The travel nanny agency is just the right thing for musician parents on tour

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Maureen “Moe” Tucker, drummer for the Velvet Underground and one of the few women on the rock scene of the late 1960s and early 1970s, once told a reporter that her career was short-lived. for the simple reason that she was a mother.

“Diapers, bath time, picking the kids up from school – that’s never going to sell,” Tucker said. “It’s just not rock and roll.”

Of course, that was 40 years ago, and rock and roll has since evolved to accommodate a much more family-friendly lifestyle – these days you’re more likely to read stories on “Hot Moms Who” Rock “than over a musician’s hotel room overdose. . But even though raising children is no longer antithetical to a musical career, touring is still a major sticking point for most musician parents.

“In the past, I’ve toured without really thinking about it,” said Claudia Gonson, drummer, keyboardist and singer for Magnetic Fields. “It was like, ‘Of course I’m in a band – that’s what we do.’ “

This time, as she finalized plans for the group’s current 66-day tour, the Brooklyn-based single mom got frantic as she faced more than two months on the road with her 1 1 / 2-A 1 year old girl, Eve, in tow.

“Touring is such a test of endurance anyway,” Gonson said. “And when I’m exhausted, I get very tearful, weird, and paranoid, and I scream a lot. I learned this the hard way.

Seeking to avoid the seemingly inevitable fatigue familiar to any working mom, Gonson sought advice from fellow musician Kori Gardner of the Mates of State group – who made her first foray into a family-style tour when her first daughter was 10. weeks. old.

Recognizing how difficult it was for many artists to find competent and creative gatekeepers, Gardner, along with three other partners – all women in their 30s and each with an intimate connection to the world of music – a launched chARTer Nannies, a travel nanny agency that places the emphasis on the “ART” part. With each other, they share a remarkable constellation of creative endeavors, kid-rearing skills, and entertainment business relationships, not to mention an impressive list of playgrounds near the most popular clubs. more frequented.

“You have to have a connection with the arts community and want to support it, to understand why families – and moms in particular – would even want to do this,” said Gardner, who writes candidly about raising kids on the road in his blog. “Group on the (Diapers) Run.” “It takes a certain type of person to respect that. ”

For years, Erin Austen Abbott was just that person for bands like Mates of State, OK Go, and the Flaming Lips, as well as NASCAR’s Jeff Gordon, among others. Abbott, a Mississippi-based artist and partner of Charter Nannies, has traveled thousands of miles as a travel nanny, sometimes spending nine months a year on the road.

“It’s definitely a 24 hour adventure,” Abbott said. “It can also be a learning experience. But not everyone is made for this. ”

Abbott, now married to a musician, enthusiastically passes many of her real-life lessons to the agency’s growing roster of new hires. She recalled a particularly difficult day on a Flaming Lips tour when the bus broke down, cutting the zoo’s critical time for Steven Drozd’s two young toddlers.

“We had been stuck on the bus for 3 hours already, trying to keep the kids entertained, and it was dark when we got to Portland,” Abbott said. “Of course the kids didn’t understand – all they knew was that they weren’t at the zoo.”

It’s a scenario she frequently offers to potential recruits to gauge their ability to make adjustments on the fly.

“I have a degree in early childhood education, but I never wanted to be confined to a classroom. So, the main thing that we emphasize with our nannies is the need to be flexible. We want to provide our clients with a nanny who can foster the same creativity that children would have at home.

Gonson initially considered hiring from a group of people she knew at Park Slope, but hesitated when she realized they probably weren’t prepared for the realities of touring.

“Regular babysitters responded with ‘Wow, on the road! Hang out on the road! Free travel opportunity! ‘ These people would be deeply baffled by the experience of hanging out in a hotel all day, ”she said.

Enter Julia Knapp, also partner of Charter Nannys, who has all the characteristics that make her the “jewel in the crown” of the travel nanny: she is an artist (she sells a line of baby carriers on Etsy) ; she knows how to entertain children (she works as a stylist for the trendy children’s TV show “Yo Gabba Gabba!”); and, thanks to her flexible production schedule, she was able to hit the road with magnetic fields this month as Eve Gonson’s nanny.

Knapp saw first-hand the sacrifices that working mothers, especially those engaged in creative pursuits, are often forced to make; When her sister, a professional musician, got pregnant, she quickly lost her recording contract with RCA.

“There was a time when you came to resign yourself to ending your career,” Knapp said. “This movement, this daring, for women to move forward, seems fairly recent. This is where our service comes into play: it affirms this choice and helps make it possible.

While many successful musicians have managed to balance their careers with children, there are other less successful artists whose careers could have flourished had they had more options. This is precisely why Charter Nannies provides services on a sliding scale wherever possible.

“I can certainly think of the people I’ve seen slow down,” Gardner said of other parent musicians in his community. “I don’t know if they saw it that way, but I would say, ‘Wait, you could do so much more! “”

For Saskia Lane, bassist and singer of popular children’s music group Dan Zanes and Friends, such service is a godsend, especially when she has had to turn down work for lack of one.

“You would think playing with the most famous youth group in the country would be easy,” Lane said of touring with her 21 / 2– one year old daughter, Luna. “It’s not at all easy. It takes weeks of planning, emailing, and interviewing. Basically, I had to fly away.

In some ways, the Charter Nannies concept is a modern upgrade to a childhood education philosophy from an earlier era: indeed, it still takes a village, but now it also takes Google Docs.

“It couldn’t have happened before the digital age – we’re all so scattered,” Knapp said. “But the four of us is that perfect combination. It’s like finding the perfect members of a group.

Before diving into the maelstrom of the SXSW music conference in Austin, where Magnetic Fields made a much-applauded inaugural appearance, Gonson acknowledged that with Knapp on board, a sense of adventure had replaced some of his initial trepidation. .

“Having a nanny won’t entirely solve the problems of being a mother and a musician, but it has a huge impact. . . . Julia saves my life, ”she said. “I hope Eve tells her high school friends, ‘When I was a baby my mom took me on tour.’ ”

Cynthia Joyce is a freelance writer living in Oxford, Mississippi.

Magnetic fields

play at the 9:30 am Club on Monday April 9.


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