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Having it All

Heidi Álvarez | March 2016

    I remember telling my parents in the ninth grade that all I needed was the flute to be happy in life and that it did not matter to me if I had a spouse or kids. I am now a happily married college music professor with three beautiful children. However, much like other professionals, I struggle with balancing my responsibilities, and on most days I feel like virtually everything I attempt falls short of my expectations.
    There was a time in my life when all I wanted to do was play the flute. My belief that success could only be achieved through hard work, dedication, and perfection led to obsessive practicing four hours each day without fail from the seventh grade until I was admitted to the Oberlin Conservatory. It was there that Michel Debost helped to instill more sensible practice habits that later enabled me to accomplish the maximum amount in a more manageable period of time. He said, “Practicing is a luxury that you will have little time for in your professional career, so you have to practice now while you are young and while you still have the time.” Truer words were never spoken. 
    It is quite a struggle as an adult to maintain the disciplined practice regimen established in my youth. I was hired by Western Kentucky University in 2002 and have since realized that not everything in life can be controlled or predicted. Infertility treatments, miscarriages, three healthy babies, and a marriage and home have often left me feeling like I am swimming upstream. I want to be a good mother, spouse, colleague, teacher, and performer and am constantly struggling to find balance in my life. 
    It has taken most of my professional life to find any semblance of this balance, and the irony is that people often ask me how I manage such a busy schedule. The truth is that I am still working on it. When our children were little, my husband and I had the luxury of opposite teaching schedules. I taught in the mornings while he stayed home with the kids, then I ran home so my husband could teach his classes. We often did not begin grading and class preparation until late at night.
    The children are now in school, and for the first time ever, my husband and I have the same teaching schedule. We continue to support and assist each other and try to find some balance between our family and careers as college professors. When I have rehearsals and performances or multiple evening or weekend commitments, my husband takes care of our children. Inversely, if he is busier than I am, I take care of them. Because our families live too far away to help us, close friends have become an important support system.
    With my busy life, I cannot hole up in a practice room anymore. Kathleen Chastain said that Michel Debost encouraged her to practice the flute regularly when their children were young. I have this same support, but my practice sessions depend on a wide variety of often uncontrollable factors. On a bad day there is a wild party in the room with the kids screaming and carrying on to the point that I cannot even hear the flute. There are days when it was barely worth cracking the flute case open because of the constant interruptions. On a good day the children quietly read next to me or play outside with friends and I am granted complete concentration and unlimited hours of practice. I often practice while they are asleep, and my son can fall asleep even with me wailing away in the upper register. 
    Scheduled time off, including holidays and school breaks are another important aspect of finding balance in my life. They provide time to plan courses, lesson plans, syllabi, and daily schedules and also allow us to travel and spend time as a family. Michel Debost often told me that having balance and happiness in daily life would spill into a thriving and successful career. 
    Parenting has helped me to develop time management skills and necessitated a revision of the hierarchy of my priorities. Pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting have helped me become a more patient, compassionate teacher, and I try to be a role model for my college students who may soon know the struggle of balancing career and family. 
    As my children continue to grow and become more independent, my husband and I now have more time for family and more time to do our work without interruption. However, I still struggle with balance and continuous guilt about what I am not accomplishing. I have had to give up time, personal space, and sometimes the ideal of  being the perfect musician. My husband is quick to say, “You only have 100% of you. You can’t be perfect at everything.” Balance is a continually evolving process for everyone – no matter what the job or family situation.