Mamahuhu: A joint column for mamas in Chengdu
The train pulls into the station, and we suit ourselves up with our heavy instruments and effects pedals. It's hot. The station stairwells seem to have been built without sympathy for passengers carrying heavy loads, and there are several to walk up and down before we can get to a cab. This is when I start hoping that my daughter will be in a good enough mood to walk alongside of us. Once she stops and cries for me to carry her, the balancing act gets more complicated.
My husband and I started our band, Proximity Butterfly, in 2003. We extended our family in 2008, with the addition of our daughter Aetheria. We toured until I was six months pregnant, and then I returned to Canada to give birth. Two weeks later, we started band practice again.
When our daughter was 3 months old, we headed back to Chengdu. After a few days of re-settling into our home, we went for dinner at a local bed and breakfast. Within a few minutes of sitting down at the table, we were surrounded by a swarm of women squeaking and giggling with our baby. The women lifted her from my arms, and I enjoyed a much-needed relaxing dinner. By the time we were ready to leave, the women didn't want to give her back.
Not long after, I approached the aiyis to ask them for help in searching for a babysitter. After conferring with each other, the two sisters said they were willing to do it. My daughter enjoyed their doting, and the band could start regular practices again—with occasional pauses while I would run over to the aiyis' to breastfeed.
Soon we started playing shows again. When Aetheria was really little, a trusted friend would accompany us to the venue to watch her while we played. As she got older, she stayed with her babysitter, and we would hurry back after gigs to pick her up. Once she was turned 18 months, she started occasionally spending the night with her babysitter (whom we call "popo" or "grandmother"), allowing us to hang out after a gig. When we travel to other cities we have to have a friend there who can help out. The bottom line is that we want our daughter to grow up being a part of what we do.
In a band, that includes touring. We're on trains for up to 40 hours at a time, which means chasing an energetic little girl up and down aisles and ladders as she jumps from bunk to bunk. On a recent three-week countrywide tour, we had a great show in Shanghai, got to our friend's house at 4 a.m., then were on the bullet train to Beijing by 9 a.m. When we arrived five hours later, we headed straight to the bar for sound check. With some stroke of amazing luck, I had managed to get in contact with our neighbor from Sansheng Xiang who had just returned to her home in Beijing with her daughter—one of my daughter's best friends. She came to the venue and picked Aetheria up and took her to their place for a sleepover.
We're not always so lucky, but it usually works out. A few days after that show, we had an interview and live show. By this point the tour and all the new people were starting to wear my daughter down. The staff at the office offered to take care of Aetheria while we went into the studio to play our set, but she refused to let me go. This time, one of the people at the studio (a father of a little girl himself) carried my protesting daughter downstairs for an ice cream while I reluctantly joined the others in the studio. Of course, by the time we were done with our set, she had made friends with everyone in the office and didn't want to leave.
We have the luxury of being able to include our daughter in what we do both professionally and passionately. The moments of struggle, hard work, and discomfort that we have decided to go through in order to bring our daughter with us often lead to more meaningful rewards than I could have imagined. As anything else in life, what we are doing now and how we treat her will inevitably have both positive and negative effects. I just hope that by spending time around people who are pushing to create something that they believe in, that she too will build the confidence and skills to pursue whatever she develops a passion for.
So, has having a baby changed who I am or put limits on what I can do? I think that it's taught me that sharing the things that are meaningful make those things more meaningful and that anything is possible if you manage your time right, which is the hard part. When people say to me, "当妈妈很辛苦" (dāng māmā hěn xīnkǔ/"it's hard work to be a mother"), I always think "又辛苦又幸福"(yòu xīnkǔ yòu xìngfú)—the greater the challenge, the greater the reward.
Heather Love has lived in Chengdu for over nine years, teaching, studying, consulting and playing music. She currently lives in Sansheng Xiang.