I am delighted to share with you another interview in this 'Parenthood Unplugged' series! Today we will be hearing from the lovely Ali Gilkeson, musician and band member of Rend Collective. Rend Collective are a Christian band from here in Northern Ireland who are now largely based in the US and have had a massive global reach with their music over the last few years.
My friend Patrick (who still owes me a t-shirt) plays guitar in Rend and about 6 years ago he asked me to come along to see them play at a local festival and I remember watching and listening, thinking they were really on to something special with their charisma and passion. It's not hard to see why their music and ethos of celebration and community has given them a worldwide platform and people are flocking to arena's to sing along with them.
Ali (holding down the girl-power section), is married to Gareth (who is also in the band) and they have a little boy, Arthur. I thought it would be really interesting to hear from Ali about what motherhood looks like for her as she travels the world and does life on the road. Over to Ali....!
Ali! Thanks so much for chatting to me - how about you start by telling us a little bit about yourself - where you live, what you do and a bit about your family!
I play in a worship band called Rend Collective with my husband Gareth, and three other lads from Northern Ireland. Gareth founded the band and somehow managed to convince his physiotherapist wife to come along for the ride. We travel with our one-year-old son called Arthur.
We spend most of the year on the road touring, and even though we have a home base in Atlanta, GA and in Northern Ireland, home is really a transient space. Because of this, we’ve learned to make home on the road. We travel with our favourite tea, coffee, our pillows from home, and make an effort to be family with our band and team. These are the things that make the constant traveling so much better.
Being a musician and in a band is a pretty full on job and Rend Collective seems to have a packed schedule of touring - how do you make it work as a mama as you tour etc?
This is one thing I'm still trying to figure out as I go. That's what I love about parenthood - it's a constant puzzle we're all trying to figure out within our own circumstances and environments. I’m learning there's room for diversity and an abundance of grace.
Raising a child 'on the road' is like constantly being on a camping trip. You can do most things but they often take a little longer and need more creativity. Feeding your baby when there's no high chair while sitting on a plane or a moving bus, or trying to get him to sleep while a sound check is happening is sometimes challenging. And then of course there’s the ever-present struggle of how to do laundry on the road.
But the pros far outweigh the cons, because we get to be with Arthur all the time. We’re one of the very few families who are together all the time, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.
Was there ever a time when you thought - "I can’t do both" - be a mother and be part of the band?
Oh, yes! I went through a real hard time at the beginning of last summer. We had just flown back to the States from the UK and our manager informed us we were about to do 37 flights in 5 weeks. This meant most nights we were setting our alarms for 4 a.m., catching two flights, and playing a full show, only to tear down and start all over again the next day.
With a jet-lagged six month old I thought I was going to crumble. I wasn't getting to bed until late then Arthur was waking at 2 a.m. because he thought it was 7 a.m., we would just get him back to sleep at 3:30 before the alarm would go off at 4 a.m. Brutal. I remember standing in Dallas airport crying to Gareth telling him I was done. But luckily there is grace in each season, not just enough to see us through but enough to renew us to face the challenges of a new day.
That's very true - and tiredness can really blur our perspective on things, eh? I'm wondering, do you guys have a lot of time to switch off from band life as a family?
It's an interesting question because Rend Collective operates more like a family than a band so most of the time, band time is actually family time. It's the environment we live in. Every family has a busy life and we have learnt to adapt with our circumstances to make sure we connect and enjoy each other everyday. Whether it's finding a local park, or kicking a ball around an arena we have learnt to make the most of what we have.
What have you found the trickiest part of parenthood so far? How do you get support?
I find it really tricky being away from grandparents and family. I feel like when I was growing up every young married couple that I knew lived around the corner from their parents and went to Sunday lunch every other week and dinner on Tuesday nights. Their parents got to be so involved in their grandkids lives, which is a huge blessing. I find it hard being so far away. When Arthur does something new or just looks really cute I want to instantly share it. I want them to be able to be at his birthday party and take him on play dates. I want them to pop round to the house whenever we've just gotten off the road for a few days and give me a break. It's these little normal occurrences I miss.
One thing I do have is an incredible understanding team. Trust me, already having 10 people living on a bus and then adding a child is quite the feat. I have so many people around me who love us and are so patient with our mess and early morning wakings. My Rend Collective family is a true treasure.
That's amazing - that kind of support is invaluable. I imagine Arthur is growing up in a really creative environment - how does he handle the busyness and energy of it all?
Arthur is a champion. This is his fourth tour across the United States. He has over 70,000 air miles on over 60 flights and has visited around 7 countries. He can almost do an airline safety demonstration! (Not really.) He honestly travels great, but he doesn’t know anything different. He wakes up every day in a different city and often a different time zone but this is normal life to him. He thinks everyone he meets can play the guitar, and usually offers people his ukulele as a peace offering.
But it still comes with its challenges. For example - he sleeps best on a moving bus, which is difficult to simulate at home. He loves the company that comes with traveling as a community, so when we go home for any time off he's like "where'd everyone go?". It's definitely a creative (read: crazy) way to parent and I wouldn't recommend it for everyone, but for us it has been a real blessing. Gods hand has been fully on us and His timing is perfect. I definitely couldn't do what I do without His constant grace, peace and the discipline of pursuing joy.
Finally, what is the BEST bit of being a parent for you?
The best bit of being a parent is getting to incredibly love another person, kiss them as often as you like and enjoy the gift of participating in shaping who this little person is going to be. It brings such joy. It's so hard to explain the joy that bubbles within you when you make your child uncontrollably laugh, or the heartbreak you feel when they are sick. It's such an incredible relationship. God breathed.
Tour bus or townhouse, we are all facing the same challenges and joys of parenthood! A huge thanks to Ali for sharing a beautiful slice of her parenting journey with us - so interesting and inspiring for me to hear - I hope it was for you too.