No Empty Rooms
Yesterday was a good day for my four year old. He dressed himself. He helped me fold laundry. He held the tools as I first took apart in our room and then, in his room, reassembled, his 11-month-old brother's crib. "Righty-tighty," he responded seriously, as I asked him which way to twist the Allen wrench. When his babysitter arrived, he greeted her lovingly and led her to the table, where he drew a picture of Elmo and the fish in his fish tank, which tomorrow we'll put in the mailbox at the corner of 144th and Broadway, addressed, with great care, to "Elmo Monster, c/o Sesame Workshop, One Lincoln Center, New York, NY 10023."
And last night, my two boys shared a bedroom for the first time; their parents stumbled, exhausted, toward another day's end, happy, somewhat shell-shocked, and encountered our selves looking at a television screen that hasn't been turned on in nine months. We flicked through a hundred channels—Bollywood, Aljazeera, SyFy, Martha, Oprah, IFC, TMC, many now dark because we had simply stopped subscribing. I hit the "off" button and we sat, in unaccustomed silence, and wondered what to do next.
The family circus would begin again in under seven hours. Privacy, the luxury of time to dream, even to crack a book—all these things would be placed on hold for another twenty-four hour cycle, post bath-time, post story-time, post snuggle-time, post.... But, for now, we sat and wondered about the sudden inrush of moments. How would we spend them? Sleep? Gosh, yes. A conversation? Overdue. Life, so full, made the idea of "taking stock" seem ridiculous: each of us had work to do, E-mails to answer. The office door was closed, the temptation to reengage for the moment merely that.
My wife and I are both busy professional composers and performers: we're fulfilling commissions, cultivating contacts, curating concert series and music festivals, supporting colleagues, keeping family as close as we can. I fly to too many cities for premieres and revivals of my operas, and she mixes with her colleagues in the New York New Music Scene. Our boys remain, as always, central.
We decided to combine having children and making art, determined not to accept a big house full of empty rooms in place of something more humble filled with love. Art, we hoped, would continue to be made, despite the fact that children take time. I've learned something as obvious as it is important: in my case, it is harder to raise children than it is to make art.
Illnesses last longer. Relationships evolve more slowly. False friends fade. Phone calls are sometimes forgotten. This morning, my youngest awoke at 5 AM and fell asleep in my arms for his nap at 8 AM. His sleeping face was a Botticellian vision. The older boy, when I emerged from the room they now share, said, "Papa, are you going to have some time to work today?" I had to weep with gratitude.
"Room after room, I hunt the house through we inhabit together." I recall Browning's poem, which I set to music as a student in Philadelphia in 1981. In our home there are no empty rooms.
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