Tell us a bit about you, where you live, what you do, your work, your family. I live in Quebec City, in the province of Quebec in Canada, and I’ve been here nine years. I moved directly from Miami to Quebec City which was, to say the least, a huge culture shock even though I am Canadian. That was a big change.
Where did you grow up? I grew up in Ontario, so just one province to the west of here. That’s where I’m from and I went to school in Toronto. I did my undergrad at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, and then I went to grad school in Boston at New England Conservatory. I did a graduate diploma and a Masters of Music. And then I went to New World Symphony for one year.
Oh, you were only there one year? Yeah. I was just about to start my second season, and then I had this audition and I won the job, so I moved like two weeks later and threw myself into a new job and learning a new language.
That’s a lot. And a totally new climate from Miami. I still remember I started on Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, which is like the second week of October. And of course it was still crazy hot in Miami, and I moved here and it snowed. It was like October 12th and it snowed, and I thought, oh my gosh, what have I done. I don’t speak French. It’s snowing. What am I doing here? But it turned out to be wonderful.
And that’s where you met Olivier? Yeah, that’s where I met my husband a couple years later.
And you have two kids? Yeah. I have Noah who is four, and Eva is almost two. She’ll be two around Christmas.
Did you plan that on purpose—their ages, and when you started a family— based on your career at all? Yeah, in a way it was. We were planning on waiting a little bit longer because I had sort of heard rumors of a few auditions that might be happening and I thought, oh, maybe I should wait. And then we just decided, no. We shouldn’t wait for things that we have no control over. We’re happy here. I have a great job. Let’s just start our family. So we went ahead with it, and it turned out to be great because some of the auditions I was waiting for never happened. So I can’t imagine if I had decided to wait. It would have been ridiculous. There’s no good time to have a baby. No better time than another.
“There’s no good time to have a baby. No better time than another.”
Isn’t that right? It’s great that you had the job when you started having kids, but I always hear people saying that they don’t want to start having kids until they have the job, and then years and years and years go by and you’re 38 or 40, and you still don’t have the job. Exactly. You just never know what’s going to happen. I’m so glad we didn’t wait. And you know, I got pregnant right away so I was lucky with that. Lucky-slash-it was a shock. It was like, ok, well, here we go! And then my husband lost his job. We both had steady jobs and I was still pregnant with Noah. I was about five months pregnant, and my husband lost his job. It was a good lesson for me because you can’t plan everything.
And when it comes to kids, you really can’t plan anything. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. All of my good intentions went flying right out the window.
What did you expect it would be like, having a newborn, going back to work, practicing? I really had no clue what I was about to get into, because I’m sure I’m one of the very rare cases of this, but I had never changed a diaper. I had never even babysat. I’m talking not a single time. So babies were sort of like “Oh, look how cute they are! They must smell good! I’m going to have lots of cuddles!” I didn’t think it was going to be easy. I was terrified, but it was even bigger than I ever could have imagined, how life changing it was. In really an epic way for us. Just all of the challenges and all of the happiness.
I was happy before I had my kids. I was newly married and I had my job that I loved and was living in a great city. Things were good. And then I had Noah and I just got that much happier. I wasn’t expecting that. I mean, of course I knew that we would love him. I never had any doubts about that. I knew I would love being a mom. I always wanted to be a mom. But I just wasn’t expecting how life changing everything is. The ups and the downs. So, at least there is all that happiness to balance out the harder days.
“I was expecting it to be hard, but I was still shocked at how hard it was.”
It’s a joy that you can’t really imagine until you have a kid, right? I never thought it was going to be easy. I didn’t have any thought that I was just going to continue about my same life and just add in a baby. I don’t know if I didn’t take to it well, but I found it very challenging. Changing to being a mother, you know? I was expecting it to be hard, but I was still shocked at how hard it was.
When did you go back to work after you had Noah? I’m in Canada, and we are very fortunate here to have paid maternity leave for mostly a year.
Wow! Now, I’m not a hundred percent sure how it varies from province to province, because each province takes care of their own parental leave in terms of what your partner gets or how much leave the partner gets paid or not paid. I don’t know the details of that. But in Quebec anyway, we have the right to 50 weeks of paid maternity leave, which is amazing. It’s not paid at a hundred percent. It’s something like the mother who is giving birth has the right to I think 20 weeks of paid leave and I think it’s about 70 percent salary, and then there’s another 30 weeks that can be either shared between you and your partner, or one parent can take all of those weeks. And they are paid at about 50 percent.
Wow. What a difference from the U.S. I knew you had a better system, but I didn’t realize that. Wow. I mean, it’s not perfect. And it is still reduced income, but I have a lot friends and colleagues in the States, and when I see people posting about going back to work after six or eight weeks, I cannot imagine. I was a wreck, still six weeks after giving birth.
Emotionally and physically. Yes. Absolutely, both. I was in no state to be able to go back to work, especially in a profession like music where not only do you have to be showing up showered and dressed, but be in shape to play and perform. No way could I have done that. I went back to work sort of very gradually. I did work a little bit during the year, because not going to work for a year is not also really possible either. As you know, we have to continue to play and practice and I can’t just stop playing my instrument for a year. That would also be crazy. But it was really hard.
I think that was one of the things that I found the hardest. I was not able to practice at all. It wasn’t the same with Eva. It was just Noah. I don’t know what his deal was, but every time I would try to play at home he would burst into tears. And I mean like, one of those baby crying fits where they just have the saddest face. He was so sad, and tears were streaming down his face. What is wrong?! And I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.
I don’t want to say I barely played for a year, but almost. Luckily, my employer is extremely flexible when I’m on maternity leave. If I want to work or not work, I just let them know if I want to come in for a week or not. So I did about nine or ten weeks of work during the year. I didn’t do that all at once. I did like three week chunks or something. I would go and start trying to get back in shape in the evening while my husband was home. I would go into work and practice at the hall, because playing at home was just not possible.
Did you have help with childcare? Or because Olivier had lost his job was he home so you could go in to work? Noah was born at the beginning of September, and I think Olivier had a new job that he started in November, so he was home for two months. But there is five weeks of paid leave for your partner after having a baby as well, so he would have been home anyway. He was home a few extra weeks and then he went back to work.
We don’t have any family here in Quebec. My sister is the closest, and she lives about five hours away. Olivier’s entire family lives in France, and my parents live about a ten to twelve hour drive from here. So not close. We had visitors of course. My sister came, and my mom came for a few weeks, and then Olivier’s parents came. I guess Noah was about six months old and they came for about three weeks. But it was a lot of alone time, me and Noah.
The thing about a musician’s schedule is you work in the evenings on the weekends, and you work in the afternoons and sometimes the evenings during the week. For us, it’s so hard to find the right childcare situation, because daycares are open Monday through Friday from six to six, right? So what did you decide to do as far as childcare when you finally did go back to work? We started Noah in a daycare when he was about 11 months old, about a month before I started working full time again. I don’t work 40 hours a week either, so there is that that I love about my job as well. We found him an in-home daycare and it was really hard to leave him. I can’t even imagine if I had had to put him in daycare if he was six or eight weeks old. I couldn’t barely get through it when he was 11 months old. We had just spent pretty much every minute together for almost a whole year, and then leaving him there and having him crying. The worst was that when I would pick him up at the end of the day, he would also burst into tears, and that just broke my heart even more.
That first daycare that we had, we thought was good, but then it turned out to really be a bad situation. I am still really traumatized about what happened. We got a call from the police one day and they said the daycare was closed, and we weren’t to go back. I was just so shocked and was already having a hard time. Every parent knows it’s hard to leave your kid with someone else, even if you feel like you really trust them. But after that, it was…let’s just say I really had a hard time, because it turned out he was okay, but it wasn’t a safe situation for him to be in. When the police are involved, it’s obviously not good.
So we had to find him another daycare. Luckily for me, it was just after Christmas and my orchestra usually doesn’t work in January, so I had a month off. Which was good, because there was no way in the world I was going to leave him with anybody after that. So it gave us time to find a new daycare, but we did have to because I had to go back to work a month later, and it’s not like I could call up my mom or my mother-in-law to watch him for four hours while I went to rehearsal. We had to find somebody. So we interrogated them and decided it would be okay, and it was.
Oh, man. That sounds really rough. I mean so hard to drop them off in the first place, and then to find out that it wasn’t safe. Interestingly enough, I had a similar situation when I was a little kid. My mom was taking me to an in-home daycare. I was a toddler. I was like one or two, and she noticed that every time she came to pick me up, whether it was 2:00 or 4:00, I was already in my winter coat, standing at the door. And I remember the place. We were always in the basement; they would put us in the basement to play. Like a basement. Not a toy room, an actual basement. And I just remember the woman, Marge. She was really mean. And it was the same thing, one of the neighbors had her kids and called my mom one day, because she had an older daughter there and the older daughter started telling her what was happening, and that it was not a safe place. And, the place got shut down. My mom got a call. And then from then on I just went to work with my mom. I remember just sitting under the table in her office coloring all day long. You must have been a really good kid!
I can’t imagine bringing Henry to work with me like that! So that happens. It’s scary. But as far as long term effects, I don’t think there were any on me. But it’s super terrifying. I guess it turned out she watching like 16 kids in her house, and the max you could watch was eight. And that her husband was abusive. It was a bad situation. But, scary stuff. It is scary. Because kids are so vulnerable and they can’t do anything. They’re just the most vulnerable. They’re babies.
Yes. They’re babies. I’m glad you were able to find a better situation. Me too, me too. Then Noah ended up changing again because we got a call from a daycare that’s really close to my work, and it was a bit of a bigger center. There are rules set in place by the government and followed along. So I was really happy about that.
The first place was an in-home daycare and it’s funny because at first I felt much better about that. I didn’t want him going to a bigger place. I thought oh, an in-home daycare would be much better. More caring, less kids, and then…no. So for my second, Eva, luckily since Noah was already going there she had priority on the waiting list and had her spot. So we never had to worry about it, except that it’s only from 18 months and older. I was going back to work when Eva was about 14 months old or just about, because she was born at Christmas. So we still had a break. I had a little bit of extra time, so it was kind of the same problem. What do I do with Eva? I wasn’t going to just leave her with anybody.
The amazing thing was, we asked my sister if she would consider moving in with us for a few months, and she did. She came here. Because as you know, a musician’s schedule is very erratic, to say the least. And I really only had about four months of work and then I was on a break again and then I knew that Eva was going to have her place with Noah at the same daycare. We are very indebted to my sister coming to live with us and just helping out when I had to go to rehearsal. It was amazing for me knowing that Eva was safe at home and with a family member who loves her.
I think it’s an interesting time we live in, because we’ve become so spread out from our families. So many people just don’t live close to grandparents anymore, at least in my social circles. That’s the hardest thing. We’re lucky in Milwaukee that you can start kids in public Montessori schools at K3, but that’s not true everywhere. So when we get to three, then we can send Henry somewhere without a huge tuition. In most cases, it’s actually free. But until then, it’s such an expense to send him to daycare. And I just often wonder what people do when they don’t have the the means to do that. I just don’t understand. I don’t know. And that’s another thing we’re very lucky to have in Quebec. Daycare is also subsidized by the government, so even if you’re in a private daycare that is quite expensive (say, I don’t know, $1,000 a month or something, which I know is not even expensive for some places. It’s double that in Toronto), you do get money back from the government to cover about half of it, based on your family income. And now the daycare that my kids are in is fully subsidized by the government and everyone pays a little bit extra when you do your taxes, based on your family income. But it’s like eight dollars a day for the daycare, which is incredible. And then, at the end of the year, whatever your family income is, there’s a scale and you maybe pay a little bit extra. Because I don’t know what we would do, either. I have a steady job, but I don’t have some kind of crazy fancy job.
“I’ve worked my entire life to be a musician and I love it. And you don’t just get an orchestra job like that. You hold onto it when you do get it.”
Somebody has to quit their job, you know? That’s what so many people do. You have to quit your job. And it shouldn’t be like that. And I wouldn’t. I don’t think I could quit my job. I’ve worked my entire life to be a musician and I love it. And you don’t just get an orchestra job like that. You hold onto it when you do get it. So that wasn’t really an option either.
So speaking of that, you just won an audition! Yeah! It’s exciting!
How did that go? A position opened up in your orchestra… Yeah, it’s temporary. It’s an interim position, so it was an internal audition, and I decided to apply for it and, la voilà! I’m acting principal of the viola section.
Congratulations. Thanks. I don’t know anything about how long it’s going to be for, but this season anyways. So, yeah. I’m excited about it.
How did you prepare for that with two little kids at home? Well I can tell you, one thing I learned being a mother is how to be efficient. Whereas before, I had the luxury of practicing five or six hours a day when I was preparing for an audition, I just don’t have that time anymore. No matter how much I want to, I don’t have that much time. So I had to learn how to waste no time when I’m practicing and just really get to the point. As you know with Henry, the days are long, and I’m exhausted at the end of the day. Noah wakes up at six, maybe six-thirty if I’m lucky. And he’s just full of energy. He’s the only morning person in our family. My daughter is totally not like that at all. She’s all groggy and like, “uggghhh” when she wakes up in her bed. He is at a thousand percent from the second he opens his eyes. He’s always been like that. I mean, I’m used to it now, but, anyways…
My husband’s schedule is also quite erratic. It’s funny, he also had gotten a promotion, and the very same day I had my audition he started his new job. So let’s just say our stress level was a little bit elevated for a few weeks. He’s been working in sales since I met him, so his schedule is also erratic. Lots of weekends, lots of evenings, and longer hours. Much longer hours than I work. So dropping off the kids to daycare, picking them up at the end of the day, it’s me every single day. There is no day that it works for him to do that.
It’s hard to fit in the time to practice, especially because I can’t play for eight hours in a day. If I have five hours of rehearsal with my job, maybe I do an hour extra from that, which means I have a full day. We work from nine-thirty to four, then I pick up the kids, get home, bedtime, and by the time they’re actually asleep in bed, everything is done, it’s eight o’clock, and then I would go back to work. By that time, I’ve had about a four hour break from playing, so I can maybe do an hour or two. So I did that. And then on my days off I just practiced during the day and didn’t do it at night.
Every waking moment. You kind of have to tell yourself, okay, so this is a season where I’m going to be sacrificing a little bit more of my rest. Yeah. And other things. To say our house has been disorganized for the last two months is an understatement. I mean, it’s just… I feel like we’re just putting out one fire at a time, and that’s it. And that kind of thing I had to learn to just let go. Be like, okay. If there’s a pile of laundry, it’s gonna sit there.
“I always start a practice session with a plan in my head, before I start.”
So when you say you have to be more efficient with your practicing, would you mind giving a couple of tips for really getting stuff done when you have 30 minutes or an hour to work? I guess it’s different depending if I’m preparing for work or preparing for an audition. Let’s say an audition, because that’s an extra thing that you have to add on, and for me the preparation can’t be compromised, even though I have less time.
I always start a practice session with a plan in my head, before I start. Okay, what do I really need to work on? I have an hour and a half. What’s my biggest problem area? What do I need to do the most? What problem do I have to solve? And I just focus on that one thing instead of looking at the audition list as a whole. I try to isolate something, and then I still try to cover everything if I have a longer practice session. But if I had a half hour to work, I would just pick one or two things that I wanted to work on and try and get them as solid as I could and then just move on. I would try not to get overwhelmed with the bigger picture, to focus on a smaller step-by-step kind of thing. Also, trust myself that I will get to everything, and that if I don’t have the time to run the list every day or play everything every day, I try not to worry about it because I know the next time I practice I’ll do those other things that I didn’t do the first time. It just has to be enough.
And apparently it was. Yeah! I was really prepared and really in good shape for this audition, so it was great. I mean, maybe I’m crazy, I actually love preparing for auditions. I love being an orchestral musician, and I love practicing excerpts, as weird and dorky as that sounds. And having an audition to prepare for is really a good motivator and a good goal. I’m exhausted by seven o’clock. I just want to sit and do nothing, and not go back to work at night and practice, and having a goal like that is my best motivator.
So do you want to talk about the hair bow business, Mini Chouette? How did this start? Well, it started because I had a baby girl and I started seeing photos on Facebook and whatever about bows and I thought, oh my god, those are so cute. I was following someone on Instagram and her daughter was always wearing bows. And I asked her about them, and I found out there was a bow subscription service, and I thought, oh wow, that’s cool. And so I signed up for that. I was having fun getting a little package every month of something completely frivolous and girly.
Then my husband was sort of like, you know, why don’t you make these? I know you know how to sew. We have a sewing machine. And I was like, oh no, I don’t know. But then I started thinking about it, and my sister and I had been talking about dreaming up some kind of like online store that we could run. So then I just started trying to make some bows, and it turned out they looked pretty good, and I thought, okay, well maybe let’s give this a try.
I had been using my grandmother’s sewing machine, which is probably 40 or 50 years old. So my husband was like, okay, if you want to try this, why don’t we get you a new sewing machine. I was also on maternity leave when I started it, almost a year ago. I was about to be going back to work, but I had still about two months left before I was going to be starting back with the orchestra. I kind of liked it as a project because I like making stuff. I don’t know, well you know. You’re very crafty yourself, so I like making stuff. I like baking.
I like creating stuff like that, as a hobby, apart from music. Just doing stuff for fun. So I said, alright, I’ll commit to doing it for a year, to really give it a chance to see how it goes, and it’s been okay. I was expecting more from it I guess. It’s been a little hard going sometimes. I’m also kind of immersed in this bow world. Which is a whole other thing.
It’s a world! It is. Emma, it is a world. I’m in all these Facebook groups about bows and I’m in a bow makers Facebook group, and Facebook groups related to another small shop, but it’s actually a really great community of women. It’s more like a moms Facebook group, but we all just are also obsessed with hairbows, which is funny. It kind of ties everyone together, and then you find other ways to connect also, about just mom stuff. There’s this short form “NBR,” and most posts start with that: “Not Bow Related.” Ninety-eight percent of the posts are NBR. It’s a way to connect with other moms, too, which is how I got really into it. It was fun, and it was nice having that sort of community, even though it’s people I don’t actually know, because I didn’t have that with Noah.
I felt very alone a lot of the time, and very isolated. Especially here. The winter is so long and like I said, Noah was born at the beginning of September, and I felt like I had a long recovery from my delivery. By the time I started to feel a little bit more normal and back to myself, winter was starting and it just doesn’t ever end here. It’s really long. So that was also what got me hooked into bows, because it was nice. I felt like I had other people to talk to even if it was just online.
So I just started Mini Chouette. We got the name because my husband calls Eva “Petite Chouette” which means baby owl. That’s one of her nicknames. Or “mon chouette” which is “my baby owl,” which is so cute. The French have all these little nicknames for children, and they’re all so adorable and sound crazy in English. Like “mon petite chou”: my little cabbage. Doesn’t sound pretty in English, but somehow it works in French. So we decided to call the business Mini Chouette. It’s been fun because I get to make bows for Eva and I like that I’m making them for her. I like that it’s something that I do for her, and for myself at the same time. I’m getting to create something that is also for her, and she loves them, actually.
The other side of it is sort of the visual aspect of the shop, which I also enjoy. I have the Etsy shop, and I need photographs for that. I need product photos and for my Instagram feed also, which I’ve been managing. And I like taking the photos and setting it up. That was a big learning curve for me too, just finding the right way to do it. So it’s fun. It’s a great creative hobby for me, because it’s not some kind of roaring business success, but it’s fun.
I know what you mean. When I started Mother Maker, I knew that it was going to be really hard to get the word out about it. It’s really hard to get anybody to notice it. We built a community which is amazing, and it’s just like, okay, it’s growing a little tiny bit every month, and that’s all we need. Right? You just keep going and maybe in ten years we’ll be really big. Ha! You have to figure out, who needs to hear about it to make it really grow, because it’s so inspiring. All of the interviews you’ve done, I’ve loved all of them. And it’s like, okay, there are other artists out there and musicians and moms that are trying to squeeze in half an hour of work around their baby’s nap, or whatever.
Well it’s the same thing that you’re talking about. I needed that community to say, your identity is not gone. This is just a time of life where you’re devoted to someone else, and that’s okay. And that you can keep going. You don’t have to give it up. Yeah, exactly. You can keep going and even add in something else on the side!
Well, exactly. That’s exactly right. I felt like I had all this naptime to work with when I started this thing. And now Henry really needs my attention all the time. And if I put the computer on, or start working at the computer, he needs to be on it too. He needs to be watching YouTube videos or something that I can’t stand. So now, it’s like, ok, I have this one day a week when he’s in daycare that I can work on this thing, but we’re gonna make it happen! Yeah, I really hope you keep with it. I really look forward to the interviews every time there’s something posted. Yeah. Naptime working is…it’s that myth: “sleep when the baby sleeps.” Well what if you want to take a shower, or eat something without a little hand pawing at you? And Noah was a terrible sleeper. Emma, at one point, I kid you not, he was having five naps a day, because he would only nap for 20 minutes at a time. I could not leave the house. And then he would be so tired and legitimately need to sleep again. He was just terrible and he sort of started sleeping through the night—in big huge quotation marks—when he was about nine months old, which I thought was pretty good. But then his naps were still just absolute garbage.
“It’s that myth: ‘sleep when the baby sleeps.’ Well what if you want to take a shower, or eat something without a little hand pawing at you?”
It was all easier with Eva for me. I don’t know whether it was because I was more experienced. I’m sure that helps, more experienced, more relaxed. She was a much easier baby. She slept. She had two hour naps twice a day sometimes. And I could put my mute on and go in the other room and practice for two hours while she slept. It was completely different, a year off with her. I didn’t really ever get out of shape.
I had a big chamber music project with part of a chamber music festival when she was six months old, and I’m not really sure how I did that. I was still breastfeeding, and I would go to these rehearsals and pump during my 20 minute break, and then go right back and it was insane. It was insane. We did three concerts in three days. Full programs of chamber music and, anyways. I made it, but that’s just to say that each kid is different. She was great at naps, but night time she was up two or three times a night until she was like 16 months old. We’re still tired.
What advice do you have for other Mother Makers? I guess my biggest piece of advice is: Don’t put off creating and what fuels you as an artist and as a creator because you think you don’t have time to do it. It’s so easy to put ourselves last when we become a mom. And, rightly so. Babies need us. They do. They’re completely vulnerable and completely dependent on us, but if we don’t take care of ourselves, we can’t take care of our family as well. That includes what gives us joy in our lives, besides our children.
“…if we don’t take care of ourselves, we can’t take care of our family as well. That includes what gives us joy in our lives, besides our children.”
It was good for me to start the bow thing, because when my kids went to bed or sleep, I could do a little project while I was at home at night when I wouldn’t be doing anything else anyways. Instead of just being in some trance on Facebook or whatever, something that doesn’t really give back to me. I could go and do a little creative project on the side, and get something that gives me energy back. Focus on a different project. If you think you don’t have a lot of time, some time is better than nothing. Even 20 minutes of practicing when you can is great, just to keep things going.
But that being said, I think it’s also important to know when you need time off or to take a break and to say “Ok. This is really hard right now. I’m exhausted. I haven’t showered in four or five days. I am eating with a child on my lap all the time. I need time to just take care of myself.” And if that means taking a break from your art or whatever, just do it because it’ll be there when you are ready. There is a lot of pressure—well I don’t know what it’s like to be a visual artist or anything like that—but as a musician especially, if you’re freelancing or doing things like that, there’s always this pressure to never say no to a gig or never stop. The thing is, we are more than just our music. We’re more than just a mom. That was one thing that I struggled with. Like you said, we kind of lose our identity for awhile.
Just know that it’s okay to say no and just be yourself. Be your person and those other things are just a part of the whole. It’s so, so, so, so easy to lose sight of that. Because you have to be very driven and motivated and almost obsessed with your art or your music to make it in this field. You just have to always constantly be working and pushing and taking on another project, and challenging yourself, otherwise we don’t advance in our careers. And it’s hard to find the balance between that side of it, and knowing: I have something else on my plate right now, a young child, a baby, or two or three, or whatever. Have the confidence to say, “It’s going to be there when I get back.” And if the exact same project or gig or whatever isn’t available, trust that there will be something else so that we can find a way to do what we love and take care of our family at the same time, even though it seems impossible some days.