Back in December, I interviewed Toby Perlman, the wife of violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman.
It was a phone interview and Henry started whimpering in his crib midway through it. I was having a bad day. I was stressed and sleep deprived. I had dried baby vomit on my shirt. I was swigging cold coffee and biting my nails. The last thing I wanted to talk about was classical music.
Prior to the interview, I received an email from Toby’s publicist encouraging me to read over the materials about her music residency for young gifted string players.
“(It) will help you focus your questions on what is relevant to the interview,” the publicist wrote.
When I got on the phone with Mrs. Perlman, I began with the most obvious and relevant questions. All was going well for the first ten minutes. She was chatty and I was informed.
And then Henry started crying. Although Toby couldn’t hear him, I found myself immediately torn between continuing the interview and tending to my infant.
I sighed and decided to veer from the prepared questions.
I knew she had five children.
“You have five children?” I asked.
“Yes,” she replied.
“I just had my first baby six months ago,” I said. “Sometimes I feel like I’m drowning.”
I immediately regretted the comment. It was the definition of not relevant.
To my relief, it didn’t catch her off guard. Her voice softened.
“This period of your life is gone in the blink of an eye,” she said. “This suffering, you will forget about it. I promise. There will come a moment when your child will say a sentence that means everything to you. My son – he’s going to be 43 tomorrow – came to me crying one day because some kid hit him in the sandbox with a truck. And I said, ‘Did you hit him back?’ And he said, ‘You know I’m a pacifist.'”
That’s cute, I thought. But your other children: were they pacifists as well?
“You know how you love this baby?” She continued. “How you think you’ll never love another baby the way you love this baby? And you think you’ll never have the energy to do it again? Well, you have a couple more kids and when one kid comes home and says he got a zero on the spelling test, it’s not such a big deal because there’s another kid with an ear ache. The focus on each child is naturally and automatically, in a healthy way, diluted. There’s no such thing as instant gratification. It was an exhausting time. I can’t imagine how I did it, but I’m glad I did. Just hold on. You’ll see.”
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PS. The photo is of Henry and Joe, jamming.