I’ve had a song stuck in my head for weeks now, that song from Fiddler on the Roof:
Of course, since I’m terrible at remembering lyrics, when I sing it in my head, I’m actually thinking, “…for 28 years..” and I’ll tell you why. It’s because that’s how long I’ve been teaching piano. That’s a long time – every afternoon, every weekday. For 28 years. My kids have never known a life without the omnipresent soundtrack of Ode to Joy and Big Dog Boogie.
Aside from the benefits of being surrounded by music, because of my teaching schedule, my kids have gained other skills, including patience, socialization and independence. Teaching has made me feel invested in each community I’ve lived in as I get to know many families on a more personal level. Because of interactions with students, we’ve found a great pediatrician, we hear about the best sales, the best teachers, tips on summer jobs for our kids, and most recently, one of my students even taught Fritz to finally ride a bike (because I’m a failure in that department).
Because of my teaching, my children have had some of the best babysitters in the world, including one family who watched them regularly in their home each afternoon for over six years and became the surrogate extended family for us while we lived far away from our own. One of their former babysitters is even traveling across the world with us this summer.
Because of my teaching, we were able to survive financially through grad school and a housing crisis. Because of my teaching, I have had thousands of enriching interactions with students and parents, both musically and personally. Sometimes after a long day with clingy, drooling toddlers, having a set time devoted to doing what I love with really great students literally saved my sanity. Sure, there are moments of frustration when students are unprepared, but the benefits far outweigh the mild annoyances. I’m lucky to have a job I enjoy that I can do from home. I know many don’t have that same luxury.
For the last several years, my studio has expanded from full to bursting. Since I have difficulty saying no, I’ve bent over backwards to find times to squeeze just one more student in, and then just one more. For a while, it seemed to work. I even took pride in my efficiency and ability to juggle housework, four sons, and fifty students. There were some weeks of extreme stress, but they were followed by smooth sailing.
Since starting this blog, I’ve had a nagging question in the back of my mind: “What if all these tiny changes I’m making are just preparing me for some big change in the future?” I’ve brushed that thought aside several times, but this year, I’ve become more aware of little problems. I’ve approached each of these smaller issues the way I always do, but just like the old cartoons, I didn’t have enough fingers to cover the holes in my leaking bucket. All the little changes I was making to address individual problems weren’t enough.
I finally realized that the way we’ve been doing things for 28 years just isn’t working for our family right now. And once I realized that, I noticed more and more little problems. And once I saw them all, I couldn’t ignore them. I had to do a major overhaul of our life. After three months of weighing every option and thinking through all the pros and cons, I decided that for the foreseeable future, I need to stop teaching afternoon lessons.
I will still teach morning lessons (starting at 6 a.m.!!!) and I’ll keep accompanying, but I decided that when my boys come home from school, I need to be available to them. This took me a long time to decide, especially because I felt so guilty about having to let half my students go. Then one morning as I was struggling with the decision, I realized that it was pretty self-centered of me to assume I was the only possible person who could teach these kids. Am I really that special? Nope. Will they be able to learn from other teachers? Of course. I realized that my struggle with this decision was based on a ridiculous subconscious assumption that I am the only person who can possibly do this job. As soon as I realized how silly that was, my decision was very clear: My students will find other teachers. My children have only me.
Of course, although I think this is the right choice for me and my family at this time, that doesn’t mean I think that all those years of teaching were the wrong choice, or that it is the only choice for other families. I know many smart, talented women who have decided to focus those talents on their families rather than working professionally, and whose spouses make enough to make that choice feasible. I also know many women who work outside the home, whether out of necessity or desire or both, and I know several fathers who assume mostly domestic roles while their spouses act as primary breadwinners. The world is enriched by parents’ contributions in their individual fields and at home. I admire those women and men who have found a way to do what they love, to do things that benefit society, all while raising bright, independent children to do the same–in whatever work/life balance configuration works for them.
I was very nervous about breaking the news about shrinking my studio, but my students’ parents have been very supportive of the change, and a surprising number have been willing to stay with me, even if it means early mornings. I’ve appreciated all the support and loyalty, not to mention the willingness by so many kids to wake up much earlier to come to a piano lesson. No wonder I like them all so much.
I’m not sure what we’ll do with our time. I have a long list of stuff we never could do before and I suspect my kids’ list is even longer. We don’t really know how to do this after school family togetherness thing, but we are excited to give it a try. So if I write a blog post about doing something basic with my children that pretty much everyone does all the time, please be patient. This is all new to me.