Mixing Kids and Touring

This week marks our saying good-bye to our caregiver Ginny of 15 years as our youngest child also turns 12. Some reflections on touring as Duo Concertante while trying to raise two kids seemed timely somehow.

In 1998 we’d just gotten our first agent, were starting to do showcase events, had some good reviews in our newly developed press kit. It was an exciting time and we could feel our career gaining momentum. One day that year we also – to our immense surprise – found ourselves to be expecting. Our doctor, the bearer of this shocking and ultimately of course wonderful news, took about an hour to talk through how our lives could work as performers – continue to tour, for example – and have a baby. We basically (and gratefully) followed all her advice, hiring Ginny shortly after our daughter’s arrival.

Until our oldest was five years old, we always toured with our kids. When we could afford it, we took Ginny with us. This helped enormously in terms of being able to practice easily, not worry about the kids while on stage, etc.  We remember a trip to NYC with our baby daughter.  As Nancy warmed up in our hotel room, we recall watching out the window as our daughter and Ginny happily but with some trepidation headed for Macy’s. There were lots of good times touring as a foursome, then as a fivesome – eating good meals together, visiting interesting and beautiful places. But, even with a sitter, touring with young children was difficult.  Sleep was in short supply as both of our kids didn’t sleep through the night until they were 2 and a half (That equals five years of being a zombie. Clara Schumann: how did you do it?). Drinking lots of coke before concerts helped but sometimes it, apparently, wasn’t enough. One reviewer wrote that the violinist “seemed asleep in the first work but woke up for the Bartok.” That was probably an astute comment.

Often it just wasn’t possible financially to take Ginny along and we would make arrangements with local presenters to find us a caregiver. Most times this worked out (as far as we knew!). But once a presenter arranged for herself to be the sitter. Nancy had described the needs of our baby son over email before we arrived – he was happy if he was pushing his stroller or, when he got tired, being pushed in it at a fairly quick tempo.  The lady over email said that that would be no problem. When we arrived at the church where we were to give the concert, we discovered the presenter/sitter was very elderly and had major mobility challenges.  Her plan was to keep the two kids near us in the church nursery; she assured us that she could push our son around in the stroller.  We played our concert, thankfully (sort of) oblivious to the two hours of howls of a strapped in baby being pushed slowly forward and backwards over just two feet. Obviously he survived.

Of course, travelling with babies and toddlers does throw a wrench in the image of the jet-setting glamorous touring musician. A trip to BC for just one concert with baby translated into hours of feeding on the plane, much to the exhaustion of Nancy.  The end result was meeting our lovely presenters at the airport, dripping wet with regurgitated sour milk.  Another memory is trying to wash our baby in a Pearson airport sink – his/her (identity withheld) head, tummy, arms, legs, face, you name it, after a massive diaper malfunction.

The most difficult moment in all of this was when we had to start leaving our kids behind with either our parents or with Ginny. Our first such trip was to China for two weeks when our kids were just two and a half and five. It was the longest two weeks of our lives and in those first few hours in particular Nancy felt like she’d lost a limb.  The lump in her throat was the size of the grapefruit and during interminable, jetlag induced sleepless nights in a land that felt like another planet we pined for our children. (That lump in the throat is still always there whenever we take that taxi ride to the St John’s airport without our kids.) When you feel this immense internal conflict and miss your family so much, you end up walking on stage telling yourself, “You’d better make this really matter.” Somehow, the music part does really matter. It’s who you are. But you’re never really sure that performing is not a ridiculously selfish act somehow.

Our next blog will be about our tour in England, Scotland, and Germany. Happily, our kids are along for this one.

April 23, 2014