 years of playing the sport.   And we enjoyed watching… together… with the whole family.