From January to May of this year, my husband, Ryan, was touring the U.S. and Europe with his band, Guster. He spent a total of 31 days at home during that time. While he was away, I was at home in Williston, doing all the normal stuff one does with a 6-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son: drop-offs and pickups, coordinating school schedules with my unpredictable freelance writer schedule.
My friends were extremely supportive, but even they would occasionally say things like, "Man, I don't know how you can be ok with this," or, "Doesn't it bother you that he's off seeing the world while you're stuck at home?" And the honest answer is, "Sometimes." But mostly I'm psyched to be married to someone who makes a living doing exactly what he wants to do. I'm inspired by his work ethic and commitment to his art — and I really appreciate the free concert tickets we get because of his job.
In the 15 years Ryan and I have been together, we've developed a few key rituals around his time on tour that help us stay connected. FaceTime is crucial. We both reach for the phone regularly to share the little moments — our family's review of the day's rose, bud and thorn at dinner time; saying goodnight at bedtime — and the big stuff, like, "Look! Daddy's on top of the Eiffel Tower!" We also implemented a rule that Ryan can't say anything about the state of our house for at least 72 hours after he comes home. This is an important acknowledgement of the fact that I run the house differently — and, yes, a little less neatly — when Ryan is away, and it lets me know that he agrees with the way I've prioritized my time in his absence.
Knowing what a circus my family life can feel like at times, I was curious to speak with other Vermont parents for whom music — and the creative life — play a very important role. We had lots to talk about, including the trouble with touring, what it's like to work and parent with the same person, and the financial realities faced by countless members of today's creative economy.
The bottom line? Living the creative life usually means equal parts fulfillment and sacrifice, clarity and uncertainty. But it's worth it — we couldn't be ourselves if we tried to live any other way.
Parents: Bobby Hackney Jr., 37, and Sara Goldstein, 33 Kids: Son Kiernan, 9, and daughter Josie, 4 Home Base: Burlington
Bobby Hackney Jr., frontman for punk band Rough Francis, comes from a musical family. His father and uncles started their own punk band, Death, in Detroit in the 1970s. Hackney and his brothers helped the world rediscover the band, and their family's story has since been written up in Rolling Stone and the New York Times, and captured on film in the documentary A Band Called Death.
Hackney met Sara Goldstein, who now writes for Parent.co, when the two were in their early twenties. When they found out that Sara was pregnant with their first child, they realized that things were going to have to change.
Said Sara: "With finding out that we were going to have a baby, it wasn't, 'ok, well, you have to stop this fooling around, playing music business.' It was, 'You have to get smarter about how you're doing it.'" Which is what they're still doing a decade later.
Kids VT: How much time do you spend on the road these days, Bobby?
Bobby: When we go out, we usually try to make it worth our while. We have to turn down one-off shows if the money's not that great and if it's far away. If we do a show out of town, we make sure we do at least two or three around it, like make it a long weekend.
KVT: How does having a family factor into your decisions?
Bobby: Well, childcare. It's good because I'm the one that manages the band, so I book at least six months out. We book way in advance so I can talk to Sara about it.
KVT: So that's nice for you, right Sara? It helps when you can plan ahead.
Sara: Definitely. And I think because it's ... it's not that it's a hobby. He's doing something that's important and that gives another dimension to who he is. So obviously I fully support that, but there's a realistic end of things, which is finances. Because Rough Francis is not the way that he makes money — it's a supplemental thing — there naturally comes: the kids, his job, my job, then music.
KVT: But it's also really important, I would think, to you, Bobby, that you have a partner who supports your desire to make music.
Bobby: Yeah. It's funny because when I go out, there are some people who don't even know that I have a family. They're like, "Oh, yo. You have a wife and two kids? Oh, my god!"
KVT: How do you work it out with your job when you need to leave for a tour?
Bobby: Well, I work part-time [as a designer for Kids VT's sister publication Seven Days], and I freelance. So that makes it a lot easier for me to go away. I'm lucky to have that, too, because I can actually work from the road.
KVT: How do you think your musical proclivities have impacted your kids, if at all?
Bobby: [Our daughter] Josie, she loves to sing, and she loves music. Our kids love listening to Rough Francis, and it's really cool to hear them singing our songs. But they always use that against us. We'll tell them to quiet down and not do something, and then they just start singing a Rough Francis song. I'm like, "I can't get mad at you now, because you're singing one of my songs!"
Listen to some of those songs for yourself at roughfrancis.com.
Parents: Eric Olsen, 44, and Amanda Gustafson, 43 Kids: Daughters Magny, 7, and Esme, 4 Home Base: Shelburne
Amanda Gustafson and Eric Olsen were both fixtures in the Burlington music scene — Amanda in her band Wide Wail and Eric as part of Helen Keller Music — when they met in 2002. Their first musical collaboration came about when a mutual friend asked each of them to join the band that accompanied the Spielpalast Cabaret. They played in the cabaret ensemble for a few years but formed their own band, Swale, (with drummer Jeremy Frederick) "right after the first year," said Olsen.
Thirteen years, one wedding and two children later, Gustafson and Olsen are still making music together, as well as devoting time to their respective day jobs. Eric is a web developer and owner of Perfect Day Media. Amanda is an English Language Learners classroom teacher in the Burlington School District. We spoke at their home in Shelburne while the three of us folded a sizable mountain of laundry.
KVT: I wonder if the years you've spent creating music together inform the way you parent together? Eric: I feel that we balance each other out in a lot of ways. In the band, we're very different, and yet I think that's such an important part of that dynamic, and likewise in our family.
Amanda: I was going to say that I think we balance each other out in an opposite way. In the band, I feel we all defer to Eric — and I mean that in the best possible, most positive way. In rehearsal, he's so competent and he makes everybody feel like we know what we're doing and keeps it positive. With the family dynamic, I feel like the tables are a little bit turned. I feel really competent.
Amanda: I know what the kids need, I'm the one who's, like, got towels in the car and I've packed some food, and...
Eric: The leader, yeah, we defer.
Amanda: We eat dinner together every single night, which is all because Eric gets home for us to do that, and we have breakfast together. We spend a ton of time together as a family, and we spend a lot of time together practicing, so those two dynamics are flip-flopping a lot over the course of the week.
KVT: How do you eat dinner together every night and play shows as often as you do? Amanda: We eat dinner at 5:30.
Eric: Ideally, the sitter is coming in at dinner and maybe eats with us or arrives just after dinner. There are some shows where there's early load-in and we miss [eating dinner with the kids]. We cook for them, and then we split. And then sometimes it's a late show and we can put them to bed beforehand, and the sitter can come and just watch TV and make money.
KVT: Would you be in a band full time if you could?
Eric: It would depend on what you're talking about; I wouldn't want to spend less time with the kids. If you're talking dream, that dream probably doesn't entail rigorous touring, even though I would love to tour. You know what I mean? That's hard, because then when is dinner, when is all that? I feel like we have a nice pocket, personally. I feel like there are some people who like our songs, and they're interested enough to buy enough records that we can just make another one and keep writing. I feel like that's really fulfilling.
Amanda: I think most people would be lucky to have what we have.
KVT: You both have full-time jobs, you're raising two kids, and you're making art that people enjoy and consume. From the outside looking in, it seems to me you've got it figured out. Eric: Sometimes I think that the only thing that I might have figured out is that I've just got to show up; I've just got to be there.
Amanda: It's true. There have been many times when, like, I've put the kids to sleep, fallen asleep with the little one, and then I wake up because Eric is knocking me on the bottom of my foot, like I'm a stable boy asleep in the hay. It's like, "Let's go!" And you just get up, and you go to rehearsal, and you sit down, and you play.
Now it's your turn to show up. Go here: swalesong.com.
Parents: Justin Lander, 39, and Rose Friedman, 34 Kids: Daughter Eva, 5, and son Charlie, 7 months Home Base: East Hardwick
Musicians Rose Friedman and Justin Lander met in 2001 while working with Bread and Puppet Theater. They overlapped for four and a half years before marrying and starting their own company, Modern Times Theater.
These days they do musical performances featuring "old jazz from the 1910s and '20s," with Justin on coronet and Rose playing the ukulele. Modern Times Theater also puts on handcrafted puppet shows for children and adults, and Rose and Justin produce and perform in Vermont Vaudeville. They've received grants from the Vermont Arts Council and the Vermont Community Foundation, and have appeared at Burlington's Festival of Fools, the Shelburne Museum and Derby Line Community Day, as well as other regional venues.
If all that creating wasn't enough, they're also raising two kids and tending to the farm on which they live in East Hardwick.
KVT: Can you talk a little bit about the financial logistics of living a creative life where you're not getting what most people relish, which is a steady paycheck and predictable income?
Rose: We can't support our family just on art-making. We raise a lot of our own food, and we live in a way that is probably, compared to a lot of Americans, maybe a little closer to the poverty line. But we feel like we live in the absolute lap of luxury because we're eating what we think is the best food available, and we have a beautiful house, and we're healthy, and we have a lot of friends and support nearby.
We have a pretty high-class life; it just doesn't involve a lot of fancy dishwashers and stuff. We do shows, and each of us has a small stream of income from a different job. I do some educational consulting work. I work with a lot of homeschooling families and I get a little bit of money from that, and then Justin makes maple syrup.
Justin: I work in a medium-size industrial maple syrup operation so that, at the time in the winter when there's really not a lot of performing work, that's a full-time job. Then the rest of the year, I can manage to do a day or two, sometimes three, a week there.
Rose: Working in the woods and making candy, basically.
Justin: There's a lot of room in there for our own creative work and homesteading work. We don't ever have a day off.
Rose: Before we had kids, we felt like,
Oh, my God. This is the craziest experiment and a ridiculous idea to imagine that we can raise food and be connected to a piece of land and also be artists, because up to that point everything we had done was touring all over the States and internationally and just kind of nonstop moving. When we moved here, we thought, Well, we're going to have to really give up a lot of the performing stuff and we'll just find those opportunities when we can. Then we realized that there was more and more possibility of performing somewhat locally and still being able to come home and milk a cow. That seemed like a crazy enough experiment, but then when we added kids into it, it got even wonkier. In a way, it was like, Well, we're doing this crazy thing. We might as well just try to blend in all of it, everything we want to do, and try to make it work.
KVT: What other kinds of logistical things have popped up for you when blending work and parenthood?
Rose: I feel like we are inventing the universe every day anew.
Justin: Every gig.
Rose: As the kids' ages change, that makes different things possible or challenging. Right now, Eva's at an age where she can suddenly be much more reliable and independent and responsible.
Justin: We can bring her to any gig and put her in the audience, and we're totally fine, but we earned that after many, many by-the-seat-of-the-pants gigs when she was younger. We had one show where, halfway through a music set, from the audience, Eva's voice came and said, "Mom? Dad?" and the whole audience went silent. We said, "Yes, Eva?" She said, "Don't play another song."
Rose: Everyone was like, "Oh, isn't that cute?"
Watch that cute heckler's parents perform at moderntimestheater.com.
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