Playing Dances With a Kid

November 3rd, 2019
contra, kids, music, tour
Many part-time musicians stop gigging after having kids. Kids take a lot of time and attention, traveling without them is hard for whoever is staying behind, and traveling with them involves a lot of logistics. But I do want to keep playing, and it turns out my kids really like coming with me to things.

I've now brought Lily solo to seven weekends and on one tour (at 2y5m, 3y6m, 3y7m, 3y11m, 4y1m, 4y2m, 4y11m, and 5y2m), and Anna to one weekend (at 1y11m). This is something I sort of fell into: initially I had thought it would be too much work and wasn't planning on bringing them until they were much older. But then Julia had a conference scheduled opposite a dance weekend I had committed to, so she brought Anna (6m) to the conference and I brought Lily (2y5m) to the weekend.

As Lily got older I started bringing her more, and at this point I bring one of them on anything that's more than an evening. It's gone really well, and been really fun for both of us. Lily's gotten to jam with great musicians:

Ridden on brooms:

Made quick friendships:

Dived into piles of skirts:

Snuck onto stage and found unattended trumpets:

Played with noodles:

And been very sleepy in the airport after red-eyes:

I wanted to write up some about how it's worked, but I do have two disclaimers:

  • Lily and Anna are happy, cute, friendly kids with good common sense. They're very good at interacting with adults, and do well in new situations.

  • I'm a relatively relaxed parent, who doesn't tend to find parenting stressful. My parenting style also involves a lot of letting the kids do what they want and teaching them how to ask for help when they need it.

So while this has gone well for us, think carefully about whether it's a good fit for you and what bits might be easier or harder in your situation.

With any trip the first question is usually transportation. I'm flying to almost all of these events, and while my travel is covered Lily's isn't. We have enough frequent flyer miles from work travel, however, that her flight is often just the taxes. The one weekend I brought Anna too, at 1y11m, was because it would have been an expensive flight and Anna was still young enough to fly on my lap.

When I do need to pay full fare that dramatically cuts into pay for the weekend, but playing dances is something I do because I enjoy it, and I enjoy things much more with them along.

Driving and flying is generally pleasant: Lily doesn't get to watch movies or play games on her tablet except for long car trips and airplane rides, so this is special. She likes the unlimited tablet time so much that for her a plane trip is a solid positive, even for cross-country flights.

We've done a few overnight flights back from the west coast, most of which have gone well and one which was terrible. The ones that went well are ones where I've brought her carseat (airplane certified) and she sleeps well there, while the one that didn't go well she was trying to sleep in the big airplane seat and just couldn't get comfortable.

Even though at this point she uses a booster seat, I'll still bring the full seat for times when she's going to be sleeping.

Lining up some form of childcare for when I'm playing is important. I'm typically only playing for about ten hours at a weekend, so while I don't need a full weekend's worth of childcare I do need some. The amount of help I've needed has decreased with age:

  • At 1y11m Anna needed someone to be watching her the whole time

  • At 2y5m Lily could do a lot of playing but needed to be kept out of the lines

  • At 3y6m Lily needed an adult for things like finding her water cup, using the potty, or walking her up to the cabin to retrieve a her teddy bear.

  • At age 4y2m I started bringing Lily to things with no childcare help planned, and she was fully self-sufficient while I was playing.

This has looked like:

  • My bandmate's husband Dereck has sometimes come, and at ~3 weekends watched Lily while I played. This moved from "hanging out with her most of the time" at 2y5m to "being available if she asks for help" at ~3y6m.

  • Another ~2 weekends my cousin Claire came and hung out with Lily.

  • At another weekend the daughter of our hosts had a child a little younger than Lily. She offered to handle Lily's bedtime for the Saturday evening, when I was playing very late, and watched Lily some at other points during the weekend while Dereck watched her for other parts.

  • For the weekend when Anna was 1y11m the organizers found someone to watch her and we split the cost 50-50.

This also depends on how long you're playing, which usually depends on whether there are multiple bands. At this point I'd happily bring Lily to a one-band weekend, but at times when I was relying on other people being helpful that would have been a lot to ask, since they wouldn't have gotten to dance at all.

Another question is sleeping. At these sorts of things I generally try to get Lily going to bed at the same time as me, and let her sleep in. This doesn't always work, depending on scheduling, but it usually does and sometimes I'll ask organizers for schedule tweaks. Since this means sleeping well past when it gets light, when Lily was littler I would black out all the windows in our sleeping space with tinfoil and masking tape. She doesn't need that anymore, but I'll often hang a towel or something else over the curtain rod to block out extra light.

Naps are also important: I try to keep as close as possible to our normal napping schedule as I can, though shifting it forward to keep it in the same place relative to when she's waking up and going to bed. This was flexible enough that I could usually fit a nap in around my playing responsibilities, though a few times Dereck/Claire supervised a nap and once we tried a nap in a carrier during a workshop:

It didn't work though; Lily's just pretending to sleep.

As Lily got older naps became just a quiet time, and we would look around the venue together for a nice place to rest. She often liked being under things:

At this point I'm happy bringing Lily to anything, but now that she's in Kindergarten I'm planning to start bringing Anna instead. I expect this will be harder than with seasoned-traveller Lily, but it's time for Anna to have a turn. [1]

Overall I've found the dance community extremely supportive, with lots of people telling me how happy they are that I'm bringing Lily. And I really like how much Lily has enjoyed getting this much unstructured time in a new environment.

[1] One thing I'm trying to figure out is what to do about the upcoming May tour with Kingfisher, since it's a lot of driving and Anna has some history of carsickness. Since there's no buying flights, though, there's plenty of time to decide.

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