How Live Music Helps With My Self-Care as a Special Needs Mom

I have a secret…

On the surface, I am a wife, a mother of two, and a full-time professional in a fairly high-stress career. I am a college graduate; a home-owning, tax-paying citizen. I do all the “typical” mom things — shuttle kids to and fro, cook dinner, pay bills, clean the house — exciting stuff, right?

Then there are the not-so-typical things. I have been a mom since I gave birth to my first child at age 19. Having my daughter when I was still young made me grow up quickly. My second child, a son who is now 5, has global apraxia and sensory processing disorder. I spend a good amount of time researching therapies, organizing our local apraxia walk, trying to build a support system for families, and even maintaining a website to help fellow special needs families. My day-to-day life can be overwhelming. There are doctors’ appointments, local and out-of-state therapies, individualized education program (IEP) meetings, and learning strategies implemented at home. However, I am Type A in almost all aspects of my life. I try to give 100 percent to anything I do and refuse to do anything half-assed. Unfortunately, I tend to forget about myself while taking care of everyone else. That frequently leaves me feeling burnt out. So my secret? I am an addict.

I am a full-fledged live music junky. I. Cannot. Get. Enough. I know many people may go to concerts once or twice a year. Me, I anxiously await summer tour, fall tour and festival season show announcements. I strategically plot how many shows I can get to while still maintaining my mom and work duties. It’s a balancing act with travel, tickets, flights, money, and how to not miss a “must-see” tour. Honestly, for me they all seem “must-see,” hence the addiction. I will follow the same few bands multiple times a year while adding in numerous other shows to fill in the gaps. I must go to shows; they remind me that I am alive. I get lost and “surrender to the flow,” as they say. I live for live music; it is the air I breathe. It gives me the strength and energy I need. If it sounds trivial and irresponsible to some, that’s OK. To those, I would say you don’t get it. For those who do get it, thank you! I feel your energy when you are there. You refill my cup and reignite my soul. I truly escape. I no longer worry. I think about the jam, feel the beat, vibe with the crowd, and usually end up barefoot at some point.

For as long as I can remember, I have been called an “old soul” or told I was born in the wrong decade. I have spent countless years listening to bands I am too young to have ever seen live, and I live by Grateful Dead mottos as if they are a foundation for my life. I get a rush out of chasing a Phish song, eagerly hoping each show will be the one I finally get to hear it. Seventeen years, and I am still chasing W.A.S.T.E.! The thing many people don’t seem to understand is I am just as excited for random people in the crowd when it’s obvious they have finally caught their song after a long chase. At JJ Grey & Mofro, I got lost in his passion; his voice sings to your soul. Being from the South, he can single-handedly remind me of the state in which I grew up and its dirty, funky roots that no one else in the United States may see. No matter the band or how far I may have traveled, when it comes to show day, I instinctively drop my Type-A personality and embrace my free spirit. It happens so naturally. A friend recently told me, “I see your fire when you are at shows.” That was eye-opening. It reminded me that I must take care of myself, and to do that I need music. It is a wonderful moment when I turn from “Michelle-the-burnt-out-momma” into “Michelle-the-free-spirited-dancing-woman” without a care in the world. It is a true escape from reality with no barriers.

My mental health and overall happiness are dependent upon live music. Some people run, or paint, or play sports. That’s their release. I will spend days camping in a tent, eating out of a cooler, and bathing in a river to get my fix. You will never hear me complain about giving up my air conditioning and king-sized bed for an air mattress and the Florida humidity. I am fortunate that my husband supports my habit even if he is one who doesn’t get it.

It is clear we are raising a little “rager” as well. Apraxia can prevent individuals from being able to speak and process correctly. There are often issues with delayed language development, difficulties with fine motor movement and coordination, and word confusion, among other challenges. Since my son, Ryder, wasn’t my first child, I knew there was an issue long before the professionals did. However, before Ryder could speak, he could hum — quite well, actually. He is a mini-Deadhead and Phish fanatic. He will hum along and try to sing his favorite songs. Obviously, the Grateful Dead’s “I Know You Rider” is a staple, and he’s obsessed with Phish’s cover of “Roses Are Free.” It is therapeutic for the two of us on rough days to put on some great jams while we dance, hum and sing. Ryder is aware of his struggles and works very hard to overcome them. Music, even at the age of 5, seems to help him release. Music can be an amazing thing for those of us who feel it.

I am fairly certain the moms in the carpool line, the CEO with whom I am working on the next deal, the family I am helping fight to get the best services possible for their child all have no idea about my secret… and that’s OK. Still, if you see me on the floor, come share a song and ride the wave with me. I couldn’t be the person I am without the bands and the fans to energize my soul. To all of you, thank you.

Follow this journey on Apraxia Momma Bear.

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