Motherhood is synonymous with sacrifice. From the moment of conception, we sacrifice our bodies. As our bellies grow, so do the stretch marks. Moms sacrifice sleep, hot meals, and sanity. Oh, sweet sanity! I vaguely remember a time long ago when I was able to eat a full meal without uttering phrases like “stop eating your boogers!” Or “no singing at the table.” A visit to the bathroom without hearing the chorus of “Mom! Mom! Mom!” from the other side of the door seems like a distant dream. But sometimes we sacrifice things that we shouldn’t. We give up aspects of ourselves that make us better mothers, like our hobbies and interests.
When I moved to Portland before having children I took up a rather unusual hobby. I joined the Clan Macleay Pipes and Drums and learned to play the tenor drum. I loved the thrill of performing for cheering crowds on St. Patrick’s Day or marching through downtown Portland in the Grand Floral Parade, my kilt swinging to the beat of the booming bass drum. Many hours of road trips to parades, competitions, and ceremonies with these musicians established a close camaraderie. They were my adopted family after I had moved 1,300 miles away from my own. This musical community helped shape my identity, but all that changed the moment I became a mother.
The instant my first child introduced her five-pound, wailing self to the planet, my entire identity shifted. In a split second, I was transformed from Kathleen, wife/teacher/drummer, into somebody’s mother; the most important commission of my life. Nothing could prepare me for the magnitude of that transformation.
Like many mothers, it took some time for me to cope with my new role. Even though my baby was no longer inside my body, she was an extension of my body, and the thought of leaving her with someone else for even a couple hours brought me close to panic. I developed an overwhelming sense of duty to keep my child close at all times. As a result, I gave up the activities that kept my life balanced: first, my gym membership, then my bagpipe band. Motherhood became all-consuming. Other than some weekly play dates with friends and their kids, I was either working or mothering. While I enjoy my job, and adore my children, I missed the creative outlet that brought fulfillment and personal challenge.
When my firstborn turned three, a fellow tenor drummer suggested I return to the band. “No way!” I replied. I told myself I was too busy and that time spent on hobbies was selfish. Also, I wondered what I would do with my daughter while I was at practice. “Take her with you,” my band mate suggested. I thought it over for some time, cataloging the reasons returning to the band wouldn’t work. But I missed my group and I missed that significant part of my identity that had been neglected for too long. Eventually, with trepidation, I hauled my daughter and drum to practice.
I didn’t know how long my toddler would behave, so I plied her with play-doh, crayons, dolls, and anything I could think of to keep her busy. It worked! She played quietly until she could no longer resist the urge to dance. Then she twirled to the tunes, entertaining the musicians as they piped and drummed. Before long, my gregarious daughter became the band mascot, proudly marching alongside the drum sergeant as he led the band through the high school halls where we practiced. The situation was a win-win. She looked forward to attending practices and performances as much as I did while I played the music I’d missed.
Two years later, I took another break from drumming when my second child was born. The commitment and costly band trips became too much for our growing family. This time, though, I promised myself I wouldn’t give up my hobbies. Instead, once I was comfortable leaving my infant for a few hours, I pursued fiddling classes; another hobby I’d been dying to try. It’s not easy finding opportunities to practice, but learning each new tune and playing it well is deeply satisfying.
Pursuing personal interests has brought fulfillment and joy while providing a good example to my children who see their mama set goals, work hard to learn new skills, and maintain balance in her life. So, while I’m happy to sacrifice for my family, I’ll continue to insist on hanging onto those hobbies that bring me joy and allow me to march to the beat of my own drum.